The primary focus of this path of choosing wisely, of this training to de-escalate aggression, is learning to stay present. Pausing very briefly, frequently throughout the day, is an almost effortless way to do this. For just a few seconds we can be right here. Meditation is another way to train in learning to stay, or, as one student put it more accurately, learning to come back, to return to being present over and over again. The truth is, anyone who’s ever tried meditation learns really quickly that we are almost never fully present. I remember when I was first given meditation instruction. It sounds so simple: Just sit down, get comfortable, and bring light awareness to your breath. When your mind wanders, gently come back and stay present with your breath. I thought, “This will be easy.” Then someone hit a gong to begin and I tried it. What I found was that I wasn’t present with a single breath until they hit the gong again to end the session. I had spent the whole time lost in thought.
Back then I believed this was because of some failing of mine, and that if I stuck with meditation, soon I’d be perfect at it, attending to each and every breath. Maybe occasionally I’d be distracted by something, but mostly I would just stay present. Now it’s about thirty years later. Sometimes my mind is busy. Sometimes it’s still. Sometimes the energy is agitated. Sometimes calm. All kinds of things happen when we meditate—everything from thoughts to shortness of breath to visual images, from physical discomfort to mental distress to peak experiences. All of that happens, and the basic attitude is, “No big deal.” The key point is that, through it all, we train in being open and receptive to whatever arises.