The Gift of Presence
by Debbie Cole
December 8, 2013
Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. ~Buddha
Most humans are never fully present in the now, because subconsciously they believe the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now. And that’s a revelation for some people: to realize that your life is only ever now. —Eckhart Tolle
In the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, it is easy to get lost in preparations – we’re so focused on what lies ahead –are we ready? will this happen? or that? or wouldn’t it be perfect if I can find this particular gift for that particular person? Sometimes we can almost become obsessed with trying to make a “perfect” holiday. How can we bring a little sanity to the celebrations?! …How can we find the peace within ourselves in the midst of the chaos of the season, or just the chaos of our lives? It can be as simple as breathing in and breathing out. Sometimes we add extra significance to moments and the anticipation of those moments, but it is important to note, that every moment is an opportunity, every moment holds promise of untold possibilities. There is no need to wait for a special moment, or to put so much pressure on a single point in time. We are free to embrace the possibilities at ANY time … at EVERY moment. This time, right now, is the only moment that we are truly alive. This present moment is the only time when life is truly happening …and we have chosen to spend it together.
It is easy to get stuck in living our lives from the neck up – analyzing and thinking our way through our day; not well connected to our bodies, our experiences, or the moment. By inhabiting our bodies we can be more anchored, more fully aware of now. The physical and the emotional do not have to be shunned in order to be rational and thoughtful. Being connected (to our own bodies) helps keep us connected (to each other and the present moment.)
It is worth a momentary pause to acknowledge the present moment, where we are, right now, physically, mentally, emotionally.
Our opening hymn (Morning Has Come #1000, Singing the Journey) says, “wonder fills this moment shared together” and “open our eyes to see that life abounds” This is calling us to be aware of our precious moment …our ‘right now.’
I invite you to take a break from any overarching concerns or current distractions and just be . . . [be] right here, in the present moment.
Feel free to get comfortable in your chair. Take a breath, settle your thoughts, bring awareness to your physical body pressing against the chair, your feet resting on the floor, …in this sanctuary, at this time, in this moment. Take a moment to feel your body from the inside –being aware of your breath flowing in and out of the body. Allow yourself to fully inhabit your body. THIS is reality. THIS moment is all there is – our breath, our experience. [Pause – bell?] I invite you to open your eyes and bring your attention back into our greater, shared experience and note any differences you may be aware of.
When life’s challenges seem to build up to overwhelm us, it is often because we hold some fear of the future, or we are allowing ourselves to be tormented by the past. In the present moment lies, not only the possibility to relieve some of the excess tension, but it is the only experience that is real right now.
For many years I participated in the Ride For The Feast, a 2-day, 140-mile bike ride to raise funds for Moveable Feast in Baltimore. I have been rather busy the last few years and sometimes I don’t take the time to properly train for the bike ride that starts in Ocean City with a 100 mile ride on the 1st day. It can be lonely and difficult, especially at about mile 60 or 65 — one year in particular, my body was feeling a lot of discomfort. Rather than trying to distract myself, I decided to lean in to the discomfort. I focused on bringing more attention to the present moment, by asking myself if I was okay just in that moment and could I make one more peddle stroke. I didn’t know how I would feel in the next moment, but invariably, for that moment, the answer was yes. I was okay for THAT moment. I also didn’t want to miss the joy and adventure of the ride, so I focused on being acutely aware of my surroundings, smelling the occasional honeysuckle or even chicken coup as I rode by. I marveled at how I continued to make progress even through the heaviness in my body. I was aware that I could stop if I needed to, but I literally made it one pedal stroke at a time. I realized that my discomfort had more to do with my anxiety about how I might feel when my body reached its physical endurance limit. My distress had more to do with my own worry and stress about my capability (or not) to keep going.
According to Eckhart Tolle the author of The Power of Now, “Unease, anxiety, tension, stress, worry — all forms of fear — are caused by too much future, and not enough presence.” He continues, “Guilt, regret, resentment, grievances, sadness, bitterness, and all forms of nonforgiveness are caused by too much past, and not enough presence.”
The gift of the present moment is the opportunity to put down the baggage of yesterday and the expectations of tomorrow and enjoy the bounty of this very moment. There is so much around us that may go unnoticed in our rush to be “doing.” Sometimes the biggest obstacle to living in the moment, or being fully present in the moment, is our own impatience for the next moment – like Peter in our story this morning. We are so focused on what comes next or on getting through a list of chores that we don’t fully appreciate what is around us; the wealth of wisdom and beauty that surrounds our every day.
