No doubt you were all shocked and horrified by the recent atrocity perpetrated in Manchester and, like me, are full of admiration for the people of that city for their courageous solidarity in holding together and not being cowed by the terrorist attack. Their indomitable spirit is a wonderful demonstration of how life has to go on, no matter what happens.
It’s also a powerful example of how it’s possible to find a positive in the worst of situations. None of us know what the future will bring or how long we have left on this ‘mortal coil’, to coin a phrase from Shakespeare. I doesn’t feel inappropriate therefore to ponder upon the most positive thing we might draw from the trauma and distress of the Manchester massacre, and it must surely be to remind ourselves to try to live more in the present moment and make the most of every day that we have.
Living here and now is something we can all do but many of us only manage it spasmodically. This I because a lot of the time our minds are somewhere other than right here, right now. Too often our thoughts are consumed with picking over the past or agitated by worrying about the future, conjuring scenarios which have not yet happened and yet believing they will. It’s also because we’re very good at getting easily distracted, (thanks to living in a world which is driven by infotechnology) or diverting ourselves from the present by doing more than one thing at a time. Eating food while watching television is a good example of this, or talking to someone whilst keeping an eye on one’s mobile phone so as not to miss any messages or social media posts that come through!
Present moment living doesn’t have to be some extraordinary esoteric art which can be only be learned by the few. We ALL have a natural ability to do it already – it’s just that we need to remind ourselves that it’s not only possible, but fairly simple to do. All we need is a little awareness and intention. Everyone has experienced being totally present at various times. It’s when whatever it is you’re doing is consuming your total attention and complete attention is being 100% there. Times of enjoyment and pleasure rank high as present moment experiences because we’re so fully immersed in the happening of it. (Think about making love!) When we’re here and now, quite naturally, we open ourselves up and simply let the energy of what we are doing flow into us and move through every cell of our bodies. There are no extraneous thoughts. We’re concentrated and focussed without effort. And there are no feelings of being constrained by time.
I remember the first time I went to India, I experienced an unfolding awareness of losing track of time. Five minutes could sometimes seem like thirty minutes. Thirty minutes could feel like five. A whole day could completely obliterate any need to count the hours and just feel like I was living in a continuum. I was amazed at how elastic time became and initially, was at a loss to understand why I was suddenly experiencing every day so differently. Little by little, I realised that the reason for it was very simple. I was so enthralled with everything I was seeing, doing and experiencing that, for the first time in my life, I was actually living each moment. And in doing so, I was completely at one with each person I was with and with every place that I went. My thoughts were calm and clear, I was content and at peace, and it gave me an amazing sense of just being.
Once back home I realised how lucky I’d been to have this experience, for continuing in the same way was not at all easy and mostly downright impossible. I was constantly disturbed and diverted from the peace of mind and sense of being at one with everything that I’d felt in India. Happily, I gradually discovered ways I could re-experience that “now-ness”, for I eventually came to see that in everyday life I could find some very accessible portals to the here and now. Examples were : walking in nature (where you can get caught up in the wonder and beauty of the scenery around you and give it your full appreciation); gardening (when it’s easy to become absorbed in the tasks in hand and let go of the thoughts which are crowding constantly into your mind); sitting quietly and looking at the day (you can do this from a park bench, or by looking out of your window, or watching a sunset, or by allowing yourself to be lulled into relaxation by the sound of the waves by the sea). I discovered I could catch that awareness when I stopped to watch a flight of birds wheeling and soaring in the sky, or by gazing at a river as it flowed past me. I could find it by stroking my cat and just allowing myself to be at one with the gentle vibration of her purring and enjoying the silky texture of her fur. And, of course, meditation was a great help (although all of the things I’ve mentioned above can be meditations in their own right).
From here I grew to understand the power of appreciation and gratititude for all the things that I had, and gradually I became less pre-occupied with the things that I lacked. All this unfolded slowly and increasingly led to a greater sense of peace and happiness within. I’m not pretending that I live in the present all the time. I don’t, because like so many of us, I can still get distracted and pulled off in too many directions (something that often happens during periods of challenge and difficulty). But the good things is : I know how to get back to these practices when I’ve “fallen off the wagon”, and I know without a shadow of doubt, how much better I feel about myself and life when I do.
Too often we starve ourselves of the peace and contentedness which can be there for us in every moment. Too often we tell ourselves we’ll only feel that peace and joy of being if a certain set of external circumstances fall into place. But it doesn’t have to be that way! We can still be fully alive and in the present moment by just BEING HERE AND NOW and making the most of our lives.
I want to end this piece with a poem by Kalidasa, an Indian playwright and poet who lived during the 4th and 5th centuries. I hope you will find it as inspiring as I do.
“Look to this day, for it is life, the very breath of life.
In its brief course lie all the realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth, the glory of action, the splendour of beauty.
For yesterday is only a dream, and tomorrow is but a vision.
But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness,
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore, to this day.”