Monthly Archives: July 2008

The Power of this Moment

The last day of July, the last time I will be discussing the joys and challenges of being present in the moment. If you have been reading these posts in order, as written, I hope you have found something in what I’ve shared that resonates in you.

If you would like to explore the subject more, I would highly recommend reading Eckhart Tolle, who could fairly be called the master of the moment. His two books The Power of Now and A New Earth both explore this theme. I have read the latter and found it exceptionally clear. Millions of others have as well, since it was chosen as an Oprah’s Book Club selection and was discussed in an online class for ten weeks in an impressive worldwide awakening to the moment. (If you have judgments about Oprah, you might want to take the opportunity to question your attitudes and beliefs in that regard. Holding harsh opinions can be the ‘dragon at the gate’ to your own awakening.)

My own experience with the power of now came from reading a different book twenty or so years ago. I found it a very odd book, done in a conversational channeling format by Jane Roberts, but for some reason this one line jumped out at me about this moment being our personal point of power and I felt it fully in my being and have never forgotten it.

Power is such a strange word, holding in it both a great positive energy and a ruthless negative connotation that makes many of us, myself included, uncomfortable with embracing it in any form. I certainly don’t want to have power over anyone else, I don’t want to wield power, or be powerful. None of that resonates with me.

But this kind of power is not about domination. It’s about sensing deeply our connection to all that is, feeling well-rooted in that awareness, and drawing on the infinite energy of which we are very much a part the way a plant draws energy up through its roots.

The only place we can root is in this present moment, because it’s the only one that exists. All other moments past and future are only thoughts now. So we root our awareness into this moment and it supports us fully in whatever we want to do. That’s the power of now.

As we head into August, I’ll be changing the focus of my explorations to metta, loving kindness. But I am happy to continue the conversation on the moment with anyone who would like to comment on any of these postings.

The Tao de Ching says…

The Tao de Ching says to ‘move in harmony with the present moment, always knowing the truth of just what to do.’

When I think of the most awkward, embarassing and painful moments of my life, I can see they have one thing in common. In each one I was not fully in the present moment but was caught up in trying to hold on to the past or feeling fearful of an imagined future.
For example, one time many years ago I was at a party dancing – I love to dance and my husband Will doesn’t – and I discovered that a friend of ours was a great dance partner. We danced for a long time in perfect sync. It was wonderful to find someone who was on the same wave length in that way.
The next time I saw him in a totally different situation – a quiet dinner party, definitely not a dance – I felt the pull of that past experience and wanted to recreate it. I tried to get him to dance with me and was gently but firmly rebuffed. I was hurt, but not by him. He was present in the moment enjoying conversation with friends. I was hurt by my unwillingness to let go of a past pleasurable experience, to allow for the possibility that this moment might have its own charms. It was a lesson for me then, and I try to accept the lesson without punishing myself for being oh so very human, wanting to repeat a pleasurable experience.

Take a moment to allow a past experience to come into your awareness, and see if the pain you experienced was either caused or amplified by your not being fully present in the moment. Is there a lesson in there for you too?

Painters savor the ordinary moments. Do You?

Before Dinner by Pierre Bonnard.
Robert Lehman Collection,
Metropolitan Museum of Art

At the Automat by Edward Hopper
Permanent Collection,
Des Moines Art Center, Iowa

Most of us prioritize and rate the moments in our lives. We look forward to a party and reflect on a special performance we attended. These peak moments stand out against a backdrop of our regular lives full of moments we don’t consider worth noting: Going to the grocery store, walking the dog, ironing a shirt – you know, the necessary but not very interesting events in our lives that make the peak events possible.

A major event in the future can flavor, or even dominate, our present experience. Usually we have mild anticipation or anxiety that occasionally floats through our present experience. And then there’s the phenomenon of being totally driven by some future event. We’ve all met bridezilla, the woman whose wedding day looms so largely over her life that she is practically consumed by it. To varying degrees we all go a little bridezilla at times about an upcoming event, whether it’s a gathering, a trip, a speech or a surgical procedure.

Events in the past can dominate our lives as well. Some traumatic events drop like rocks into the pools of our lives and make a huge splash that ripples out for a long time into the future. If we are aware of the ripple quality of such events, we can cope with the occasional ripple of emotional turmoil when it passes through our current experience. At these times we can compassionately give ourselves a little down time to be with whatever thoughts or emotions have come up.

