A tai chi master played host to a shaolin monk. As the master was serving tea, the monk attacked him. The master touched the end of the monk’s fist and sent him into a wall. The monk dusted himself off and asked how the tai chi master was able to defeat him so easily, even when attacked by surprise. The response to his question was “because I’m always ready; always fully present in the moment.”
Once when I was walking into a store, I was at the foot of a pretty large set of stairs. I was preparing to go up when a woman who was coming down caught her heel on the edge of a step and almost tumbled down them. I wasn’t ready to catch her if she had fallen although I was within range. If I had been fully present in that moment instead of lost in thoughts of why I was going into the store, I would have been ready to deal with a possibly hazardous situation.
I was immediately reminded of the story of the tai chi master and realized that I had a ways to go in my internal training.
For martial artists, being present is necessary to be able to notice possible threats, to us or to others. The best defense is to be paying attention, being aware. But this is also important for psychological health and spiritual growth.
The goal of meditation is to clear the mind and just “be”, so that our deeper spiritual self and its wisdom can make itself known.
Psychological health has a lot to do with being emotionally present. In depression, our mind ruminates over past losses and regrets. In anxiety, the mind becomes preoccupied by worries over trouble that may occur in the future. Either way, you’re misusing an organ (our brain) that is meant to deal effectively with the situation at hand. You can’t deal with the present when thinking constantly of past and future, and you can’t feel emotions that are arising naturally from the present moment. The brain and senses give important information about what is happening now. You miss a lot when you’re not fully present.