“This very moment is the perfect teacher.” – Pema Chodron.
One of the many things we struggle with as human beings is an ongoing battle to want to be somewhere else or to experience something differently than we currently are. This human trait is to a great extent a product of our evolution: We are gifted as intelligent creatures with amazing abilities to set goals, envision change, develop projects, cultivate transformation, and manifest profound improvements in our lives and in the world around us. We can evaluate circumstances and structures and effect ways to transcend the limitations or barriers of a particular system. But with this gift often comes the “curse”—or the responsibility–of a recurring thought pattern that identifies limitations in almost everything we encounter in our hungry, anxious, beautiful minds.
This paradox of consciousness can do great things for us individually and collectively, but it can also leave us in many instances in a kind of personal battle with our own circumstances and experiences. We can spend so much of our lives wanting to be in a different place, or with a different job or house or body type. It is human nature to experience a desire for things we don’t have. And yet, for many people in today’s fast-paced world of distractions and ceaseless materialism it is not just an underlying healthy desire, but often instead an overwhelming obsession: What I don’t have enough of, what I don’t do enough of.
The result of this all-too-common discontent can be a way of living and thinking in a seemingly constant state of not experiencing our lives as they are–but as we think they should be or will be. It is a way of perceiving and narrating our worldview so that there is an intense focus on the past or the future– or on the ways that other people are living. What can be lost in all of this, tragically, is what is happening now in our lives, in the experience of really taking in what is unfolding and arising before us, here and now.
If you take a minute to consider your typical day, reflect on just how much of that day is spent not in the moments that make up the day but in projecting to the next or the previous moment’s experience. When you’re at work, or commuting or doing chores, are you focused on really being present with what is happening right now–or is your mind really just mechanically operating while you ponder the eventual completion of your work, the previous conversation, last night’s entertainment, the next meal, the next destination? When you really examine it, how much of your day is spent not experiencing the present moment?
But the good news is there is hope: There are tools for breaking free from this mindset and for opening up to the present moment awareness that is abundant and available to us. One of the most universally accessible of these tools is mindfulness meditation. Meditation offers multiple benefits but probably one of the most tangible is an increased capacity to discover how you can live more fully in the experience of what is happening now.
Through a meditation practice we can begin not only to more fully inhabit the present in our lives. We can also begin to more clearly see our habits of thinking, the ways that our mind wraps around the past, the future, the insufficiencies and inadequacies that we find continuous distraction in. And we can become more familiar with what kinds of things continuously pull our awareness away from experiencing the present moment. We can get to know our minds better and in so doing become more skillful at liberating ourselves from the ongoing drive towards distraction.
The key to really manifesting this gift is to cultivate a kind of gentleness with ourselves that is inherent in the practice of meditation. We can begin to develop a deep sense of self-compassion and understanding: What we are experiencing in the present moment is OK—we don’t necessarily need to constantly seek something else to distract ourselves with.
Sure, it is fruitful to set goals and work towards greater achievements or better health, but it’s also possible that we can more fully appreciate what is before us right here, and more richly live in this amazing world.
The access to this experience can start with baby steps. Five, ten, maybe fifteen minutes once or twice a day, just spending time with your heart and your mind. Try to find a meditation technique that speaks to you, that is sustainable and that offers you some calmness and clarity. And before you know it you may find yourself thriving in the abundance of the here and now.
Written by Gabriel Woodhouse for bodono.
Gabriel Woodhouse is one of the teachers at Three Jewels which offers free meditation classes every weekday morning at 8:00 am and 1:30 pm and on Friday evenings at 7:00 pm. Three Jewels functions as a Meditation, Yoga, Dharma, and Outreach Center for the community. More info at: threejewels.org