But if we don’t understand the ripple nature of traumatic pain, then when it comes along we may think we are back in the splash of the original experience. And in our panic at ‘being back there again when we thought we were past it’ we start flailing about, creating much bigger waves and much more suffering.

Past and future events often do flavor the present moment, but if we live for that future moment we develop a pattern of leaning into the future, so that when that crowning moment comes, we don’t really know how to be present for it. Our mind is habituated to focus on the future, and we miss it – that one perfect moment we had been waiting for!

Some of us dwell in the past, only able to enjoy moments as memories, storing them away like a squirrel with nuts to be savored later. Or we dredge up past pain as if we don’t deserve to have a moment free and clear to savor right now. Thus we miss the only moment we truly have to live with all our senses. This one. The only moment that actually exists!

But even if we are not living in the past or the future, we tend to value some moments more than others. And so I wanted to bring to your attention to the fact that painters rarely are interested in painting the peak moments. Very few paintings are done of weddings or parties in full swing, those moments we tend to value most. Instead they find beauty in the none-peak moments, the preparations for an event, staring out a window, reading a book, sitting — quiet moments where nothing much seems to be happening. Why is that?

Because the real treasure is right here and right now. For you, in this moment, sitting in front of your computer, the screen, the room, the light and shadows, the temperature, the feel of your body on the chair, the sounds, the smells, whatever is happening right now. Let yourself sink completely into this moment. As if it were the subject of an artist’s brush. This moment is most definitely worthy of being painted. And worthy of being lived with full appreciation and awareness.

Multi-tasking: The Bane of the Moment

I was always so proud of my ability to multi-task, that womanly skill that keeps the baby out of trouble while the soup is being stirred.

But even when my babies were all grown up, I was still trying to do as many things at the same time as I possibly could. I had to learn the hard way to let that pattern go. I was such a whirlwind of activity, I didn’t hear my body’s message that hey, this is just too much!

So I got very sick and had no choice but to give up many of the activities. Each day I had to choose just one activity/experience/outing, because that’s all I had enough energy to do. This forced me to pay more attention to which of these options called to me, something I’d never bothered to question before.

I was finding as I slowed down and started paying attention, that certain experiences gave me energy and others depleted me. And anyway, if I could only do one thing a day, it was going to be something I really wanted!

Eventually I got well again, and while I give credit to doctors, health care regimens, etc., I also recognize that much of my healing came from honoring my body’s request for me to slow down, pay attention, and be fully present for each experience. I learned how to do this by returning to a regular practice of meditation – ironically, the one thing I hadn’t found time for! Probably because you can’t multi-task while meditating.

I can certainly do more than one thing a day now, many years later. But I try to never do more than one thing at a time. I had to make the decision that whatever I’m doing deserves my full attention. Even the most mundane tasks become little rituals of pleasure when I am fully present to experience them.

Multi-tasking, I now see, is a survival of the species kind of skill meant for one specific use: keeping that baby safe. It isn’t meant to be used to power on endlessly, juggling the needs, wishes or demands of clients, employers, co-workers, family and friends. I had misused that innate skill and paid the price. I am guessing that millions of other women around the world are still doing the same, and maybe some men as well.

Through meditation, I am able to be fully present for whatever I am doing. And what a profound difference that has made in the quality of my life! I listen more deeply to people when they are talking to me, instead of formulating my response as they speak. I feel the earth under my feet when I take a walk instead of blurring my experience with making shopping lists in my head, among other things. When I can give each moment it’s full due I am richly rewarded by the gift of presence.

(When I can’t, I try for the gift of compassion towards my wandering mind instead!)

In this technological age, it is easier than ever to find ourselves multi-tasking. Just to see how it would be, you could try a doing only one thing at a time for a while. Don’t talk on the phone while you’re driving, for example. Don’t read or watch TV while you eat. Notice your own multi-tasking habits, and see if giving each activity its due doesn’t make for a greater sense of ease and spaciousness in your life.

Which Way to this Moment?

Coming into a full awareness of the moment sounds great, but how do you do it?
Having a regular meditation practice, we experience being relaxed, quiet, attentive, spacious and curious. After a while we may notice that in daily life, we are able to be present much more of the time.

