Choosing Moments Over Memories

IMG_2033I am asking myself these days how can I slow down inside so that the external speed of life does not diminish my ability to soak it all in, marinate in it, allow it, and not be bulldozed by it.

My little one is growing so fast and I don’t want to have memories.

I want to have moments.

Moments that I was Here for, moments that I laughed in, cried in, broke in, and healed in, but moments that I felt echo through my whole being.

And if at the end I remember them, well that would be wonderful. Call it a bonus. But I want more than anything to be here now.

I’ve been really inviting myself to be more present in my day-to-day life because while meditation and stillness feel miraculous, the majority of my time is spent in unstillness, in movement, jumping from one moment to the next without time to pause.

So I tried a trick I learned a lifetime ago but get lazy about. I try to engage with life as if I am doing everything for the very first time.

It’s the very first time I’ve seen water come out of the spout.
It’s the very first time I’ve seen my son smile.
It’s the very first time I’ve seen a blue sky.
It’s the very first time I’ve smelled garlic toasting in the pan.
It’s the first time I’ve tasted a strawberry.
It’s the very first time I’ve sat on this couch and felt my body relax.
It’s the very first time I’ve changed a diaper.
It’s the very first time I’ve heard a dog bark.
It’s the very first time I’ve hugged my husband.
It’s the first time I’ve smelled a rose.
It’s the very first time I’ve felt rain.
It’s the very first time I’ve heard my son cry.
It’s the very first time I’ve felt tired and achy.
It’s the very first time I’ve done yoga.
It’s the very first time I’ve moved my legs to walk.
It’s the very first time I’ve smiled.
It’s the very first time I’ve looked in my husband’s blue eyes.
It’s the first time I’ve said, I love you.

Oh how things slow down inside me, melt inside me, and how the gratitude rises like a bubble I can’t suppress. I’m always close to tears because the magnitude of life on this level is hard for my small human form to hold. So I keep stretching my heart bigger to hold it all, to receive it all, and to reflect it all back.

The world keeps speeding along, but as much as I can I try to slow down my perception, my experience, my quality of life so I can soak up the moments fully during the only time they will be with me, right now.

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The Practice of Remembering

I spend a lot of time focusing my senses on external things. It’s the nature of the mind to think, to get distracted, to stay busy. I often find myself mindlessly clicking through social media with a vague sense that I’m looking for something.

I never find it, whatever I’m looking for. An answer, a connection, a direction, a purpose.

I don’t find it because it’s not out there. It’s in here.

It’s in here, in the deep dark chambers of my heart where love and fear sleep side by side.

garudasanaIt’s in here, buried in my muscles that hug my bones where tissues and issues embrace.

It’s in here, behind my ribs where my inbreath and outbreath dance cheek to cheek.

It’s in here, hiding in the space behind my eyes where seeing gives way to knowing.

It’s in here, in the attic of my soul and the basement of my body.

It’s in here, in my throat that swells with song and wails with weeping.

It’s in here, in my chest that rises in love and bows in gratitude.

It’s in me, the answer I seek, the connection I seek, the company I seek, the purpose I seek.

I don’t have to find it. I have to remember it. When I do everything falls into place. Everything falls into the place it’s always been in, I just become present enough to see it, to stay with it, to appreciate it, to inhabit it.

This is my practice. Remembering.

This Too Shall Pass

rose shadowThis is the phrase we all hear when we’re going through a difficult time.

It’s supposed to remind us of the big picture of life.
It’s supposed to remind us our current situation is temporary, no matter how dire it seems at the time.
It’s supposed to remind us to hang in there.

But I’ve been thinking.

It also applies to our great times. Those precious moments, those successes, those accomplishments, those unforgettable memories.

This too shall pass.

Since the good moments are just as fleeting and temporary as what we like to call the bad ones, doesn’t that also remind us of the fragility, the fleetingness, and the brevity of life?

It does for me.

I came to this sobering analysis while nursing my six-month-old. This indescribable mother-baby bond just blows me away. It humbles me, it honors me, and I just want to capture it somehow.

I don’t want to remember it. I want to hold on to it.

In response to my desire to hold on, I remind myself I need to let go. Not just of this, but of every other amazing moment in my life.

This too shall pass.

I know there is no holding on. There is just showing up.

All I can do is show up. All I can do is dig deeper than I’ve ever dug and become radically present for these precious moments, because when they’re gone they’re gone.

