A Circle Around The Present Moment

Posted by on Mar 3, 2013 in PGST Reflections | No Comments

I find these words of Marcus Aurelius, the great Stoic philosopher, to be incredibly empowering and inspiring –

“Stop fantasizing! Cut the strings of desire that keep you dancing like a puppet. Draw a circle around the present moment. Recognize what is happening either to you or someone else.”

To “draw a circle around the present moment” and have that be the gentle blade that enables one to “cut the strings of desire” is the idea at the heart of Practical Goal Setting Technique. When practicing PGST, we gently engage in a Daily Action for at least twenty minutes. We can do more than twenty minutes if we choose, but we are committed to spend at least twenty minutes in the chosen action. This commitment is the chalk, if you will, that we use to draw our circle around the present moment. To be present is to relate to something in the present, to “recognize what is happening.” The Daily Action gives us the opportunity to create and then magnify this relationship, to practice being present by having something to continually return to when we seemingly drift away from the present and into fantasy. “Yeah, okay”, one might say, “that sounds all shiny and Zen-like, but exactly how do you literally do it?”

Well, speaking of Zen, in various forms of meditation one is given a mantra and told to internally repeat the mantra during the meditation process. As soon as one notices that attention has drifted from the mantra (as it always will) one is often instructed to simply, gently, and with great compassion bring focus back to the mantra. This is exactly what we aim to practice with our Daily Action. When we drift away from relating to (i.e. – doing) our Daily Action we can practice accepting our feelings and thoughts as they are, then gently return to the task at hand. So if we have entered the Daily action of “for at least twenty-minutes work on the first draft of my screenplay”, and after six or seven minutes we suddenly find ourselves wondering if we should quickly check the fantasy football weekly ranking of quarterbacks on ESPN, do a quick YouTube search for “super funny giggling babies”, or replay a fight we had with our evil fifth grade arch nemesis – As soon as we become aware that we’ve drifted, we don’t lambaste ourselves with “YOU WORTHLESS A*&)&^E – WAKE THE F*&K UP!!!” or quit the action while thinking “Focus is impossible for me, I might as well lose my self in a fantasyland of giggling babies.” Instead we gently, and with great compassion, return to the task at hand. This commitment to learning to ride the waves of distraction and imperfectly return to what we are doing, is the drawing of a circle around the present moment that Aurelius speaks of and is the key to being free from the puppet strings of desire.

Another way to speak of this is to examine the difference between calling and compulsion. When I begin working with a client, one of the first things we do is set a series of Super Objectives based on what one feels called to do. The Daily Actions are derived from these Super Objectives. For example, if one of our Super Objectives is to “have my new business be up, running and turning a profit by March 12th 2012” then a Daily Action that we discover might be “to brainstorm for at least twenty minutes on potential investors in my new business.” When we engage with this Daily Action, we can rest assured that it is something we are called to do, regardless of the amount of doubt we may face, because we know that we have taken the time to see how it relates to and is spawned by our Super Objective. Conversely, if we give into the doubt, we will soon find ourselves at the mercy of a self-destructive action – a compulsion. An example of this would be if during our period of brainstorming on potential investors we notice a fear based inner dialogue along the lines of, “Who am I to ask anyone to invest in my business? I’ll probably insult and offend my friends, they’ll see me for the fraud that I am and laugh at my crappy dreams!” When this neurotic nattering occurs, we can choose to gently, and with great compassion, return to the task at hand, or we can attempt to manage/control the fear voice, which really means giving into it, because fear is unmanageable. If we attempt to master fear by out thinking it, we become its slave, soon finding ourselves magnetically drawn towards some compulsion – “I’ll never have the guts to actually approach a potential investor, so what’s the point of this lame f*&@ing brainstorming! I should just have a cigarette, clear my head of this negativity or at the very least give myself a break from this crippling, self conscious pressure!!” In this way, our self-hating fantasies soon lead us toward becoming the puppet of our desire.

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