Are you always anticipating the next moment, and losing out on the magic of the here and now?
One day I was sitting in a traffic jam in a city in the UK, which let me tell you is a common thing in my country, when I noticed to my left on the pavement a woman walking along and texting.
Nothing wrong with this of course, and there is no judgement here of the woman, as most of us do this, but what I also noticed was that she was leaning forward and rushing. Which again most of us do.
Walking and texting may not be a cause for too much concern. However, maybe because I had nothing else to do, I started to ponder on this. It was not the texting that was the most remarkable thing but the fact that she seemed to be leaning forwards, almost leaning and rushing into the future.
I pondered the word texting, a strange word when you repeat it to yourself. But then the word nexting came to mind. Not only was she texting but she was what we could call ‘nexting’.
The Manic Mind
This means our attention is rarely in the here and now but on what is coming next…we can so easily be lost in the future. For example, when doing the washing up or cleaning the house often we are not present doing the activity. The body is present, but our attention is often elsewhere. We can spend this time nexting, thinking about dinner, our job, or about our next holiday. The strange thing is that when you are on holiday, where is your attention? When you get to your holiday destination in the sun, you are often thinking about home, or dinner, or the next boat trip. Our minds are like puppies jumping around all over the place.
I think many of us spend most of our time nexting. Next implies the future, that which is to come, but not here yet. If you pay attention and are honest with yourself, you will notice that most of the time you are nexting. When we are not nexting then often we are lost in the past or dwelling on problems, many of which don’t actually exist. Mark Twain, once said, “I am an old man and I have had many problems, most of which didn’t happen.” A wise man.
I don’t mean that nexting is wrong or bad or anything like that, but it does have unpleasant consequences. We tend to feel rushed and we skim across the pond of life. If we are honest, we will admit that a lot of our activities are done because we are incapable of being in the present, of being still.
When we are nexting, what we experience is not what we are doing but our anticipation and expectation of the next thing. The next thing may be pleasant or unpleasant, we aren’t fussy. We are desperate not to experience our life here and now, which is a bizarre thought because it is also what we most desire. What we want is to engage fully with life, to be embedded in life, but our restless, seeking, puppy like minds are not interested in that.
Many people come to our mindfulness courses and meditation retreats asking about the cause of stress and the problems they have, but I must say the cause is very simple. I don’t mean to belittle real problems that we all will have from time to time, but so many of our problems are created by undisciplined restless minds.
We have too many thoughts in our heads telling us all sorts of things need doing. These thoughts are constantly pulling us out of the present moment. If you don’t believe me follow the short exercise at the end of this blog.
Life is Only NOW
One of the exercises I give to my students on the courses I run is to notice during the day when they are lost in nexting. In other words, I ask them to observe what takes them away from their present moment experience, and what they find are thoughts; thoughts take them away from the present moment.
Nexting happens because we have a deeply held belief that there is a better place and time than now. We have an unexamined view that the joy of life is found in doing something and being somewhere special. However, life is always made up of doing very ordinary things each and every day, like unloading the dishwasher, mopping the floor, sending and receiving emails, tying your bootlaces. These ordinary activities is where the joy of life is found. If you don’t find it here, you won’t find it anywhere. We don’t find it because we are programmed to seek it elsewhere. We are rarely here with life as it is because we are either nexting, worrying or fantasying.
When we start to pay attention to our thought processes, we begin to realise something else too. We realise that all this constant chatter in our heads makes the body tense, which over time can have adverse effects on our health.
Sit quietly with eyes either open or closed. Now just sit and don’t do anything. Don’t text, don’t read, no need to plan, no need to reflect on anything at all. Just sit and observe what happens. Be honest with yourself. Notice after a while the urge to think about something. We would rather think about a life we don’t have than experience the one we do. We will do anything, so we don’t have to experience just being here and now in the simplicity of this moment. This is because we are addicted to the drama of our own minds.
Observe the thoughts, feel the impulses and urges to get up and do something. See if you can do this for five minutes. Then do it every day for a year.
Suryacitta (the Happy Buddha) has been practising mindfulness since 1989 and he was ordained into the Triratna Buddhist order in 1999 and given the name Suryacitta - He who has a heart like the sun.
He is the author of three books on mindfulness including the international selling Happiness and How it Happens - Finding Contentment through Mindfulness published by Leaping Hare in 2011.
He runs retreats and courses in the Uk, Italy, Spain and Australia and leads mindfulness training retreats worldwide too.