“Live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find eternity in each moment.” – Henry David Thoreau
The “S” in this week’s Rest Retreat is an action prompt like the other weeks surrounding it, but this week is different in that it asks you to move without exactly moving. As in, not necessarily forward nor backward, but like a gardener pressing a seed deep into the earth, down into the present moment to fostering awareness and attention for your life as it is happening right now. As Ram Dass who recently passed away wrote, “Be here, now!” which just happens to be the title of his book I am gearing up to read.
You hear it everywhere these days, “Be Present. Live IN the moment. “ but what does this really mean? How is being present helpful, or beneficial to one’s emotional, intellectual, physical, and spiritual health? Many philosophers and poets and preachers have mused on this very sentiment for centuries. You don’t need to look hard to to find links to such wisdom in the Bible, the Talmud, or poetry written in every language.
I think that to be present, is to be fully alive in our humanness, something that as human beings we have the unique and magnificent ability to do. I am not sure if birds or trees or worms can harness their consciousness and pay attention to the present moment, I like to think they do, but I know for sure that you and I can, and that when we do it, blessings unfold and we begin to experience life with much greater appreciation for the little things that make up our day to day lives. We begin to notice our breath, and experience the gift that it is all by itself. We begin to pay attention to the seasons, and experience the gifts that come with each change.
I also know that as humanity move towards a faster, more plugged-in, hyper “connected” (technically speaking) way of living and moving through life and seeing the world, that fighting that swift current is urgent work in helping balance who we are as extensions of the natural world, as in beings with innate rhythms that tie us to the land and sun and the moon. In echoing the sentiments of John Muir, “When one tugs at a single thing in nature, he finds it attached to the rest of the world.”
As a part of nature, we must make it a priority to be more present with it and in it apart from the world of machines and screens that surround us. We must fight for our right to rest, to weave mindful moments into our day, and to take our time in paying attention to the world around us without the glow of information tugging us this way and that. I am not saying toss your phone and ditch the TV, but also…go outside! Spend more time playing. Cook! Chop with attention. Go on walks without earbuds and listen to the wind or the trees. Give yourself the gift of presence, and work hard to stay there. It is work my friends, but perhaps the most gratifying work you’ll ever do.
Weekly Journal Reflections and Questions
Journal Question | Can technology help us be present? What about social media? In what ways does Instagram and other apps actually promote mindfulness and deeper awareness of the present moment? If so, where then in the line drawn where that does not continue to be that case?
Journal Question | When was the last time this month you found yourself in the midst of a beautiful experience worth capturing, perhaps something you would have done before, and simply did not? You might not have had your phone on you, a new habit, or maybe you ought yourself before old habits took over, resetting the urge to take a photo or video. What did it feel like not documenting that moment, and how did it reframe your perspective on sharing and/or documenting your life?
Action Piece | Spend an entire day without your phone or camera doing something you love with those you love. If you need your phone for emergency reasons, keep it aside and out of your pocket. Observe how you are able to root yourself in the moment without the tug to record and share. Let yourself feel uncomfortable doing this, and reflect on what it means to carry a memory on its own.
Journal Question | Where you feel as though you can be most present in the world? Think of a physical place that grounds you, connecting you to a place that exists outside of the constraints of time. What about this place is special? How does it enliven your senses and help you pay attention to the world around you?
Action Piece | How can you spend more time there, even making it a part of your daily or weekly rhythm?
Journal Question | How does being present affect others in your life? In what ways has this month’s retreat affected those around you? How have others responded to your habit shifts at home, either directly or indirectly?
Journal Question | What about being present is most difficult for you? Why do you think this is? What do you think could help you make it easier to be present throughout your day? Make a list or explore some ideas you have.
“To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
As you have probably already pondered, the work of presence can be hard to do if you happen find yourself constantly pining for a future moment that has yet to exist, or if you dedicate hours to digging through the past as if to change it. It’s human nature to do both, and some in moderation surely won’t hurt, but spending one’s life any place but the present means you are not fully there. And if you are not fully there, you are not fully alive.
