Can you think of a time when you stayed in the moment?
When for once you were not brooding or ruminating, cogitating or agitating, comparing, or regretting, neither obsessing over the past, nor fretting about the future.
You were just in the here and now, staying in the moment, Nothing more, nothing less.
Violet, my six-year-old granddaughter, gets it. When she is in front of you, she does not just talk; she gestures, spins, dances, rolls her eyes. She is saying, “Papa, I live in the moment.”
For the rest of us? We are afraid to let go; afraid we might be disappointed.
Paddy McGarity spent his whole life bemoaning the circumstance of his life. Then one day in Ireland, one gracious glorious summer day, the sun burst through the clouds and the fog and rain, and the hills of Ireland were just ablaze in glorious sunlight. The priest came to Paddy and said,
“O Paddy isn’t it a beautiful day.”
“Aw sure, Father” Paddy Moaned, “but will it last?”
Paddy McGarity is right. It won’t last. Nothing ever does.
Yet, how wonderful it would be if we could rest in the moment?
What I am learning from contemplatives like the Franciscan Richard Rohr is that living in the moment is a practice.
There are three verbs that are helpful guideposts on the path to staying in the moment.
1. Let go.
First, let it go. Detach. Detach. Detach.
We find ourselves plagued by our regrets. Tapes in our heads play on endless feedback loops, covering the same old, same old “why did she say this to me?”. We rehearse a story we have made up, reciting it over and over. Rarely anything new or helpful comes to us.
The Buddhist talk about “the monkey mind”. Monkeys jump up and down in our heads all the time, especially in the middle of the night when we are trying to get some sleep!
How do you get your monkeys to chill?
I concentrate on breathing. I Inhale peace. I Exhale gratitude.
I Empty myself of myself.
We can let go, because we trust (second verb) that there is a deeper spiritual reality to all of life, as well as our own lives. As Teilhard de Chardin says, "we are not human beings having a spiritual experience, we are spiritual beings having a human experience".
The contemplatives reach for many metaphors to talk about this reality, and one that I love is the image of water.
The Spirit is described as “flowing water” and as a “spring inside of you”. A vision from the book of Revelation imagines, “a river of life, flowing, bright as crystal.”
Beneath our separate selves, and our differences, our egos, runs a river of life, through all of creation, through all that is, a oneness.
This river flows among all things, and under all things, its essence is one of love, infinite love, endlessly filling up and spilling over. You may call this the love of God, or the Great Spirit or the Ground of Being. What matters is less the name you give it, and more your relationship to it.
And no matter what happens to you, there is always, in Richard Rohr’s words, “a riverbed of mercy that underlies all the ephemeral flotsam and jetsam of your life.”
We dip our toes into that river through many ways. Poetry, art, music, nature, special times in our lives and even times of sorrow.
One of the most profound expressions of what it means to be in touch with this river of life, even in the most extreme circumstances comes to us from a woman named Etty Hillesum. Etty was a Jew living in Holland in 1942 under Nazi occupation. Soon thereafter she was arrested and deported to Auschwitz where she was killed.
"I share many sorrows and sad circumstances that a human being can experience, but I do not cling to them. I do not prolong such moments of agony. They pass through me, like life itself, as a broad eternal stream, they become part of that stream and life continues."
Friends, it’s the Etty Hilesum’s of the world who teach us that we can let go and trust in this deeper reality which is to say we can choose (third verb) the reality we wish to see.
If we can unchain ourselves from the bondage of our “monkey brain” and begin to trust more and more in the presence of the Spirit - the river of life - we can wake up and realize, “we choose the reality we see.”
Paddy McGarity is right: no moment lasts forever. Still, if we can let go of our worries and trust in the presence of the spirit, we can choose to stay in the moment.