Living in the now
Past, present and future. In each of us, the world and our lives exist simultaneously in all three of these realms. In this third lesson of six in the Fall Program series, Discovering Your Soul Signature, based on the book of the same title by Panache Desai, Rev. Joanne explains that while in our minds we relive yesterday, and pre-live tomorrow, there is only ever the now present moment.
In his classic tale A Christmas Carol, Charles Dickens shows Ebenezer Scrooge his life as it was, is now, and how it might be, if he fails to make changes. Just like Ol’ Ebenezer, we too have the ability to choose in every moment how we act, react, and see the world. We may not have the benefit of three visits from wise apparitions, but we often recreate our past and project our potential future with great ease.
The past we remember may be accurate. It may also be remembered with fondness, even when the actual events were merely neutral. That first girlfriend or boyfriend was better looking than they actually were, or the music of your youth was better than the “awful stuff” being produced today. It is part of the reason that classic cars are popular with some people. It returns them to a time of their youth when things were “easier” and “better.”
The past might also be remembered as being worse than it actually was. Tragedy and abuse, unfortunately, are all too real and trauma should never be downplayed or denied. However, it might also be that your older brother roughed you up once when you were kids (and really, not even at all badly), but years later you remember it as on-going bullying. Or that you were unfairly passed over for promotion at work, when in fact a more qualified person was given the position. There is currency in keeping these types of memories active. Sympathy from others each time you retell the story, or to use as excuses for why you have not done more with your life are common reasons for holding such memories.
Living in the future is also fraught with its own pitfalls. Planning for the future is a responsible thing to do. Completing a degree or apprenticeship program opens up opportunities that would likely otherwise not be available. Creating a savings plan to finance the purchase of a home, your children’s education, or your retirement are also looking to the future in a healthy manner. However, many of us have a rather unhealthy habit of projecting ill fate for ourselves. We waste time running “what-if” scenarios through our minds such as a job loss, death in the family, a serious personal health challenge, or dissolution of a marriage.
So, if we cannot change the past, and much of the negative things that we project for ourselves in the future are unlikely to happen, why do we have such a hard time living in the present moment? One reason may be, as Rev. Joanne reminds us, is that it is much easier to live in the present moment when things are going well. If the Big Three (finances, health, and relationships) are all going well for you, there is no reason to dwell on the past or project problems into the future. But even if these things are going well in general, we can still have episodes that are unpleasant. It is similar to the difference between climate and weather. If your life is happy, the climate is good. That does not mean it will never be cloudy, rainy, or even experience a storm or two. A child struggling in school, an argument with your spouse, or a serious but treatable health challenge are all fluctuations in the weather.
What does the “harmonious present moment” look like in the midst of an argument with our spouse, bumper to bumper traffic, grief, or a financial challenge? It does not mean ignoring the emotions that we are feeling. The argument is stressful. Traffic is frustrating. Grief hurts. Financial challenge is scary. A healthy way to approach all situations, including the most difficult moments in our life, is mindfulness. One definition of mindfulness is offered by Jon Kabat-Zinn:
Mindfulness is an appreciation for the present moment and the cultivation of an intimate relationship with it through an continual attending care and discernment. It is the direct opposite of taking life for granted. . . . The habit of ignoring our present moments in favor of others yet to come leads directly to a pervasive lack of awareness in the web of life in which we are embedded. . . . It severely limits our perspective on what it means to be a person and how we are connected to each other and to the world around us.1
Another possible reason why living in the present moment may be difficult is that modern society does not really give us permission to be bored anymore. From the time they are preschoolers many children have “play dates.” Older children are scheduled to within an inch of their lives. Riding with their families in their minivans, kids have their noses plastered into an iPad, phone, or video game. As adults, we have more control over the use of our time than children, but we have many more options for distractions and avoidance behaviors.
If we seek distractions from being bored, how much more compelling is it to seek distraction to avoid other unpleasant feelings such as sadness, betrayal, or grief? Some people anaesthetize themselves from these feelings by abusing alcohol or other drugs, literally numbing themselves from feeling anything, and sometimes becoming addicted. But we can also seek escape from feelings through behaviors such as shopping, sex, exercise, video games, work, watching TV or a myriad of other activities. But what is at the bottom of the actual need for distraction? Fear.
When we fear something we tend to avoid it. On a basic level, this is an evolutionary adaptation for survival. Fearing snakes, growling dogs, or heights, for example, allowed our species to continue. Talking to your spouse about how many “late nights at the office” they have been putting in, doing what is necessary to lose weight, or putting together your resume to look for a better job all can be scary. We would rather avoid those conversations and work. So how do we counteract the fear and move forward? By understanding the opposite of Fear is Love. The Bible tells us:
There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. 1 John 4:18
If, for example, we are experiencing a health challenge, trusting Divine Love allows us to know that perfect wisdom is guiding our decisions and those of our care givers. In an argument with a loved one, embracing Divine Love may mean releasing the need to be right.
Rev. Joanne gave a wonderful metaphor about moving through life’s inevitable ups and downs. On the rollercoaster of life will we be the person holding on for all we are worth, or will we have our hands over our head experiencing the exhilaration of being alive? Everyone has highs and lows in life, with no exceptions. Living in the Harmonious Present Moment does not mean having no problems and no pain. It means by remembering that we always have direct access to God through prayer and meditation, we can move past fear into a place of peace.
Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert. Isaiah 43:18-19
You are invited to create your own spiritual practice around this week’s focus. You could set the intention to pause for an hour, take a breath, and be fully present, You could decide to consciously become present before making or answering a phone call. You get to choose your focus, then do it!
My spiritual practice for the week will be to follow what the Apostle Paul wrote:
In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you.
1 Thessalonians 5:18
It is important to notice that the passage says In everything give thanks, not For everything give thanks. It is difficult to feel grateful for a failed marriage, lost job, or illness. We can, however, find the blessing in all things if we look for them. They may not be immediately obvious, but holding in one’s heart the knowledge that there is an blessing to be found guarantees that you will find it. This week, how will you seek to live in the harmonious present moment?
1Kabat-Zinn, Jon, Wherever You Go, There You Are, Hyperion Press, 1994, ISBN: 0-7868-8070-8. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD. is the founding member of the Stress Reduction Clinic and the Center for Mindfulness in Medicine, Health Care, and Society at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, as well as Professor of Medicine emeritus.