Meditation paves the way to the present moment because in meditation we are constantly transitioning from a mental-focused thought-producing state into a state of relaxed broad-focused awareness. It’s a shift in perception rather than a shift in location, interior or otherwise. We are aware of our body, our surroundings, and we know that we are sitting. But if we are sufficiently relaxed and alert, the moment may be illuminated with the expansive light of awareness – a moment outside of time — that shows what was always there but seemed invisible because we hadn’t settled down in silent attention to notice it. Once experienced in meditation, this shift can happen whenever we are sitting quietly doing nothing but allowing the world to unfold around us.

This shift is brought about by releasing any tension or patterns that keep us in our active mental focus. When thoughts come up, and they do, we can welcome them as an opportunity to practice this important skill of transitioning into a relaxed state of alert awareness. The more we practice, the more adept we become at making this transition. By being open to the thoughts but not seduced by them, we keep a relaxed attitude which is conducive to an easy transition.

Most of us tend to devalue a meditative experience that is full of thoughts. We may even think it wasn’t a meditation and wish we could just be in a state of bliss. But having many opportunities to gently bring our attention back to the breath, back to the moment, is the essence of meditation practice. We are effectively creating a well worn path that we will be able to find in our daily lives when we most need it.

Sometimes when I am able to transition into this relaxed broad-focused state of awareness, I can sense my connection to all that is. And bringing even a milli-second of that awareness into my daily life can make all the difference in how I relate to the world around me.

Why does even one sliver of an insight change our whole lives? Maybe it has to do with the right brain awareness being timeless, so that it doesn’t matter if it was just a brief glimpse. The experience infuses our being. A keyhole may be small, but hold your eye up to it and you can see everything!

POEM: Distance

Here & now
things are
actual size
ready to be
dealt with.

Then & there
even big things
appear small.
This is not just
some artist’s
trick of perspective.
In fact! Things in
the distance are small
because there is
absolutely nothing
you can do about them
from here
except wrap them
in loving kindness
and return to
the breath.

– Stephanie Noble

Why Live in the Present Moment?

‘Live in the moment.’ Yes, we’ve all heard that before. But really what’s the big deal about the present moment? What’s wrong with all those other enticing moments that draw our attention?

Simply this: They don’t exist. Moments previously experienced are now just memories. Future moments are just hopes and fears. We can’t experience them with any of our senses. We can’t taste the apple pie we ate yesterday. We can’t hear the concert we heard last night.We can’t see tonight’s sunset this morning. We can record it, we can remember it, but we cannot experience it fully as we did in the moment it occurred.

Even as you admit this is true, you may be experiencing some resistance to the idea of such a narrow focus. Staying present for just this moment, you may be afraid you’ll be missing out on something else. Why wear blinders? you may ask.

But full awareness in the present moment is the opposite of wearing blinders. It is suddenly being really able to see it all! Bringing awareness of all the senses to bear on this moment, we open to the sounds we had ignored in our rush to the future. We see the way light and shadow play across the scene we hadn’t noticed before because we were trying to remember something. We sense the texture of our clothes on our skin as if we never felt it before as we were lost in our thoughts. Our mouths suddenly feel more alive as we taste the complex flavors and texture of food. Perhaps we’d never allowed ourselves the pleasure to simply taste what we eat without running a whole story about calories, fats and our inability to control our cravings.

Coming into full awareness of what we are experiencing right now makes us, perhaps for the first time we can remember, fully and completely and richly alive! Alive to ourselves and the world around us. Fully present, fully engaged, fully available for others.

So are we saying that to live in the present must we block out the past and the future? Not at all. The effort of blocking thoughts in itself knocks us out of the present moment. Every moment holds an awareness of past and future as threads of thought and residual or anticipatory emotions we can feel in this moment in our bodies.

Through the practice of meditation we are able to begin to see these threads for what they are: Just thoughts and feelings passing through. When we get lost in the past, remembering, revising or regretting, or caught up in future planning, fantasizing or worrying, we bring ourselves gently back to an awareness of the present moment. Again and again.

At the beginning, or in challenging times, we might not get fully present for long before our minds set off to wandering again. No one said this was easy! But the beauty is that a single moment fully lived with all our senses has a radiant quality that enriches our whole lives.