I was walking on the trails with my retriever, Tucker, the other day, happy to be out alone with him and to enjoy some tranquility. At one point on my walk I realized that I had completely missed the past hundred yards of the trail, having become lost in my numerous thoughts, and I was struck, once again, by how very easily that happens; how we can blot out our current experience by drifting into busyness. We can, quite literally, miss the entire forest for the cell phone or for our ceaselessly active mind.
It’s completely normal these days to be busily elsewhere in the midst of our current activity; commonplace to talk on the phone while driving or, worse yet, while with another person; commonplace not to look the cashier in the eyes; commonplace to eat while driving. And this is a problem.
Why? Because if you are not present, you will miss your entire life. “Life can only find you,” writer David Whyte astutely notes, “if you are paying real attention to something other than your own concerns, if you can hear and see the essence of otherness in the world, if you can treat the world as if it is not just a backdrop to your own journey….”
Caught up elsewhere you miss the still, small voice of your soul when it speaks to you, and you miss the opportunities that are presented to you in each moment for connection with others. Being caught up in busyness and ruminations, unaware of the moment, you fail to see what is around you. You miss the beautiful oak trees and the way the light falls across them because you’re thinking about your appointment. You miss the experience of your friend standing next to you because you are on your cell phone, talking to someone who is not physically present. You miss your child’s intense beauty and eager, unfolding awareness because you’re focused on the mess in the kitchen. You miss it all: the moment of connection, appreciation, gratitude, love, and then it’s gone and you will never have that moment again.
Life is composed only of these moments. This another reason to practice being present. Metaphysically speaking, the present is the intersection between temporal and eternal time. To be very present in the moment is to tap into an infinite omnipotence and omniscience. In other words, you become bigger: more compassionate, more able to respond, more your real self. This is why people meditate.
The act of practicing presence is an act of surrender to what is. It is embracing life in its fullness. And it is a practice: it is hard work to let go and to return again and again to this moment, this time in all it’s pain and joy, all its suffering and beauty. But in being with what is, you open yourself to the enormous energy that was once trapped in thinking about the past and anticipating the future. You open to the life that is waiting for you.