I kind of suck at living in the moment. I am much more talented at rerunning the past in my brain and worrying about the future. I realize it would be much healthier to live with the “what is” instead of trying to change the past or control the future, but I just don’t seem to have the skills.
The toxicity of my general approach hit me square in the face during my mother’s illness. I spent so much energy thinking about the “what ifs” in the past and the future, I pretty much went down for the ten-count on a regular basis. Getting up off the mat became more and more difficult as time went on. Not only was I giving myself an emotional concussion, I wasn’t doing my mother any favors either. It is hard to be present and attentive and loving for someone who only has the now when your heart is so unpracticed at living in the moment. I realized pretty quickly that the quagmire I created in my mind out of “if onlys” and “what will I dos” was nearly as debilitating as the actuality of the situation.
I knew I was making things more difficult for myself by dragging my feet through the past as I rushed to the future. I tried very hard to rewire my neurological synapses. I worked at concentrating on the present that was in front of me. Sometimes I was able to redirect my brain and keep it from straying into the unhealthy paths, but I usually failed. It isn’t any big surprise that I fared so poorly. Over fifty years of conditioned brain activity doesn’t change easily, even when one makes a concerted effort to learn a different way. After all, one does not go directly from Drivers’ Ed classes to whooshing around the track in the Indy 500. I was learning the most elementary lessons in the art of living in the present. Yet, I was challenging myself to do so in the most difficult situation of my life. The circumstances pretty much doomed me to failure. I decided to find other contexts in which I might practice my ability to live in the now.
As a result, I decided to make a deliberate effort to live in the present as I explored the idea of joining the Episcopal Church. I thought, if there ever was a situation suited to releasing control and luxuriating in the moment, surely it must be a spiritual journey. I gave myself the gift of not justifying or creating a situation but simply living one. I didn’t force myself to commit or engage. I didn’t obsess about saying or doing something wrong. I took advantage of learning opportunities that occurred organically, without trying to tick off boxes to complete an established process. I observed and learned at my own pace…. My pace and God’s pace for me, I suppose. The whole process was about pace in many ways. It was restful… and beautiful…. not to have to make things happen.
When the time came for the bishop to visit our parish and perform the ceremony to accept me into the Episcopal Church, I was out of town. I was fine with waiting. I felt very peaceful about the whole thing. I was perfectly okay with being received a year or more later the next time the bishop visited the parish, but our parish priest arranged for me to go to a service at the diocesan office. At first, I was a little wistful that I wasn’t going to celebrate the service with the members of the parish community I had come to know, but I firmly and gently redirected my brain to the peace of the present. I know there would have been certain blessings to have had the service with the parish community, but I experienced different blessings by going to the diocese office. My first friends in the church were also away the day of the bishop’s visit to the parish. Because of my delay, I was able to have them as sponsors to present me to the bishop at the diocesan office. We spent the day together and, through this shared experience, became friend-family for one another. I met the staff at the diocese office. They showed me the heart of the greater Episcopal Church beyond the doors of my parish.
Clearly, my decision to let things be and live in the moment as I explored my spiritual path reaped manifold benefits that I might not have appreciated had I not allowed myself to stay in the now. A success in living in the present. It was a small, safe success. But it was still a success and a success is a better foundation for future growth than failure.
The present is a present. Yes, it can be the type of present that you want to regift or return to the store. On the other hand, if we take the time to really appreciate it, the present can be a beautiful surprise we never knew we wanted until we live it.
Have you ever experienced a time when you encountered a special “present” because you were living in the moment that you might not have noticed had you been focusing on the past or the future? Please share your perspective by leaving a comment. In the alternative, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
May you be gifted with a beautiful present today!