Life is always pushing and pulling me different directions, and it often makes no sense on the surface, because the surface is only my story. And that story is dynamic. It has a beginning, a middle, protagonists and antagonists, a plot complete with twists, and an ending that is at this point a complete mystery. But once in a while I catch a glimpse under the surface. or the surface gets calm enough, and the stillness there reveals a clarity that gives meaning to the story.
In meaning there understanding, and in understanding there is peace.
Or at least there can be. We are hard-wired to seek meaning, to make sense of seemingly random events. We often get carried away with that process, which leads to superstition, and dare I say sometimes religion. And that may or not be a productive use of our mental powers.
In my practice of yoga and meditation, I try to create space. That starts with listening. But it has to be a deeper listening than the one which I've been conditioned to respond to. I'm always expected to have an opinion on just about everything, and I have those opinions at the ready so I can react to what I hear, touch, smell, taste, and see. But if I can just create a little bit of space after the stimulus to recognize it simply as pure information or energy, something quite profound happens. I'm able to respond rather than react. Sometimes that response is dynamic, other times it's not. Either way the experience is one of spaciousness. It's lighter. I become lighter, and my story gets lighter and more insignificant other than to recognize that the only plot line that matters regardless of the incomprehensible twists and turns is the line that leads to now.
Much has been written about this realization that now is the only moment we really have, and so it's the only legitimate place to be. The problem is, when I read about it, it has the danger of bringing me into the mindset of lack. The person writing this is there, and I'm still here, lacking the freedom they have. That's a huge obstacle sometimes. And it can turn this idea of "Being in the Now" into a cliché rather than an experience.
And so I'm grateful for those times when the story of my life reconnects me to people and places where I can just be myself, without any expectation of anything being different from how it is right now because it's all quite perfect. I feel loved for the me I am now, not some future theoretical me or some idealized historical me. If you have people like that in your life, you know what a blessing this feeling is. And this feeling can be cultivated, even in those moments of solitude. That's what meditation is.
When I meditate, I notice the constant voices wishing things were different from how they are right now on a physical, mental, or emotional level. But if I can create a little bit of space between those voices and my compulsion to react, space opens up. It may be a fraction of a second, but in that space time means nothing. In that space, I am able to witness change as the thought loses its power simply by being noticed for what it is. Change in something is the way we measure time. And so my thoughts become a clock, and time unfolds relative to the spaces between the thoughts rather than the thoughts themselves. It's a very different experience of time.
And so it's not surprising that often in those moments, impulses from the past that were held in the deep unconscious come to the surface. And even if the initial event that created that memory happened in muddy waters, when they resurface in stillness, they can be seen in a whole new light of awareness. It's akin to the roots of the lotus being deeply buried in the mud, which allows the blossom to float softly on the surface of the pond when in the presence of sunlight. The roots, the stem, and the blossom all contain the essence of lotus. The separation is a construct of my mind.
So too is the separation of past, present, and future. It's a convenient construct of my mind to make sense of the story, but it's not the essence of "me."
In one such moment this morning as I awoke, a passage I read 10 years ago from Jon Kabay-Zinn's book "Coming to Our Senses" surfaced and became crystal clear in its meaning. I'll share it here as a reminder to myself, and also as an opportunity for others to read it with the full knowledge that even if it doesn't make sense on first reading, it may just plant itself deep in the mud and manifest its full essence at some point that our minds designate as "future."
“There is no time other than now. We are not, contrary to what we think, “going” anywhere. It will never be more rich in some other moment than in this one. Although we may imagine that some future moment will be more pleasant, or less, than this one, we can’t really know. But whatever the future brings it will not be what you expect, or what you think, and when it comes, it will be now too. . . We can spin off into the future, rail about the past, think that things will be OK someday provided this happens and that doesn’t happen, all of which may be true to one degree or another, but it still has you missing your life and, in a sense, all life.
...For now is already the future and it is already here. Now is the future of the previous moment just past, and the future of all those moments that were before that one. Remember back in your own life for a moment, to when you were a child, or an adolescent, or a young adult, or to any other period already gone. This is that future. The you you were hoping to become, it is you. Right here. Right now. You are it. Don’t like it? Who doesn’t like it? Who is even thinking that? And who wants “you” to be better, to have turned out some other way? Is that you you too? Wake up! This is it. You have already turned out."