Tag Archives: presence

Vacation as Spiritual Practice


Most of us are conditioned to look forward to our vacations. For some it’s an opportunity to travel to a new or favorite destination, for others it’s a chance to spend time at home, perhaps with family or on a hobby, and still for others, a chance to tune out. Generally speaking, vacations are about rest and relaxation, or for those who are more active, about play and adventure.

None of these reasons is inherently better than any other. However, vacation is also a great time to reconnect to our center and to get back on track with our spiritual practices, like meditation. When we get away from the busyness of our daily lives, there is time for reflection, contemplation, and stepping back to see where we are.

Many will go to a spiritual retreat for this purpose, and while those are great (I love them), for many this would not satisfy all of their needs for a vacation. A 20-minute meditation first thing in the morning before starting the day could really serve well, or a mindful walk on the beach that is focused inward rather than outward through the use of silence.

Vacation is an excellent time to reconnect to our center if we feel out of balance or stressed. Reconnecting can be as simple as letting go of the to-do list and focusing more on just being, with less of an agenda and more presence. How could you be more in the present moment rather than planning for the next moment?

Our intention to be present can also be very revealing to us. I remember some years ago taking vacation time on the northern California coast in Mendocino, which is about a three-hour drive from the San Francisco Bay Area where I was leading a very busy and active life. My first day I was feeling impatient with how slow people were driving and observing myself wanting to get from place to place as quickly as possible. Then it dawned on me – I’m on vacation, where do I have to be in a hurry? It was a good check-in to see how much I had formed a habitual pattern of being in a hurry.

If nothing else, an intention to be more present can make us aware of our habitual ways of being. Awareness gives us more choice as we can then decide, is this how I consciously choose to be?

None of our spiritual practices need to be heavy or feel like too much of a burden while on vacation. The choice to be conscious and present is a choice that leads to greater aliveness and more connection to the simple things that bring us joy, like watching a sunset or appreciating the beauty of nature on a hike.

The invitation is to bring more presence and connection into your vacation and downtime this summer, and to make it fun!

Enjoy the journey.

Gregory Toole offers spiritual coaching to individuals and groups who want to create and live extraordinary lives. For more information, go to gregorytoole.com.

Presence and Technology

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Presence, to me, is being fully in this moment of now. In addition to being able to fully enjoy each moment, presence also heightens our creativity because all creativity happens in the moment of now.

There is a famous storyline from comedian Jerry Seinfeld where he says it’s his observation that wherever we are we want to be somewhere else. He speaks of how when we’re home we want to go out, and when we’re out we feel like we need to be getting back home. Of course, he is exaggerating for laughs, but it’s funny because of the bit of truth in it.

Technology is essentially neutral in its impact on presence. It is our relationship to technology, how we interact with it, that determines whether it will facilitate more presence or whether it takes away from our experience of presence.

I observed at a recent Olympics opening ceremony where, as the representatives from each country were entering the arena, many were videoing or snapping photos of themselves, the audience, and the setting while also participating in the event. It was rather surreal to me. Were they fully present to the experience of this momentous occasion and their participation in it, or were they more focused on trying to post it to social media? The answer would be different for each person.

I personally love social media and am quite active in this modality. I do reflect on whether we have fully learned how to get the most effective use of such media. In the simplest terms, I would say, if it takes our attention away from the present moment it is not optimally effective and if it brings us into greater presence we have mastered its use.

Here are a few of my insights and practices regarding presence and technology:

  • If I’m out to dinner with friends, unless I’m expecting an urgent communication about an important matter, I put my smartphone aside and don’t respond to it. An exception to this would be using Facetime or Skype to include others in the present moment.
  • If I’m taking a walk, I similarly put the technology aside, including texting and even my music player. There’s a lot going on right here in front of me in this present moment. I want to take it all in, including what’s happening within me – my breath, the beat of my heart, and how I’m feeling as I experience this moment.
  • With balance, using a web search engine during a conversation can add life and new information to a conversation, creating greater vibrancy in this now moment. Compulsive searching can take us away from the person right in front of us.
  • Social media, in general, have the power to connect us to more people in more places than ever before. This has been of much benefit to our planet, allowing us to experience our oneness with people across the world in unprecedented ways. This media also has the possibility of disconnecting us from the very people in our immediate proximity if not used in balance.

I don’t see the above as a fixed and rigid set of rules. In fact, as I read over my own list I realize that there are times when I don’t align with some of the items. However, as intentions and insights they allow me to have a conscious, healthy relationship with technology, making choices that create the greatest opportunity for presence in the moment of now.

It is not technology itself that keeps us from being present. Rather, it is our relationship with technology. The invitation this day is to explore your relationship with technology. If you’re a technophobe, perhaps softening your stance on technology could open a greater world for you. If you are highly attached to technology, maybe there is a healthier and more balanced way for you to be with technology.

Enjoy the journey.

Freedom through Non-Attachment

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About ten years ago, I participated in a 10-day silent Buddhist Vipassana meditation retreat in northern California. During the ten days, silence was to be observed at all times, the exception being that during breaks we could kneel before the teacher and ask a brief question.

