Professional Student of Life
Adventures in personal growth
Whatever comes up, see what it is without calling it right or wrong. Acknowledge it. See it clearly without judgment and let it go. Come back to the present moment. From now until the moment of your death, you could do this. ~ Pema Chödrön
Like nearly all of us, I’m experiencing the curious limbo land of this pandemic. Though fortunately I’m still working, the absence of most other activities and relationships, as well as the total uncertainty of what the future might hold, leaves me feeling like a plane continually circling the runway, waiting to land. One week blends seamlessly into the next, with little to differentiate it other than the most recent thing I’ve found to read or stream (or cook).
In the midst of this low-level but relentless cycle of anxiety and boredom, what keeps me sane – and even happy! – is the solace of the present moment. The mind resides in the past and future, but neither one is much use in the current situation, if it ever was. Our lives are not what they were even two months ago. Many of our false refuges (mindless busyness and socializing, endless planning or hoping for the future) have been taken away. But the ineffable, irreplaceable quality of the present moment is always available to us, if only we pay attention.
The photo above illustrates this beautifully for me: the swirl and blur of thoughts that are always there recede into the background when I focus on the perfect color of one flower, or the taste of my morning coffee, or the simple comfort and familiarity of inhabiting my body and letting the current moment be what it is – even when it’s not something my mind labels as pleasant. What Buddhists call tranquil abiding means cultivating the ability to be present with both the “good” and the “bad.”
I love that Pema Chödrön calls this the practice of a lifetime. Every moment is a new opportunity to come back to the present – out of the trance of the mind and back to physical reality. What am I actually experiencing now, in my body? Though the mind is rarely in the present, the body always is (it’s not possible for it to be anywhere else!). That’s why the breath and the physical senses are such powerful anchors for aligning with presence. They can bring you home to your body, any moment that you choose to give them your attention.
What this looks like for me is very consciously and deliberately being where I am, rather than wishing for something different. The pandemic is great for this, because so many of the activities still open to me – gardening, cooking, even my job taking care of twin baby girls – are slow, repetitive, and sensory-rich. There’s nothing like a baby for teaching presence! They wake up when they wake up, and no amount of wishing or planning or getting frustrated will make it different. When I practice tranquil abiding, I can just kiss their fuzzy heads and be with them in the moment, whether they’re laughing or crying.
And that, my friends, is true refuge.
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