Be Here Now
“I have never yet met a man who was quite awake.”
– Henry David Thoreau, Walden
When I was a freshman in college I had a professor who was also an old-fashioned nun. She kept the classroom windows wide open on the coldest winter mornings in order to wake us up.
“Be here now,” was our first lesson.
“How much time do you spend in the present moment?” she asked the class. After some reflection we decided that it was not a whole lot of time at all. We realized that we spent too much time consumed with thoughts involving past or future moments, and thereby, missed a lot of what was happening around us in the present.
In truth, much of what occupies my mind during the day is trivial and sometimes, even toxic in regard to my spiritual and emotional well-being. It seems like a constant struggle to maintain the proper perspective. Human beings tend to think that they are the whole picture in terms of the universe. “Our life is frittered away by detail,” writes Thoreau. This is a timeless idea. The mind is a battlefield.
In my class the teacher challenged us to sharpen our focus by turning off the car radio while driving. Back then I didn’t have the temptation to text, check email or make cell phone calls while focusing on the road. Thirteen years of technological advancement has piled on the burden of more distractions since my freshman year in college.
Currently, I often feel like I have the attention span of a house fly. I’m cooking, playing back home phone messages and checking email. Meanwhile, the television is on and my cell phone is ringing. As a busy wife and mother, I’m everywhere but “here” mentally. This behavior takes a toll on my interaction with my children and my spouse. It wears away my patience and stamina making me feel completely off-balance.
But I still remember that teacher I had and her lesson about being present in the moment. It is really hard to do and lately, I’ve been practicing. The problem is my thoughts shift constantly like images in a digital picture frame. Unlike an electronic device, there is no clear/reset button on my mind. I have to do it manually.
My solution is exercise and prayer. I like to go running after dinner in an old cemetery located behind my property, and when the gates are locked, within the blocks surrounding my home. I often bring my iPod, which would qualify as a distraction, but not how I use it in this case. I have a book of Catholic prayers recorded on it, specifically, two long prayers called The Rosary and The Divine Mercy Chaplet. Reciting these prayers is a form of meditation. Meditation of any kind is an excellent way to sharpen one’s mental focus.
It’s not easy to focus on repeating phrases even for 20 minutes. I find myself thinking about other things while I listen to the prayers, until I’m half way through them and have missed a large part because of my wandering thoughts. I have to concentrate on each word in order to keep my brain from switching to autopilot. After the prayers are over I turn off the iPod and just look around as I walk through a cool-down portion of my exercise.
In those moments, when I’m in the cemetery, I see the most stunning birds. I listen more pointedly to all the sounds around me: the blast of the five o’clock train whistle from several blocks away, the laughter of my children playing in the yard beyond the fence, the rattling of a pin wheel placed beside a grave. I notice the small tunnels borrowed in the grass, evidence of a thriving community of voles.
During my hour of exercise, after I’ve focused on prayer for a while, I feel more clear-headed. Then it becomes evident to me that the present moment is where the most action is; it is where life is unfolding. This is where I strive to be.
By Loren Christie
Visit Loren’s personal blog Dude, Where Am I?