And I will rest more peacefully at the end of my life knowing I showed up for my life than if I have a mind full of memories that I was never fully present for.

There’s a poem by Mary Oliver that I love called In Blackwater Woods.

The portion that speaks to me is this:

To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it
go,
to let it go.

That is my work in this lifetime.

Hold it close.
And let it go.

There’s No Prerequisite for Presence

I’ve been practicing Yoga Nidra (also known as yogic sleep) the last few months to help me unwind and rest. The tape I’ve been listening to has this instruction early on:

Bring your attention to what’s already happening.

I like to think of attention as being my full awareness, senses, and being. This is altogether different from merely bringing my mental attention to something. The first is a tangible, full-body experience, with the latter often being a distant, detached evaluation.

In the context of yoga nidra it’s referring to bringing your attention to a particular body part, but I love the phrase because it can be lifted out of my yoga nidra practice and applied to anything in my life.

Bring your attention to what’s already happening.

It does not ask me to change or fix anything. It asks me to show up for what is already there.

The most successful shifts, progress, and change I’ve experienced in my life have come from this simple act of being with what is. The more aggressive approach of trying to fix or change something has never worked very well for me.

But I forget that sometimes.

I forget that the most powerful healer, shifter, and connector is presence. I forget I have this tool with me at all times, and I forget how simple it is to use.

I like to make it harder than it is. I tell myself I need to meditate or I need to do yoga or I need to get outside or I need to rest before I can be present.

While those things make it easier to show up and soften the resistance I often bring to the present moment, the truth is they aren’t a prerequisite to presence.

There is no prerequisite for presence. It’s simply a matter of bringing our attention to what’s already happening.

When I step into my reality I find a unique clarity as what is comes sharply into focus and everything else fades away. This clarity and focus allows me to step consciously in the direction of my choice.

From Here anything is possible.

“You Reading This, Be Ready”

Antoinettes Yoga GardenThat’s the title of a William Stafford poem that contains this powerful question:

Will you ever bring a better gift for the world
than the breathing respect that you carry
wherever you go right now? 

I’ve been contemplating how I hold space for others and how others hold space for me, mostly because I’ve recently been on the receiving end of people holding space gracefully and generously for me.

This concept of holding space I find most palpable in a yoga class. There is ambiance, there is energy, there is conscious movement and words. It’s easy to drop into the present moment because there is a safe, supportive space for us to do so.

I find it to be the same in life. When someone physically holds space for me by listening to me, accepting me, acknowledging me, holding me, or just being with me it becomes easier to drop in to my current experience. I feel supported by whatever or whomever is surrounding me, and it turns me from defensive or scared to receptive and soft. I’m guessing it’s not just me who finds this to be true.

I’ve experienced this in the form of a 30-second hug, a 2-hour conversation, and moments of silence. It’s more the intention and energy than the act. I find being patient with someone else’s process, experience, or moment to be a very nourishing way of holding space for them.

The wonderful thing about this is the more we practice it the easier and more natural it gets. I’ve found that while initially it felt awkward to extend myself to someone, even a stranger, who needed a hug, a listen, or sincere word, it also felt natural. At times I’ve felt compelled to reach out by something seemingly bigger than me. The next time I found myself in a similar situation, I trusted myself a little more easily, I hesitated a second less, I reached out a moment sooner.

Holding space for others is the ultimate gift, both to others and to ourselves, as the last line of Stafford’s poem reminds us:

What can anyone give you greater than now,
starting here, right in this room, when you turn around?

photo credit: Robert Bejil

The Light in You

two motions

by A.R. Ammons

It is not enough to be willing to come out of the dark

and stand in the light,

all hidden things brought into sight, the damp

black spaces,

where fear, arms over its head, trembles into blindness,

invaded by truth-seeking light:

it is not enough to desire radiance, to be struck by

radiance: external light

throws darkness behind its brilliance, the division

nearly half and half:

it is only enough when the inner light

kindles to a source, radiates from its sphere to all

points outwardly: then, though

surrounding things are half and half with

light and darkness, all that is visible from the source

is light:

it is not enough to wish to cast light: as much

darkness as light is made that way: it is only

enough to touch the inner light of each surrounding thing

and hope it will itself be stirred to radiance,

eliminating the shadows that all lights give it,

and realizing its own full sphere:

it is only enough to radiate the sufficient light

within, the

constant source, the light beyond all possibility of night.

