All we really have is a long string of moments which, when concatenated together, extend into a lifetime. While we do our best to fill those moments with value, with meaning, with heartful interchanges, how many of those moments are we actually present for? How many do we have where we are sublimely aware of the actual moment as it unfolds and our presence within it? The truth is that almost all of my moments slip by unaware, sand slipping through my fingers without even being aware of the sand itself let alone its texture or color.
Since returning to Nepal I’ve rekindled a committed meditation practice. Once or twice a day, sometimes more, so far 20-30 minutes each time. My intention is to right my ship, return to greater self-awareness, to be able to attend to more of those moments, to remember to be still enough to be a true impartial witness to my own life.
Most folks who haven’t meditated much if at all seem to have the impression that the goal of meditation is to still one’s mind. While the mind can settle down over time, to me meditation is much more about bearing witness to one’s mind and thoughts rather than trying to quiet them.
One of the threads in my life lately has been a growing awareness of my discomfort with aloneness. Curious, I know, for a person who has spent so much time in his life living alone. Discomfort is one of those things that we very quickly deflect or cover up with other thoughts or activities. Through meditation, I am slowing down enough to allow a greater awareness and understanding of that discomfort to arise. In the stillness of meditation, with no way of discharging energies and uncomfortable feelings and thoughts, all that remains is to sit and bear witness. It’s quite fascinating actually, when held with curiosity, to see the inner workings of my mind. Meditation is also a very good way to get close enough to my own body to witness the physiological correlates to my emotional states. Fear of rejection, I noticed this morning, can be accompanied by a turning away of the upper left of my torso, perhaps turning the heart away from impact. Longing/yearning has a heaviness and forward contraction of the entire front of my ribcage. It is my belief that the more we can sit with and identify feelings, both emotional and their physiological counterparts, the more we can learn to simply observe them as they arise in our lives rather than reacting to them unconsciously.
A wonderful thing has begun to happen in recent days which I feel is directly related to meditation. I find myself throughout the day saying to myself, “and then there’s this moment.” When I do, the moment becomes infused with a vibrance which fills my senses. Suddenly I am seeing details everywhere that I otherwise would miss. The beauty of it all is that I also then begin to feel my ontological presence within the scene, within the moment. It’s a difficult experience to describe, but is often infused with wonder and awareness. The key here is that there is a sense, not just of experience, but of being present experiencing.
Often times, we associate certain feelings as being more “spiritual” than others and seek to maximize those (ease, joy, peace, love, kindness, compassion) while minimizing others (frustration, fear, anxiety, criticism, etc.). The longer I’ve been around, the more I have come to see that all experiences are equally valid and we are better off not picking and choosing. Thus, while walking down the street the other day and feeling down and somewhat fearful, I found myself again saying to myself, “and then there’s this moment.” Within a more aware state, even more uncomfortable emotions can have a fullness and richness to them which can have their own peculiar deliciousness. As much as we might want to have all our experiences be positive, life encompasses a full spectrum and I for one would prefer to be present to all of it. With presence, by not rejecting our experience, I find that the more difficult emotions pass or at least become objects of curiosity rather than experiences to remain mired within. Within each moment, this moment, there is nothing that is not beautiful, if only I can remember to be present to it.
“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
― Thích Nhất Hạnh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life