A lot of emphasis is being placed on being present and “living in the moment,” but many teachers on this subject forget to include the moments that suck. The moments where anger, pain, agitation, confusion (etc.) arise, or when we’re staring at the back of a garbage truck, sitting in endless traffic at a stoplight. What about those moments? I mean, it’s not all field’s of daisies and strolls along the beach. I think we live in a society where we want to forget the monotony and try to make rainbows out of tears, but what if the tears are just as significant as the blissful smiles? What if the garbage truck in front of you was just as sacred as the sunset, not because you’re delusional, but because it is there and real, and it has an odor that you can clearly smell? What if everything you touched, tasted, saw, heard, smelled and felt was equal, instead of there being levels of appreciation for one thing or the other based on your judgement of their significance in your life?
We used to sit in weekly groups for after-care treatment when we had completed our six rigorous in-house months of rehab. The counselor would ask what was going on with us, and most of us would talk out of our ass about the week we’d had, but she would stop us from rambling. “No, I don’t want to hear about three days ago. I want to know what’s going on right now?” Usually when I shared about my week, I would try to include some intelligent insight that I had received about some mediocre experience I had, but all I got were eyes rolling and a diminished ego. “What’s happening for you RIGHT NOW?” She would bring me back to focus. I should have said, “I’m annoyed and I hate this group because it cuts into my Sunday evenings…” That would have been honest. That’s what she was grappling for anyway, but I was still in my head at the time, trying to pull unicorns out of my boring, purgatorious weeks. My life was incredibly insignificant (so it felt), therefore I had to search for something profound. Right now I was sitting in a chair, dreading that moment. I didn’t like that group at all. It was a stupid end to my weekend. The funny thing was, I was practicing “living in the moment,” but there were moments that I didn’t like at all. The one thing I wasn’t experiencing, however, were my feelings. I was still deeply identified with my thoughts. If I had “felt” myself in that moment, I would have had a lot more of an experience in that stupid group. I would have felt annoyance roll through my body, and fear. I would have probably felt some anger and maybe a little bit of joy afterward for having tapped into that emotional part of myself for once. Instead, I was where I had always been for my entire life – wanting something different – something better than this arrangement of chairs in a circle, facing people that I was tired of seeing each week. I wanted depths and rivers, shores and blue skies, oceans and fairy-fucking-tales. (I don’t know – I’m just saying.)
When I was a little kid hanging out with my church peers, we would fantasize about heaven, and what it would be like to be out of this confining body with all these “negative” experiences. Grief, stress, sorrow, annoyance, etc., but what if we specifically came to this plain of existence to have these experiences? To know ourselves better? To touch the face of God (if you believe in such a thing) by recognizing God in all things – not just some things? What if instead of having an experience of the physical world around us, we began having an emotional experience each moment (i.e., what am I feeling, how am I processing, what is coming up for me right now?). Last night I was having a bad reaction to a situation, and for a few minutes I sat there still in my own annoyance. I really FELT it, and let it move through me. It was strong and kind of maddening. I wanted to have an outer reaction, and I did for a few seconds, but then I came back to myself and paid close attention to what was going on with me “right now.” It wasn’t comfortable, but it was dynamic. I mean, the emotion was strong, and alive. It was like something moving around in me. Instead of hating on how I felt right then, I embraced it. I wasn’t looking for an out from the discomfort. I wasn’t hoping for the next moment which may have been a little more blissful. I just hung out in my own irritation. Just hours prior, I had been sitting on a beach watching whales, but I understood right then that neither experience was more important than the other. When I was with the whales, it was right now, and while I was having a moment of irritation, it was right now. Right now I am typing. Right now I’m not thinking about feeling any different than how I’m feeling right this second. I’m learning that each moment has power because truly, it’s all there is.
Being in the moment doesn’t just include seeing what’s right in front of you. It totally includes embracing the emotional experience you’re having regardless of how uncomfortable it is. “What is happening for you right now?” Our counselor used to ask us this all the time. It wasn’t until I got out of treatment and had an encounter with my bitchy co-worker, where I began feeling my own inner reaction to her snarky remarks, instead of responding to her directly. She mirrored me enough to bring up some emotions within me. That was pretty cool to experience without reacting. I was in a whole new dimension of my existence – feeling life from deep within myself. “What’s happening for you right now?” I’m feeling frustration and it’s alive within my body, squirming around in there like a hungry serpent, bidding me to react.
We’ve been taught to live the opposite way – from the mind to the projection of physical reality, but the yogis and monks would say that this is a shallow place to live. Once you get down into your own body and feel what’s going on for you, the physical world becomes like a looking glass into your own body, which is an entire universe. Life becomes more dynamic, and the more you sit through uncomfortable emotions, the more beautiful physical reality appears. You begin seeing all things as equal, and joy expands within you because you’re paying more attention to the inner world, than to the outer (which is always a mirror reflecting your emotional body).
Yesterday on the beach, I was walking against the wind for a time. It was uncomfortable, and tiring too. I thought, “I’m experiencing some resistance in my life. I’m not liking this wind at all. What else am I resisting?” That’s a really good question. I’m going to reflect on that today. Meditate with this inner resistance of mine. Let it be with me like a buddy hanging out in my emotional house.
Living in the moment has more to do with being present with your emotions, than it does being ok with driving behind a garbage truck. Does the garbage truck bring up some emotions for you? That’s where the focus should be. Does a loved one piss you off? Sit with that anger (rather than reacting). Because once you find yourself not having strong emotional reactions, the now (no matter what that now entails) becomes a constant experience of joy. That’s the place we’re moving toward if we are practicing “living in the moment.”