In a previous December, I was in a rush to make it to an appointment. Just before I got to the appointment, after once again trailing a person going slower that I was interested in going, I cut through a parking lot only to have to stop short because the same car had turned to go right in front of me. An older gentleman with an angry face was shaking a finger at me as he passed in front of me and parked at the same doctor’s office where I was going. Embarrassed, I decided it would be better to confront the issue rather than ignore it in uncomfortable silence. So, as he got out of his car I spoke my apology. He mumbled something about it being the season; I smiled back and held the office door open. This experience was a reminder to come back to the present moment. I try to use the story as a touchstone when I am feeling rushed (especially on the road). Interestingly, I ran into the same man again soon after. He suggested that he must be my worst nightmare (showing up again). I assured him that I was grateful for the lesson on patience – it was interesting to experience a bond with another person who could have otherwise been ignored in uncomfortable silence. It is amazing what surrounds us when we dare to notice and acknowledge.
To truly be in the present moment allows room for openness and curiosity. Judgment comes when our expectations are not met …when we impose in this moment a dreamed up prospect of how things could have been. The point is not to ignore those feelings of judgment, but to be aware of them and then let them go, maybe by asking “what can be learned from this?” Learning to be gentle with ourselves is an important step in being gentle with others. We are ALL a work in progress; we are all imperfect and incomplete. It does no good to be dishonest with ourselves.
As Pema Chodron points out in her book “Start Where You Are,”
“Developing loving-kindness for yourself is the basis for compassionate communication and relationships.”
It is okay for us to recognize that we ARE good enough, and yet still push for deeper and continued growth and learning.
In meditation practice, when we recognize that we are being carried away by thoughts, we can make note of it, ideally let it go, and then refocus – beginning, again. [Return Again #1011] This is a process of awareness, letting go, and bringing attention back to the breathe or other focus …without judgment. Otherwise precious (meditation) time is spent being angry or disappointed. By developing this compassion for ourselves, we can more fully be compassionate with others. It’s about being involved in our own process, not necessarily about reaching a specific goal. It is not that we are expected to never slide back into self judgment, but awareness is the key …and then, NOT judging even when we slide back into judgment. Sometimes that is the hardest part!
I want to share an excerpt from Radical Acceptance by Tara Brach. She writes:
The renowned seventh-century Zen master Seng-tsan taught that true freedom is being “without anxiety about imperfection.” This means accepting our human existence and all of life as it is. Imperfection is not our personal problem—it is a natural part of existing. We all get caught in wants and fears, we all act unconsciously, we all get diseased and deteriorate. When we relax about imperfection, we no longer lose our life moments in the pursuit of being different and in the fear of what is wrong.
D.H. Lawrence described our Western culture as being like a great uprooted tree with its roots in the air. “We are perishing for lack of fulfillment of our greater needs,”
he wrote, “we are cut off from the great sources of our inward nourishment and renewal.” We come alive as we rediscover the truth of our goodness and our natural connectedness to all of life. Our “greater needs” are met in relating lovingly with each other, relating with full presence to each moment, relating to the beauty and pain that is within and around us. As Lawrence said, “We must plant ourselves again in the universe.”
There are certain times when life helps us pay more attention, when life might bring us into the present moment whether we specifically request it or not. (These are times when we are more forcefully planted in the universe.) Times of great emotion … times of awe, fear, love, or concern…. Maybe out first glimpse of the Grand Canyon, or jumping off a high platform holding onto a trapeze; Or when great icon of freedom and advocate of reconciliation, Nelson Mandela, dies; Or when a child is hurt, or when a child is born. These are just some of the moments that might prompt bringing us back to the present moment; bring our hearts to a holy place. We all have these moments, the key is, we all have so much more, too.
The gifts of the present moment can include “hearing” a quiet snow fall while feeling the energizing cold as we are aware of the stinging frozen air filling and being warmed by our lungs….the amazing muffled stillness, that expands out from the freshness and innocence of newly fallen snow. The joy of allowing yourself to just sit and watch snow fall– like being allowed to witness the whole world getting a fresh start – allowing yourself the gift of the present moment. These moments are often revered as sacred moments.
Life can be like a meditation…awareness, letting go, refocusing, begin again. I invite you to think of what you need to let go of in THIS moment, what has snagged you? What is keeping you from being fully in this present moment? If you’re concerned about letting it go for too long (maybe it’s something you have to do, but now is not the time to do it) just let it go for this moment. You can decide again shortly if you wish to pick it back up again. I invite you to be gentle with yourself. Your own calming influence has an effect on those around you – it, too, is a gift which only grows stronger in the sharing. Bring your heart to that holy place of presence.
You are an amazing, and important part of the whole Universe AND you are only one part of the Universe. We are all in this together, to help, to nurture, to be present to each other. Give yourself the gift, bring your heart to that holy place of presence and carry it into your week.
It is truly a gift to be present.
May it be so. Blessed be. Amen.