Challenging your thoughts is one way to test your spirituality whilst another way is to challenge the body. You have heard of the stories. Some of them are about climbing Everest, walking the Camino trail, doing a 1 month yoga retreat, travelling to India and of course, packing your bags and jumping on the first flight out of here. These are all ways that people challenge themselves physically, yet there does appear to be one common psychological thread that makes these experiences so impacting to the individual.
Before I tell you what that common thread is let me ask you a question. Have you ever heard of the Camino trail? I’ve personally done long trails before though haven’t ever done anything like this. It’s a pilgrimage from either France or East Spain (you can choose where you want to start) to North West Spain. On any given day you can walk from 20 to 50k’s going from one hostel to the next. Along the way you see some nice views and meet some kind locals, yet, it’s more about the journey than seeing the sights. The journey is around 4 to 6 weeks so there is a lot of time to be with your thoughts.
A friend of mine who did the Camino came back calmer than I had ever seen her. It reminded me of when I came back from India and had the same calm, content, easy going, no rush attitude that most of us want in life. Not only was her mind clear though she also became aware of all the superficial bulls^#t that we all worry about all the time. She found that these daily ‘things’ we often complain about (and get frustrated over) were something she couldn’t connect with anymore. It was like watching children bicker over the remote control. And although my friends new lease on life only lasted for a couple of months (as eventually she would reacclimatise herself to other people’s version of reality) during that time she was clear, appreciative of a simple life, and an observer of events rather than being swept up by them. She was present.
The common thread that I was alluding to earlier was the time and space we have to ourselves whilst undertaking these journeys. It’s a long separation and/or humbling experience that distances our mind so far from the rushing 9 to 5 world, that it allows us to see the bigger picture. These types of experiences take us away from our phones, the internet, TV, Netflix, people complaining about useless s&^t, and all the other countless options for us to fill our time. They also give us space to walk through our thoughts until we don’t need to anymore. When these thoughts fade and enough time has elapsed watching TV suddenly becomes a novelty, as does meaningless chores that we used to see as a bother. Life becomes one of appreciation and not of things to do.
The above also makes sense in an evolutionary way. Our minds have never been so over stimulated than what they are today. Even 100 years ago there was no TV and many people didn’t even listen to the radio on a regular basis. They sat in silence, they were forced to talk to each other and most of their escapism was either through physical or reading activities.
So to summarise, presence occurs when all thoughts and emotions that are tied to the past and future are not clouding our present experience. Presence is a form of being content with who we are whilst not being driven by our ego/identity. This is the reason why people say that it is not something you fight for but rather something that you accept. But please remember this very important point. To find something like presence we sometimes have to walk the path to find out that we didn’t need to. And trust me, that path is one of the most exciting journeys you will ever take.