“The present moment, like the spotted owl or the sea turtle, has become an endangered species. Yet more and more I find that dwelling in the present moment, in the face of everything that would call us out of it, is our highest spiritual discipline. More boldly, I would say that our very presentness is our salvation; the present moment, entered into fully, is our gateway to eternal life.”
~Philip Simmons, Learning to Fall~
“Between the fear of trying to anticipate where cancer was leading me and the exhausted peace of collapsing in the moment, I came to understand that I couldn’t think my way out of cancer. But from the eternal perspective opened to me in each moment, I could inhabit the inner resources to meet the journey as it was unfolding. What has stayed with me all these years is that I experience the moment with my heart and the future with my mind.”
~Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen~
It was a thing of beauty; aquamarine and silver with white streamers on the handlebars. My very first bike. I was six years old and had watched with longing for several years as my two older brothers tore around the neighborhood on their big red bicycles. Now was my time. I could feel it. At first, of course, there were the training wheels. I started off carefully, riding around the driveway and the sidewalk in front of our house. Before long, however, I was ready for Dad to take the training wheels off. I remember wobbling back and forth with fierce determination, Dad holding on to the back of the bike, while I got the hang of balancing on two wheels. A few days later, glancing over my shoulder in amazement, I realized that he was no longer holding on. I was moving on my own power!
From that moment on, I spent all my spare time on that bike, riding up and down the street reveling in my newfound freedom and independence. And then one day I decided it was time to accompany my brothers and their friends to Suicide Hill, the biggest, baddest hill in the neighborhood. Straight and steep with a wide curve at the bottom, it promised untold thrills. I had seen them barreling down the hill many times, sweeping to the right as they gracefully took the curve. It was a thing of beauty. Only this time I was going to join them. Several others went before me, their legs held straight out from their bikes, howls of delight filling the air, eyes shining and cheeks glowing with excitement. Then suddenly it was my turn.
As my bike and I began to roll down the hill, gradually picking up speed, I gripped the handle bars with all my strength, the little white streamers flapping furiously in the wind. I held my feet out to the side the way I’d seen the others do. Faster and faster I went. It was electrifying…and terrifying. As the curve at the bottom of the hill approached, however, I realized that I was going too fast to make it. The only way to slow or stop my bike was by pushing back on one of the pedals. But they were flying around and around at the same speed as the wheels and I didn’t see any way to get control of them. And so my beautiful bike and I just kept going, sailing over the curb, momentarily airborne, landing hard and then wiping out in spectacular fashion in a neighbor’s yard. I’m sure I had some bruises and a skinned knee or two to show for myself. But what I remember is the ride itself. There was no past; there was no future; there was only that moment. And it was an unforgettable moment.
What experiences in your life have drawn you most fully into the present moment? They typically are experiences of emotional, physical, or spiritual intensity. They are moments that wake us up and connect us with the life force that flows around us, between us, and through us. Almost all the world’s religious and spiritual traditions urge us to live in the present moment as a way to access our soul’s strength and wisdom. But what about the boring moments or those laced with conflict? What about moments weighed down with fatigue or illness? It can be difficult to remain awake and aware during those moments. Like breathing in and out, we can remind ourselves that the moment is there when we are ready to open to it. And like riding a bike, the more we practice the more skilled we become, until one day we just might find ourselves falling into a moment that changes our lives.
To Practice: A Breathing Meditation
- Center yourself and feel the moment you are quietly entering.
- Breathe slowly and let yourself feel the tug of the future calling.
- Breathe deeply and return to the moment you are in.
- Sit quietly and let yourself feel the sway from the present to the future and back.
- Breathe slowly and feel this moment ripple from you like water in all directions.
- Breathe deeply and, as all water is connected, no matter where you enter it, feel this moment open you to all moments.
~Mark Nepo, Seven Thousand Ways to Listen~
Director of Bereavement and Volunteer Services