michael stone on redefining the present moment (video)

You know when a friend comes back from a meditation retreat and they’re all walking and talking slow because they’re being “mindful,” but really they’re just being slow and annoying? Or when you’re feeling anxious about the future or depressed about the past, and then you remember that you’re a “yogi” and you’re supposed to live in the present moment, and you just end up feeling weird and guilty about your anxiety/depression, and you force yourself take take a big breath and “be present” but you’re not entirely convinced?

In this video, Michael Stone attempts to clear up some of the common misinterpretations of “the present moment” and “mindfulness,” and he acknowledges some of the idealizations and forced actions around both terms.

“Our lives can only happen moment to moment,” Stone reminds us. He also reminds us that the Buddha was “an action kind of guy” who talked about mindfulness as an engagement practice. According to the Buddha, mindfulness is an activity, like walking, talking and eating. Stone encourages us to practice this, but not in a way that’s stiff or forced (or boring or painful for our friends – my interpretation, not Stone’s).

Etymologically speaking, mindfulness can be defined as generosity – a blossoming of generous spirit in which we become less concerned with ourselves and more involved with what’s actually happening in present experience. The point is to not get caught up in a “fixed stillness,” but to be in relaxed movement with what’s going on around us. As Stone notes in closing, this is something our culture needs right now: how to be intimate, to listen, to give people our full attention.


  1. Before Enlightenment: Neurotic. After Enlightenment: Slightly less neurotic but with better coping tools.

  2. The first translators of the early buddhist texts chose “mindfulness” to translate “sati” (which as Michael points out is related to the word for “remembering”) from the Christian tradition, where “mindfulness” was used to describe a care-filled attitude and approach to living. I guess this can be stretched to embrace the idea of “generosity” as Michael does here.

    Personally, as we already have the concept of generosity with the term “dana,” and offering our full undivided presence with those with whom we relate being as aspect of that, I like to really stick with emphasizing the idea of remembering. It’s not merely remembering to be fully present, but also remembering actions and their consequences, as in “I remember when I did that, it hurt my wife, so I will remember NOT to do that in the future” and vice versa: “I remember when I said that, it made her feel confident, so I will remember to speak in similar ways in the future.”

    For more on this, and the deeper aspects of “sati” as found in abhidhamma:


    Thanks for sharing this, Roseanne!