I do this sometimes when I take the kids to school. I hate to admit it, but I do. After we all shuffle to the car, I’ll get in, make sure everyone and everything has been accounted for, and off we go. And some days I’ll pull in and not even realize how we got there, my mind racing with everything I have yet to do, or on some silly thought that has been stuck on a loop. Living on autopilot is living distracted, and it sounds scary when you take the time to write it out (and God forbid share it with readers on the internet!) but it’s how many of us go about our days. We wash dishes getting our hands wet and plates soapy, our minds elsewhere. We zone out in front of the TV at the end of a long day, watching but thinking about that text a friend sent and how to deal with it. We get dressed in the morning, pulling our pants up one leg at a time, pondering the contract that has yet to be signed or the employee that has to be let go. Our bodies are there, but we are not. Being present means connecting the two, your mind with your body, as you go about your day, paying attention to the details along the way.
Below are some practices to help you and I better harness the present moment. There are things for us to listen to, read, and watch throughout the week, along with the journal questions above that should keep you company! I suggest finding a quiet corner, lighting a candle, and giving yourself an hour here and there to sink into this work.
Listen | Thich Nhat Hanh: How to Listen with Compassion | This Supersoul Conversation podcast with Oprah is one I’ve listened to many times. Thich shares what it is like being a Buddhist monk and to live a monastic life of mindfulness. He quietly discusses the practices of mindful breathing and walking, and how in doing such simple practices in the present moment we become more aware and grateful for what we have in our lives. Listen and lean into what this podcast opens up in you. What are some of your favorite quotes or parts of what you heard?
Read | Read the blessing below by John O’Donohue and reflect on how it makes you feel. What is your favorite line? Your favorite word? What powerful images do O’Donohue’s works create in your mind? Carry one of these lines with you this week and call them to the forefront of your mind when in need of a mindful moment.
by John O’Donohue
Awaken to the mystery of being here
and enter the quiet immensity of your own presence.
Have joy and peace in the temple of your senses.
Receive encouragement when new frontiers beckon.
Respond to the call of your gift and the courage to
follow its path.
Let the flame of anger free you of all falsity.
May warmth of heart keep your presence aflame.
May anxiety never linger about you.
May your outer dignity mirror an inner dignity of
Take time to celebrate the quiet miracles that seek
Be consoled in the secret symmetry of your soul.
May you experience each day as a sacred gift woven
around the heart of wonder.
Watch | This TED Talk by Andy Puddicombe called All It Takes is 10 Mindful Minutes about the importance of mindfulness and staying present throughout the day. It’s important to recognize that when we have an opportunity to rest, like when we are on a break or in transition between one thing and another, that we don’t default to distractions. Shifting your habits to be present in those moments instead of turning on the TV or reaching for your phone can not only reduce stress, but embolden your creativity and relax all parts of your being. Make a commitment this week to practice 10 minutes of mindfulness a day, and journal how those minutes went for you. Try them outdoors, if possible, even in the snow! I am going to bundle up and try!
Lastly, I hope the retreat has been going well for you so far. I’d love to hear about it. I have been having a hard time not being nauseated in this last stage of pregnancy, hence the tardiness of this post. I am sorry for that! But in the moments of rest I have been giving myself, I’ve been enjoying things I let slip away that have brought me a lot of joy in the meantime. Like reading. I have read a few books this month that have really opened my eyes to the urgency of climate change and how small actions can create big results if done with care over time. I have also begun a little ritual with the kids and we read together everyday. I have been on Pinterest making mood boards for a brick and mortar I am opening (woo woo!) which has also been occupying a lot of my time. Exciting things! And I have gotten on Instagram a few times to check messages and see family, but other than that, but only when I signed in to do so. No random scrolling while waiting or taking photos throughout the day when the light hit just right. I kept those for myself. Life has been full of creativity. We’ve been making more things ourselves these days, trying to create more than we consume. We meet our baby in two months and I am waddling like a fat goose. All is well!
I must say, I do believe in the power of inspiration and in sharing our gifts. I use social media primarily to show how I experience the world, in what I find to be meaningful and soul-stirring. I also love the community there, the opportunity to generate income, and ideas I get from the creatives who use that space to share their gifts accordingly. But there are downsides, of course, and stepping away holds space to see these more clearly. I will write more about this next time. Take care this week, and enjoy this day of rest, my friends.