This attitude is not only important in yoga, it is an integral part of all spiritual systems, which is not surprising, for living in the present is a basic prerequisite of higher awareness. Zen Buddhism in particular emphasizes this point. For example, a Zen master was once asked: “What is the Tao?” He sharply replied: “Your everyday mind.” He continued: “When I’m hungry, I eat; when I’m tired, I sleep.” This statement seems at first to be rather trite, but it contains a great truth. The person who asked the question was understandably a little perplexed, for this definition of the Tao seemed a little irrelevant, especially since everyone performs the actions described by the master. But what the master was trying to convey is that most people are never, or at least rarely, absorbed in their actions. When they are eating, they are thinking of multitudes of other activities. When they are sleeping, they are not really sleeping but are caught up in the turmoil of their mind. The master is inferring that a person in higher awareness is totally at one with what he is doing at any given time; the mind is totally concentrated and not scattered in all directions.
Your ability to live in the present and totally absorb yourself in the activities or work being done, without allowing the mind to project vicariously elsewhere, is also a proof of whether or not you have mental problems. If you are continually living elsewhere, with the mind wandering hither and thither, wishing you were doing something else other than what you are actually trying to do, then this is an immediate indication of underlying disturbance. The more the mind projects elsewhere, the more problems you are likely to have. So you can ask yourself the question, “How much do I really concentrate on what I’m doing, without wishing I was doing something else?” Be honest, and you can convince yourself of whether or not you have mental problems.
Why do we continually tend to relive the past, or project into the future with anticipation of events to come? The answer is basically simple – escapism and attachment to intoxicating experiences. Because we’ are dissatisfied, we try to escape by re-experiencing high points of happiness in the past and by anticipating possible high experiences in the future. For example, we feel depressed on a quiet Sunday afternoon, the result of inner disturbances, perhaps in response to outer events. What better way is there to escape this depression, at least to some degree, than by imagining you are eating a hot, delicious dinner, or that you are with an old girl friend or boy friend? This living out of the present is the easiest way to escape discontentment. Yet it does not lead to deeper happiness and certainly not to higher states of awareness. Most people are in a continuous dream state. They think that they are awake, but they are in fact, sleepwalking. They are not living their life as it really is, but are creating their own hell, heaven or haven of retreat. These are only methods to escape oneself , and to avoid facing up to and removing one’s mental problems. And until a person begins to face his problems, there will never be any real change in his dream-like existence.
He will never really start to find lasting happiness and satisfaction.
So cleaning out the mind is the first step in progressively seeing life as it really is and not as you imagine. Yet this requires courage, for the subconscious mind is the repository of basic fears, and it can often be quite frightening to see their root face to face. You need to be fearless and determined to face them and eliminate them. But the benefits you will gain in the long run are more than worth the effort, for your life will progressively undergo a miraculous transformation. Slowly but surely you will start to know what joy really means.