The word Vipassana means to see things as they really are. Vipassana meditation is an ancient Indian practice that was rediscovered by Gautama Buddha himself some 2,500 years ago and resurrected by him as a practice for mastery of life.

Our retreat was led by Indian teacher S.N. Goenka from a distance through audio and video recordings, with his approved teachers physically present to guide us.

The key teaching in Vipassana is impermanence. The word Anicca (pronounced ah-nee-cha) means impermanence — things rise and pass. It is from the ancient Indian language, Pali, in which many of the earliest Buddhist literature is written. During our meditations, periodically S.N. Goenka’s voice could be heard on the recording, reminding us – anicca, anicca, anicca. It was a reminder to be present to the moment and not fixate on anything that was transpiring within us.

On day 4 of the retreat I was to have my breakthrough, but it wasn’t going to be pretty. During the first three days, my legs would cramp during our hour-long meditation sittings (10 per day). We were to choose a position to sit in during the hour and not change it for the duration of the sitting. After about 30 minutes, the cramping would start. My mind told itself, “Don’t worry, once you get used to it, the cramping will stop.” That got me through the first three days, but when the intense cramping was still there on the fourth day, I was highly agitated.

I decided that after the first meditation session on day 4, I would approach the teacher and simply ask him about the cramping. When the session ended I approached and kneeled before the teacher. He nodded indicating he would accept my question. I asked him, “If my legs are in severe pain during the meditation, should I still hold the position?” His response was, “If you can.” Nothing more was said.

I returned to my room feeling furious. I had previously defended Buddhist teaching when people said it was all about suffering by saying, “No, it is about the alleviation of suffering.” In that moment, in my mind, I began to curse the Buddhist teaching, thinking “It’s true. It is all about suffering. The teacher is perfectly fine with me suffering here.”

On this day 4, I was clear that I would not tolerate this pain any longer. Something had to change. I was even willing to break my agreement and leave early if necessary to alleviate my suffering. In this moment of desperation, I found my breakthrough. The lesson that had been obscured by all of my discomfort was the very simple lesson of the whole retreat – the awareness of impermanence and the practice of non-attachment to alleviate suffering.

I got it clearly – the pain didn’t need to go away, just my attachment to it going away did. For the remaining six days, the pain never did subside. One half hour or so into each session, the pain would begin. Instead of resisting it or wanting it to go away, I embraced it. I observed it with a degree of detachment. I even found some humor in it as I would observe, saying to myself, “How interesting it is that my legs are in such pain right now.” Without my resistance, the pain actually felt much less intense.

That day 4 of the retreat, I got the lesson of how the practice of non-attachment allows us to be with and see things as they truly are – impermanent.

The invitation this day is to remember that whatever we are experiencing right now, whether we call it positive or negative, shall pass. May we simply be in the joy of the moment, unattached to what is rising and falling away.

Enjoy the journey.

The Power of Right Now

by Gregory Toole

On the spiritual journey we learn the spiritual truth that now, or the present moment, is all we really have. Yesterday is gone, just a memory, and the future hasn’t yet arrived. When the future arrives we will still experience it in the present moment. Ernest Holmes, founder of the Science of Mind philosophy, wrote that principle is not bound by precedent, meaning that the spiritual principles that allow us to manifest the life we want are not dependent on what we have or haven’t been or had in the past.

This moment of right now is where our infinite possibilities lay. It is this moment where we are creating and experiencing life. In his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes, “I have little use for the past and rarely think about it.” Many do dwell in the past, and in doing so often keep recreating the past, or at least are unable to fully enjoy life. Memories can be fun, but what about all the life there is to experience right now?

In tennis, it is said that the best players have a short memory. Because the game happens so quickly, to be successful one has to be fully present to the moment of now. The last point is done, whether we hit a great shot and won the point, or if we hit a wayward shot and lost the point. It is done and truly has no bearing on the next point, unless we are still dwelling on the last point. Whether the last shot was the best or the worst we ever hit, dwelling on it will inhibit our being fully present to the current point, and diminish our ability to be successful.

This is also true in life, but not necessarily as evident. I met a woman once who had lent a large sum of money decades earlier that had never been repaid. From that point forward she had lived in lack, barely having enough money to meet her needs, lamenting that if the money she had lent had been repaid she would be doing great financially. Perhaps that is true, but what would happen if she focused her energies on manifesting prosperity in the present moment, rather having so much of her attention and energy on a past event?

Many of us have had experiences like this where we forget the truth in Holmes’ quote that principle is not bound by precedent. It’s okay because once we become aware that we have been focusing on a past event or a previous concept of who we are, we can choose in this moment to embrace a new concept. We can decide to accept a larger idea of who we are, what we can have and be, and what we choose to create now. Thus we are fully living now and likely energized by our expanded sense of possibilities.

What idea do you choose to let go of because it no longer represents your fullest expression in this moment? What do you choose to replace it with?

I know that some great good is wanting to burst forth in your life right now in this moment.

Enjoy the journey.