The spiritual journey is full of unexpected and wondrous inner shifts. I recently realized that a change has gradually occurred in my outlook. I am appreciating the moment-by-moment experiences in my life in a happier way than I have since childhood. Now, both ordinary and uncommon pleasures and blessings evoke a long absent joy.
This is somewhat due to my increasing sensitivity and awareness, but what is revolutionary for me is a blossoming sense of sufficiency and contentment. My old patterns are dissolving, allowing me to receive each instant's gift as enough in itself. Before, I would get caught in negating habits of subtle clutching -- the feeling of "I want this to last" -- or fear -- the distressing tug of "This won't last" -- or greed -- an undermining "This is nice, but I want something else, something more".
I never before fully understood the point of living in the now. I couldn't see how this could make my life any better. What I didn't realize is that while being present to my moment-by-moment reality does not alter my circumstances, it does enrich my response to life. With my focus on what I am experiencing now, so many fleeting incidents I used to barely notice have become an ongoing source of savored treasure.
A crucial turning point, I think, is that I have stopped lamenting the inevitability of change. Loss has played a strong role in my life, beginning with a rootless childhood in which my family moved from house to house, city to city every year or so. For me, this was an early awakening to the transience of this world. I quickly discovered that no matter how much I cherished them, people and places and things could (and many times did) disappear forever. But even without such a history of severance, eventually we realize that life's joys are passing. Many of us learn to defend ourselves from the pain of these continual "little deaths" by withholding our enthusiasms and affections, refusing to make anything or anyone too important.
Learning to live in the moment recaptures the childhood joy of delighting in each thing as it comes. Children do this easily because they are innocent of death and disappointment and loss. When this wonderful capacity re-emerges, it is not through a regained innocence or faith that life will meet us with abundant pleasures and rewards. Rather, it comes with the wisdom that no matter what the future may bring (or take away), it cannot rob us of experiencing what we have right now.
The only thing that can cheat me of this instant's sweetness is my own inattention. If I am invested in trying to secure some imagined good or in fortifying myself against possible misfortunes, I'm not mentally present and I miss what is here now. I eat my food without tasting it, I hear music without listening to it, I feel my bodily sensations in a muffled, distant way and I spend time with those I love without reveling in the opportunity to love being with them.
Every faculty and experience -- feeling, seeing, smelling, moving, resting, working, playing, contemplating, laughing, and even struggling -- form the rhythms and textures that make my life uniquely mine. All these engagements are life's dance through me and for me. Be it the patter of rain on city streets or a moonlit walk by the ocean, if my attention is elsewhere, I lose the opportunity to celebrate the dance. When I am preoccupied by fantasies and ideals of what I want or worried about what I fear, I become oblivious to this veritable cornucopia of gifts, and imagine my life to be dull, deprived and empty.
I have spent more time than I can say in just such a distracted state, and I would be mortally embarrassed to admit it if I did not know that it is, alas, the common human predicament. Being present is a natural state for a little child, but for an adult it is a rare art. Learning to love whatever beauty we perceive, in whatever guise it appears, no matter how seemingly insignificant, is the secret of living in the now.
Life is overflowing with joyful gifts, even in the most arid places and in the most difficult and tormented times. I learned this paradox during my long convalescence from a back injury. Through savage months of chronic pain, I came to rejoice in the most ordinary mercies: a warm shower, a clean bed, being able to sit up in a chair long enough to eat a small meal. These previously overlooked blessings broke my heart with their goodness. In the midst of my suffering, they were joyful gifts of the moment, reminding me that life is more than misery, and that the so-called little things are huge when one gives them loving notice.
Present Moment Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living
by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Developed during a summer retreat at Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh's meditation center, these charming short verses were collected to help children and adults practice mindfulness throughout the day. Reciting these poetic yet practical verses helps readers slow down and savor every moment. They are designed to make everyday activities — such as washing the dishes, driving the car, or turning on the television — opportunities to return to a state of mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hanh’s warm, thoughtful commentary provides insight and inspiration.
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El Collie was a writer and spiritual counselor who followed an eclectic spiritual path, exploring many traditions and practices. She died in April 2002. For more information on her writings and collages, visit http://www.elcollie.com.