And what does that really mean anyway?
Labor Day weekend I drove from my home in Kansas City to attend a funeral for an elderly relative in a small Iowa town near where I grew up. I’m embarrassed to admit that as I pulled into the parking lot of the church on a glorious late summer day, my mind drifted from the reason I was there to thoughts like: Man, this is going to be a full mass and then I’m going to have to drive out to the country cemetery for the heart-wrenching burial… Then I’m going to have to drive back into town for the church luncheon where there won’t be anything for me to eat since I’m a pescetarian and this is small-town, rural Iowa… I’m going to be here all day…
What was I thinking? Where was my mind? I certainly can tell you where it certainly was not. It was not in the moment nor on the man I came to honor, a man who never knew a stranger, a gentle man who was a steady presence in my childhood.
Instead, my mind was doing what our minds are so good at, clinging to what might have been and worrying about the days ahead. I was stewing about the work that I had left behind and the work that would be waiting for me when I returned home. I lamented the afternoon I had planned to spend by the pool, meetings I had to cancel, and, of all things, I was concerned about what I was going to be served for lunch.
Obviously I was not in the moment; but what does being in the moment really mean anyway? Does it mean that we get to sit on a pristine white sand beach listening to the waves crash while someone else pays our bills and walks our dog? Afraid not.
Being in the moment, or being present, means being right here, right now. It means accepting and embracing where we are, good, bad or ugly. It means experiencing the sadness associated with a casket being lowered into the ground, as well as relishing the love shared by family members reminiscing about the good times. It means feeling each and every emotion, without judgment, without resistance. It means getting out of our heads and observing the technicolor world around us.
So often, instead of paying attention to what’s in front of our nose, we’re caught in a loop of regret… I should have driven up the night before, what was I thinking? Or we’re worrying about the future… I’m going to be so behind in my emails! When we allow our minds to get lost in either the past or the future, we aren’t focused on where we are presently. The past is done and gone, and we cannot change it. The future is uncertain, and much to our surprise, we cannot control it. What we have is now. This is it!
Thankfully, the day of the funeral, I snapped out of my haze. My faculties returned and I opened my eyes, ears and heart. Tears rolled down my cheek as I listened to poised daughters and granddaughters honor their father and grandfather. I gazed out of the car window on the drive to the picturesque country cemetery where my ancestors rest and where someday I’ll be remembered. I switched off my phone and sat in the church hall, eating a delicious lunch with my aunts, uncles and cousins. I soaked up each and every moment of the celebration. I stopped thinking about myself.
For a few hours I was present. I allowed myself to open fully to the sad beauty of my grieving family, to be reminded of heart-warming stories from my childhood and to witness the cycle of life. I was fully engaged and amazed by life. I wasn’t regretful or fearful. I was in the moment.
However, being in the moment is not easy. We all strive to be our best, but it’s understandable that we tend to scrutinize past decisions and fret about future ones. How do we free ourselves from fear and worry and live in the moment? For me, time invested in a meditation practice helps make this possible. When we sit alone, in silence, there is nothing but the present. When our wandering minds stray to thoughts of the past or the future, we learn to gently nudge them back to the breath. With time, an ongoing practice helps make it possible to be fully present in our daily lives. It’s not easy, but not complicated, and certainly worth the effort. Life is spectacular when we fully show up.