*****

My first reading of this poem took my breath away, as things do when they overwhelm you, amaze you, or humble you. It’s like Ammons took the inexpressible and the intangible and weaved them into these cohesive, comprehensive, magnificent lines I can hold on my tongue.

After bathing in the pure beauty and perfection of it, my mind started to step back in. It began to analyze the poem. This part I agree with, this part not so much… on and on went the mental banter.

The mental dissension came down to the concept of enoughness. One necessary foundation for presence – or perhaps the fruit of presence – is enoughness. Whatever we are is enough, whatever we have is enough, whatever exists is enough. It engenders a state of fullness, of ease.

Into this abundant ease we can relax, settle in, remove some layers of striving, and just BE where we are. Often this state feels so energizing, inspiring and alive that we can’t help but take an enlivened step in the direction of our choice. A step out of fullness, not out of emptiness.

I would say that every phase mentioned in the poem is enough in itself:

the willingness to come out of the dark
the standing in the light
the desiring radiance
the wishing to cast light

These stages in themselves are steps to what I would call the peak experience, the ultimate state of connection, of trust, of fullness.

when the inner light kindles to a source
when our light can  touch the inner light of each surrounding thing
when we radiate the sufficient light within
the constant source,
the light beyond all possibility of night.

When we tap into our own fullness, we have more than enough to share with the world. When we experience our own open-heartedness, we are not afraid to love or to lose. When we connect with our own internal, deep-seated truth, being, existence, we can’t help but see that in every living thing around us. We can’t help but connect to their source because we are connected to ours.

In order to get here, we have to be willing to come out of the dark. We have to stand in the light. We have to desire radiance.

We have to keep arriving and reevaluating the next step from Here. I suspect there is no limit to how full and how alive we can become.

In this context, one translation of the word Namaste I often hear in yoga takes on a new depth for me, and I offer it to you, wherever you are:

The Light in Me sees and reflects the Light in You.

The Secret of Life

These days I’m not too picky about where I find revelation, inspiration, or dedication. It doesn’t have to fit a certain image, philosophy, or point of view. I redefine what “sacred” is every day, and it doesn’t have to come in a pretty package, be perfect or palatable. In fact, I often find the sacred in life’s rawest and most difficult moments.

My only prerequisite is that it wake me up, humble me, reach deep inside me, and reveal to me what I often forget. One of these gems being:

Whatever path we’re on always leads us back to Here.

Think about where you are when you finally get where you’re going. Where is There? It’s Here. There becomes Here, so there’s really no There.

The more I step into the Here, into the Now, into the This, the more I live my fullest, most fearless, most rewarding life.

I recently adopted a mantra of sorts after reading this story, courtesy of Bob on elephant journal:

A young American makes an arduous journey to the farthest reaches of the Himalayas, seeking to learn the secret of life and happiness from one of the greatest Yoga gurus.

Once in the Himalayas, he travels five days up into the mountains, through many trials and difficulties.  Finally he reaches the high mountain pass where the great old man in a white robe and long flowing grey hair sits in lotus position, staring peacefully off into space.

The young man sits down next to the guru and assumes a similar pose, waiting for his words of wisdom.  An hour goes by.  Then several hours.  Then a day, then several days.  Finally the young man says to the old man, “What happens next?”

The guru answers, “Nothing happens next.  This is it.”

That’s become my mantra.

This is it.

When my mind or body want to get ahead of the present moment, I remind them:

This it it.

We are already here. We have already arrived. This is it.

It’s always a little sobering, a little unbelievable, and a lot liberating when I let those three words sink in deep.

This cutting the vegetables is it.
This ground beneath my feet is it.
This breathing is it.
This challenge before me is it.
This pain in my body is it.
This pleasure in my body is it.
This confusion over how this can be it is it.

It is similar to another mantra I used for quite some time, borrowed from Eckhart Tolle:

Honor the present moment.

His full comment goes like this:

As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love – even the most simple action.

I find these mantras, reminders, and stories invaluable because they give me small, bite-sized tools to incorporate into my everyday life. Here, in our everyday life is where we do the creating, the building, the patterning and repatterning. Small practices repeated every day are what create big change.

We often search high and low for the secret to life, when it’s lived inside us our whole lives. The secret of life is that This Is It. All these unimportant, small seeming, ordinary moments we hurry past in our effort to get There, these are it.

