Wednesday, January 13, 2010


February 5, 2009
Subject: presence

I've recently had the wonderful good fortune of rediscovering someone I've known a long, long time. She and I were never good friends growing up but were quiet acquaintances admiring each other from afar. She told me recently of attending a yoga class that was structured around being present and living fully in the moment. I like this very much and it makes me think about a breathing meditation by Thich Nhat Hanh;

"Breathing in I calm my body.
Breathing out I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment.
For I know this is a wonderful moment."

I've been breathing these 4 verses for years and it always comes to mind whenever I get behind the wheel of my car. I'm reminded how I loathe to be in a hurry and how I rarely find myself so. Hurrying makes me careless. My body moves in careless ways. My tone is careless in its grumbles and growls. My words can be careless and my mindfulness of others equally so. Hurrying brings me to a state of being that is outside the realm of who I know myself to be. I don't like who I become under those conditions and I have to remind myself to "return to myself". Breathing these lines helps. I'm calmer. I'm more relaxed and I feel more like myself. I wonder if this is what is meant to be present and in the moment?

I've been giving it a lot of thought recently. I hear it all the time and especially since Aria's journey began. Tragedy always seems to act as a reminder that 'the moment' is all we have. I've written about it several times and I believe it to be true becoming ever more precious and cherished especially as one faces the end. Moments become opportunities to extract meaning perhaps as a way to make sense of it all or to build a depository of memories or to simply hang on to what is so difficult to let go. It isn't a bad thing to have such reminders of the importance of living presently. We all know but I'm certain we all struggle to actually live it. We are a culture that is constantly motioning toward the next thing at a pace that barely allows us to acknowledge our present thing. It is no wonder that our days hurry along dribbling moments into the next with little distinction. But when Life hurls shattering reality, suddenly the seamlessness ends. Moments are keenly separate and distinct. Moments linger and for me, I languished in many of them.

Living presently and fully in those moments was the last thing I wanted to do, which presents wonderful questions. What exactly does living in the moment mean and look like and feel like? What if you hate the moment? What good can be found by living so fully in it? I was thinking about this last night in bed when,
suddenly, a bizarre image flashed before my eyes. I imagined being thrown into a huge pit of manure hoping to die quickly from gaseous poisoning.

That is an ugly moment to be sure and certainly not what one typically thinks of when hearing the zen sentiment of 'being present and in the moment." Instead, I suspect one imagines imagery of flowering trees, babbling streams, gentle breezes, freshness in the air, and the hint of tinkling bells calling one to peace and tranquility. I know this is what I imagine when I hear the encouragement to live in the moment. This is the kind of moment we all wish to live in so fully, isn't it? The feelings this environment creates are certainly what I want to have as the backbone of my being but pray tell, what if the moment is littered by catastrophe and suddenly those feelings of defining peace are pulverized? What is one to do?

I'm writing about this because I really do believe and like that sentiment but it also gags me to my core because it seems such a prissy and flimsy notion when challenged by the moment that is urgent, critical, sterile, fearsome, unknowing, full of waiting, anxious, noisy, beeping, paranoid and completely without peace. I think it almost impossible and mildly ridiculous to try to be 'in the moment' that one defines as tranquility and calm when bombarded with anything but. I think back to those first few weeks and months and it was all I could do not to run from the moments of my day. I remember thinking I want to tear out my front door and run screaming down the street, but death was swirling maliciously around there and I was scared to open it. I remember thinking I could sneak out the back door and try to grasp some kind of semblance of me 'out there' somewhere. I remember looking at my pasture thinking, "Is that the place out there? Will I find and return to myself there? Can I walk my labrynth and find some peace and tranquility in the moments of each of my steps?" I tried and my moments were not peaceful or tranquil. They were laden with darkness tickled by fleeting glimmers of light and brilliance. I hated being present to those moments and I found writing about them in excruciating detail helpful and healing. I suppose the process of writing enabled me to be in those moments that were so hard. I tell you truly, I understand fully why people resist. Why they busy themselves with distraction going from one dribbling thing into another. It was very painful and I was denied the option to busy myself otherwise I'm not sure I would have chosen the path I did. I had to stay put and watch Aria. I couldn't run from her even though I wanted to sometimes. I couldn't believe I could be so cowardly and have those thoughts but I did and I acknowledged them when they came. So for me the idea of living fully in the moment and being present in the moment has changed somewhat.

We don't want to live in moments that are uncomfortable. I don't. I hate being uncomfortable. I abhor feeling stressed and anxious and do all kinds of things to either avoid it or get out of it and get back to the calm and tranquility that defines for me 'being in the moment'.

So you see, when I think of being present and IN the moment I tend to think of beautiful things. I imagine my truest self. I see myself as unique, calm, confident and a host of other things that I aspire to be. Aria's cancer and the journey we have traveled has shown me a great deal in this regard. I've learned not be in one moment thinking of the next, although those habits creep in and I recognize them and return to myself once again. I'm getting to a place where I no longer look at my chores, for instance, as a check list-- one thing leading to another so that I'm never really present to much of anything. I suppose this is the appreciation people talk so much about that one gains after tragedy. Simple little things have more meaning because the fragility of it all is so blatant. This is all well and good but it doesn't address those moments that challenge the very essence of my state of being. I've discovered that it isn't enough to be present IN each moment, but to be present TO the moment.

This may seem pedantic but the idea helps me stay committed to my mantra of "living true." To be present in the moment offers me the zen perspective and invites me to come back to my true self. To be present TO the moment enables me to embrace the situation and all the feelings that come with it with validity, confidence and without fear. When I'm scared and I'm pacing like a caged beast, it is so hard to be in that place, that moment. I hate it and would like nothing more than to escape. When faced with terrifying and ugly moments, it is so tempting to breathe deeply while attempting to grasp for a little of that zen sentiment telling myself again and again that everything will be fine. I can see myself trying to deny the panic as I rock back and forth with my head down, my fingers in my ears breathlessly chanting, "this can't be happening! this can't be happening! no no no." I've learned that this is denial's ploy that likes nothing better than to prey upon one's squirminess. I've learned that the more I resist the discomfort, the farther from myself I go and the harder it is to find that peace. Sometimes I can't be present and in the moment because how I define that doesn't allow it. So I'm present TO the moment and I'm learning to befriend what makes me squirm, what makes me ache, what breaks my heart, what makes me cry, and what makes me want to run. When I'm in my zen place I'm ok. When I'm hurting and I'm anxious, I'm ok. When I'm worried and mildly irrational, I'm ok. When I need extra reassurance and some tender care, I'm ok. When my confidence wavers and my insecurities are evident, I'm ok. When I'm not ok, I'm ok. This is what being in the moment and present to the moment has come to mean for me.

Very simply stated, in every moment of every day, my goal is to simply be. ~j

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