One of the areas in Yoga that has long been my struggle is the essence of remaining in the Present Moment. A lifelong daydreamer, I've always managed to drift off, thinking of the next place I'd like to be, something I'd rather be doing or even just imagining other possibilities that could be happening, when the next step of journey arrives. This is not the say I'm dissatisfied with my life. Quite the contrary...I count my blessings daily. And yet, I grapple with keeping my heart, my mind and my spirit grounded in the here and now...and to be fully present in this very moment, in this very time. The irony is that I've always imagined the next step: when I was little, I wanted to be big, before I was married, I couldn't wait to set up my home. Before I had children, I couldn't wait to have a baby. When my babies were little, I imagined their being bigger and more independent. Always, I had in my mind what was coming 'next'....rarely, what was here in this very time. I would tackle a stack of dishes in the sink, and think about how incredible life would be when "X, Y, Z" were to happen. As my hands would root around in the warm, sudsy water, I wouldn't think about what I needed to be happy. I truly have felt joy and contentment. And yet, there was the part of me always waiting to turn the page, and begin the next chapter.
Needless to say, patience has long been my biggest stumbling block in my spiritual quest. St. Paul wrote that the fruits of the Spirit are, "love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control." (Galatians 5:22). The Talmud extols "patience as the essence of a faithful man". Buddhism believes that patience is one of the "perfections" that one must achieve to attain enlightenment. I believe in all of these principles. I am devout in my love, my joy and utter gratitude for the life I have been blessed with. For every day that I have been graced with living, I feel a sense of profound awe and thankfulness. So, why do I struggle so with the concept of remaining grounded in the present moment? Why do I want to rush down the stairs, rip the paper open the metaphorical red and green packages, and tear into the Christmas gifts of life, like a wild 5 year old? Why can't I seem to sit at the top of the stairs....gazing with peace upon the scene below, and take the moment fully in, before rushing headlong into the future?
Living in the present moment, grounded fully in who we are, and in where we are, has been a challenge for many people for all of recorded time. Even Mother Theresa, whose life of utter selflessness, I admire deeply, reported periods of impatience, exhaustion and feeling spiritually tapped out. She looked for a time in which there would be no more poor to have such need, and for herself to have infinite strength to deal with all those who need her. Towards the end of her life she wrote, "All things pass... Patience attains all it strives for." The meaning? Keep on doing what you're doing: do good work, love those around you, remain focused on the tasks at hand. Patience isn't a place we arrive at, as a destination. Patience, itself, is a journey...and achieving it is a byproduct of living moment by moment.
Living in the present moment is not something new to our current age of fast-paced technology and instant gratification. What I will admit is that it's tougher than ever to remain grounded in living our lives as they come. When we're bombarded with advertisements, television shows and magazines, we wonder if we're missing something by not looking ahead more than we do. We wonder if our futures really be brighter if we only plan to move to a different place....a different home. We wonder if life will pass us by in not planning better.....or rather, by not planning to live a certain way, in a certain place. Plans aren't a bad thing: they help us pay our bills on time, arrive to attend meetings, do our jobs, parent our children well and remain involved in our communitities. Plans keep us focused on where we need to be right now. The problem with plans is that we can look too far ahead with them....and in doing so, lose sight of the moment we're living in. We can miss the joy of a summer night by thinking about plans to get the house ready for winter. We can let our children's babyhoods slip through fingers as we worry about where they will go to college. We can miss the touch of our spouse holding our hand on a Sunday evening, because we're mentally calculating all the crises that await us in the week ahead.
The wonderful Buddhist monk, Thich Naht Hahn, wrote a beautiful book on remaining in the present moment: "Peace is Every Step", about living in mindfulness everyday. One of the meditations he describes is very simple. As one sits in a peaceful position, or goes for a gentle walk, one repeats to herself:
- As I breathe in, I calm my body and mind.
- As I breathe out, I smile.
- Sitting (or walking), I am grounded in the Present moment.
- I know it is a wonderful moment.
As simple as this meditation sounds, it's surpringly effective. When I find myself thinking about "What? Where? When? HOW?!" for the next phase of my life, I realize that the next phase will come soon enough. I will have ample time, ample opportunity and ample ability to deal with all the blessings and challenges that lie ahead. What I will not have is the blessing of a moment I let slip away, by worrying, or even daydreaming, about what's still to come. The phrase "Carpe Diem" (or Seize the day!) made so popular in the wonderful Robin Williams film, "The Dead Poet's Society", is quite true. Today is a day that will never come again. What will you make of it? Will you enjoy it? Will you conquer the day's tasks, or will you ignore them, too focused on next year's burdens? Remember to always be the author of your day. For good or bad, for better or wose, and even for richer or for poorer, today is the moment to live in...so make certain that you appreciate it for all its worth, and live fully in the experiences as they arise.