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Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

The general instruction in meditation is to “be present,” to come back to the present moment.  We want to let go of our obsession with the past (often manifesting as regret or anger) and the future (often manifesting as fear or worry).  When we dwell in the present moment, we find that our anger, worries, fears, etc., are not quite so strong, that they do not have such a strong base in reality as we thought, and we are able to release them.

This month I spent some time on retreat, and prior to that at a gathering.  A common theme for me is the feeling of “not belonging” in groups, a feeling that is an internal formation of mine that is deeply seated: my mother had similar issues.  My mother
was a child in Europe when WWII started, her world turned upside down, and after some years in hiding her parents were taken to, and killed in, Auschwitz.  My mother described her parents (seen by her as a 6 year old) as social, hospitable people, but I believe this was only part of the picture: they were Hungarian Jews living in Antwerp, and her mother did not speak either French or Flemish well.  In other words, feeling one is an outside was transmitted to me by many ancestors, through many generations of persecution.

When I speak to friends on retreats they often describe this same feeling of not belonging, of feeling they are “not worthy” or “not appreciated” etc.  Already this shows me that my own insecurities are not mine, but are part of the universal make up of
humanity.

It helps to see that my own feelings are not my own, but are the shared experience of many people throughout generations, cultures, conditions, and personalities.  It gives
much space to those congestive feelings.

Somehow, it is natural for all of us to develop the “three complexes” of inferiority, superiority and equality, all of which come from comparisons.   While knowing my own suffering is universal acts as a relief valve, it does not fully solve the problem at the
root.

This month, I decided to look deeper into this issue, and what it was I needed in order to let go of my complexes.  I started practicing coming back to the present moment in a
slightly different way than I had in the past.  Whenever thoughts would come to me, rather than say “come back to the here and now” or “come back to my breath,” I started to ask myself “is this (thought) happening Now, is it about Now?”  Of course the  answer was mostly “no.”

Naturally, that brought up the inquiry “so what is Here and Now?”  In the past I would have answered quite immediately that my breathing was here and now.  An honest answer, that somehow did not give me lasting relief.  As I kept asking the question “what is authentically Now,” a new understanding arose in me.  What is authentically in the here and now, is the sunshine, the mountains, the flower, the birds, and yes, also my breath.  In other words what is really happening – as opposed to what I am producing in my own mind, without truly connecting – is the stream of life, of which I am part, and which has no need to be compared or judged.

Coming back to the present moment, is coming back to Life in its fullest, to be fully connected with Life without any judgment.  This is the healing power of mindfulness: when I am connected with Life, the complexes loose their power, and I no longer need to compare: instead of feeling “less than” and not connected, I now can feel fully part of the great stream of Life and know that I am fully accepted.  Just we do not judge a tree for having its branches broken by the wind, or the stream for running too fast or slow, or the mountain slope for facing north, we come to know that we are fully wonderful just as we are.

Some people tell me “this is great, but if I do it for 5 minutes, after I stop, my anxiety (worry, fear, depression, anger, etc.) comes back, so what is the use?”  They get tired of having to continuously having to produce a state of awareness in order to overcome  depression or anxiety.  They also say that while it sounds lovely, it requires an effort to keep coming back to the present moment, and they feel that medicine should not have to be taken again and again..

The first statement is true.  Mindfulness is like a muscle: when we have not used it for many years, it does not activate itself and we feel it is an effort.  But as we practice again and again, we find that our concentration and awareness come more naturally to us, and we also enjoy our practice.

But however pleasant or easy our practice might become, we shall always have to practice: we always have to come back to what is truly present at this moment, because this moment is forever changing.  We cannot do it once, twice, ten times, or a million times, and expect the present moment to just come to us afterwards, as if it were a
reward.  It is we who have to make ourselves available to the present moment and as we practice again and again, we learn to enjoy the practice more and more.  The practice does become easier, more natural, yet, we always have to practice, to connect again and again with the stream of life.

The practice is not a one time pill.   The moment we stop connecting with the stream of life, the moment we are no longer present in the moment, we are likely to experience
our fears, anxieties, insecurities, but we know there is always a way out.  Practice is something we need to continuously apply.  How lucky that it is so pleasant, and miraculously effective!

July 2010