What’s Your Relationship to the Present Moment?

By Anthony Vengrove

Miles Finch Innovation CEO, Tony Vengrove, rappels down the 400 ft. SunTrust building to help raise money for Special Olympics Virginia.

Miles Finch Innovation CEO, Tony Vengrove, rappels down the 400 ft. SunTrust building to help raise money for Special Olympics Virginia. Photo credit:  Anne Weston

It’s a brilliantly simple question:  what is my relationship to the present moment?  Yet, this inquiry possesses the power to pull us out of our heads and re-focus our attention on what’s happening NOW.  The question even has the uncanny ability to calm most instances of fear or anxiety.

I put this to the test in October, when I found myself leaning off the side of the 400-ft. SunTrust building here in Richmond, VA.   As a participant in a Special Olympics Virginia fundraiser, I safely rappelled down this tall building to help raise over $120,000 dollars for the organization.

For most of my life, I’ve never been afraid of heights.  After 9/11, I noticed a growing uneasiness with heights slowly taking root in my head.  Knowing several people who lost their life that day coupled with the horrifying imagery of how many chose to “escape” evidently etched fear into my subconscious mind.  My decision to rappel down the SunTrust building was one part altruism, one part adventure, and one part phobia-release.

I first learned the concept of asking, “what’s my relationship to the present moment?” from the spiritual author, Eckhart Tolle.  This question not only helped me get down the building, it allowed me to be present enough to enjoy the experience and take it all in.  I’ll admit, there were times when I felt uneasy.  Whenever I had an “OMG” moment though, I simply asked myself the question.  It was all I needed to relax and realize that at that very instant, everything was just fine.

Fritz Perls, the German psychologist who founded Gestalt Therapy, once described anxiety as the gap between now and then.  Since there is no moment other than the present one, any notion of what the future will be is only a concept in the head — a thought.  Therefore, if we get too wrapped up in worrying about the future, we run the risk of getting trapped in a conceptualized reality that may or may not come to fruition. 

In business, our attention is often pulled toward the future.  We spend so much time focused on impending outcomes that we often forget to be fully present with the work we’re doing right now. As a result, our everyday “tasks” feel menial; we fail to see the value or opportunities in our work; our to-do list is nothing more than a means to an end.  Unfortunately, when work is simply a means to an end, chances are we’re on the slippery slope to disengagement.

When it comes to corporate innovation, new ideas are quickly judged against some future context.  Everyone has their own cognitive map of industry mechanics, consumer wants and needs, or likely future business scenarios.  When an idea doesn’t align with the collective cognitive map, it’s likely to be met with resistance, quickly judged and killed.

Just like the future, an idea is simply a concept.  That’s why it’s so easy to use logic to create an argument that’s either in favor of or against an idea.  It’s also why original thinking can feel risky.  If it doesn’t align with one’s cognitive map, it feels speculative — it falls in the gap “between now and then.”

If I learned anything from my rappelling adventure, it’s that being mindful of the present moment is the only sane way to make sound decisions.  If we’re too focused on future risk and uncertainty, we’re likely to miss out on or pass over opportunities that have great potential.  Chances are we’ll also frustrate those around us who desire a little freedom to be creative and take calculated risks.

So, as we prepare to return to work in 2013, I encourage you to make the conscious decision to be mindful of the present moment.  Try to catch yourself getting paralyzed by a conceptualized reality of the future.  Remember, as much as your ego thinks that it can control the future, it cannot.  At the end of the day, the only real decision we can make is what we need to do NOW.