02/25/2016 10:29 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Awake to the Present


From August 26, 2014 to December 18, 2014, I toured the Americas, Asia and Europe, holding 115 question and answer sessions in 111 locations. On October 1, 2014, I was invited to hold a question and answer session for students at Princeton University. As part of the introductory comments at Princeton University, the host mentioned my roles as a peace activist and meditation master.

During the question and answer session, one of the attendees asked me how I integrate meditation with activism. I explained the key elements of meditation and that the essence of meditation is maintaining a peaceful state of mind. He then asked me how one can stay in the present in the midst of suffering.

"You mentioned staying awake to the here and now, but how can one focus on the present if the present is full of suffering and stress?"

Excluding physical pain, suffering does not exist in the present. We suffer when our conscious travels back to certain memories in the past. We feel worried or anxious when our conscious travels into the future. When you are awake to the present, suffering does not arise although any physical pain you have remains. Physical pain is in the realm of the physical world and cannot be eliminated mentally. However, physical pain can influence the mind. Physical pain leading to mental suffering such as anger or regret is an issue of the mind. Such mental suffering will disappear when you focus on the present. This does not mean that physical pain will also disappear. If you focus on the present, you will recognize physical pain simply as a sensation. Since most of us have an aversion to physical pain, it causes mental suffering. So you simply recognize physical pain as is without liking or disliking it.