To me the real challenge is not knowing the secret of life. It’s stepping into it with our hearts wide open and finding the sacred in all of This.

This Isn’t A Dress Rehearsal

speakI used to work for a judge who was known for speaking his mind. He had a unique ability to reduce the meaning of life to one-liners.

One of his famous ones went like so:

“This isn’t a dress rehearsal.”

We don’t get a Take 2 on life. There’s no do-overs.

The days you sit and hope for better days, this is the better day. When the weeks seem to fly by, keep pace with them. The sunrise you think you’re guaranteed for the next 50 years might not rise for you tomorrow, so watch the sunset tonight.

This concept of living with urgency is often taken two ways: People either live IN the now or they live FOR the now.

One approach emphasizes living with abandon, seeking out all the external pleasure life has to offer, and leaving nothing unchecked on your bucket list. I call that living for the now.

Living in the now is different. You are in it instead of chasing it. You show up completely wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, whoever you’re with. You are doing your best to inhabit every moment fully and to see it clearly. There is an open-heartedness, an embracing, an allowing, an accepting of what is.

Shakespeare sums it up simply:

All the world’s a stage,
And all the men and women merely players:
They have their exits and their entrances;
And one man in his time plays many parts.

What act are you in on the stage of your life? Your lines won’t be perfect, but they can be honest and heartfelt. When you’re given a new role you’re unprepared for, can you let the old role go and step into the new one for as long as it lasts?

This is a challenge, letting go of our perceived or preferred roles. This is why we practice staying present.

Can we see ourselves from the perspective of the audience, even as we play out our part? This is the work of meditation and mindfulness.

When it is our time to exit, will we take our last bow knowing that we gave our best?

Rise to the occasion of your life. No one else can do it for you.

 

photo credit: dullhunk

Falling Awake

A number of years ago I was quite lost and disconnected. Lost in my own life and disconnected from everyone and everything. There were a number of small steps that started me on a healthy path to Here. Below I share with you Step No. 2.

Through my writing I attempt to offer everything that has helped me on my path, with the hope that it may lead someone out there to the next step on their own path or remind us all, including myself, of what really matters in our lives.

We all have the ability to shine a light. Often one person will shine a light on something we had missed or forgotten. On our individual paths we sometimes find ourselves in the dark and have to wait until another light reveals our next step.

Or until we learn how to feel our way in the dark.

The video I share below is a talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn, the creator of MBSR (Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction).

Mindfulness, as it’s known today, is the modern term for the ancient practice of Svadhyaya, or self-reflection. Self-reflection, rather than being self-absorbed, is the process of seeing clearly that which we are.

Which means that we will also see clearly that which we are not.

The practice of mindfulness, or svadhyaya, is a direct path to our fullest life. It literally brings our lives to life. The more we practice, the more we develop the courage to show up for our life. It sounds easy and pleasant in theory: just show up for your life. In reality, it’s pretty terrifying.

Kabat-Zinn’s book Full Catastrophe Living was the second step on my path to Here. It’s a powerful book that teaches the reader how to handle pain, physical or mental, and how to handle life in its most catastrophic moments.

The video I share below is a poignant talk by Jon Kabat-Zinn at the UCSD Medical Center. It’s lengthy and not light listening. It will bring you back to your senses. It will question if you are falling asleep or falling awake.

It will hold up a mirror and invite you to look within.

The poem by Derek Walcott can be found here.

The Patience of the New Moon

As the New Moon secretly peaks behind layers of darkness, there is often no external proof of her existence.

Yet full and heavy she rises, and full and heavy she sets.

There are within us even now new moons that have not yet become full moons. They are not yet meant to shine their light on the world. They are not yet meant to be seen.

Just as with the moon, the vessel does not change.

The light changes.

As the light changes its angle and strength, more becomes visible. What was shadowed and murky before becomes clear and illuminated.

There is a peace and a beauty in the unfulfilled, the unimagined, the unrevealed, and the unknown. There can be no agenda because you don’t know where you are going.

Celebrate that today. Celebrate being lost. Celebrate being in the dark. Celebrate being confused.

There is a purity and a deep joy that will rise when you stop trying to find your way and bathe in your present moment.

Bathe in the darkness. Bathe in the freedom of the unknown.

The light will reveal itself when it is time.