It’s been three months since much of the world closed and more than four months since I arrived home from my last international teaching engagement. That’s the longest stretch for me of not getting on a plane in about 10 years. This time of “sheltering at home” has been both wonderful and challenging. I’ve learned a lot about the roller coaster ride of living in the now.
Kristi Nelson, Executive Director of A Network for Grateful Living, wrote:
Life is not about “or” – it is about “and.”
It is magical and messy.
It is heartwarming and heartbreaking.
It is delight and disappointment.
Grace and grief.
Exquisite and excruciating,
often at the exact same time.
During these months of sequester, I’m understanding “and” more than ever before. Pre-corona, I thought I was pretty good at living in the moment, right here, right now. And I thought I knew something about being present with a range of emotions at the same time. Yet now I know that there’s a difference between dropping into the here and now for a short visit and living here for days at a time. And that’s been the gift of these last three months.
I didn’t plan it; it just happened. The more time you spend by yourself, the more present you become with right here, right now. And the more present you are right here, right now, the more present you become with the many facets of you. The full spectrum of feelings and emotions. The parts that you like and the parts that you don’t. The parts that you enjoy hanging out with and the parts that you avoid at all costs. The parts that you know well and the parts that you had no idea even existed until you were with yourself long enough for them to show up. They are all there. And when you are fully present in right here, right now, there is no escaping them.
A Lot Going On Around Us and Within Us
In the first weeks of these last few months, that extended living-in-the-moment experience was coupled with the complex, multi-layered feelings and emotions that showed up when I came face-to-face with the realities of a global pandemic. A few weeks later, more layers emerged when I came heart-to-heart with the realities of racial/gender/socio-economic inequality. Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets for long-overdue protests in more than 2,000 cities and towns across the U.S. and around the world. And those protests continue as I write.
In my country and others around the world, the realities of political polarization and the threatening power of authoritarian leaders are also in the mix. And even though news about climate change has been buried in the media melee over the pandemic and protests, its stark realities remain ever present.
All of that is to say that there has been a lot going on around us and within us. Yet as a collective, we tend to want life to be simple and straightforward. We don’t have a lot of societal bandwidth for holding a wide spectrum of complex realities and emotions at the same time. We recognize happy or sad, but please don’t be too sad too often. We have expectations about what celebrating a victory should look like as well as mourning a loss, but please don’t be too public about your mourning, or mourn for too long. We like it when people are easy and good-natured with one another or, if necessary, angry for a clearly justifiable reason, but don’t be too angry or make a scene. One emotion at a time, please, and keep it under control.
And living in the moment? No, as a society, we tend to be more focused on what happened in the past and what is going to happen in the future. We’re not so good at being right here, right now, consciously navigating the opportunities and challenges of the present.
Falling Into the Present Moment
Yet unexpectedly, being sequestered at home and struggling to grasp the enormity of it all, I fell into the present moment. It just happened. Initially, like many, I experienced fear as my work, income, and the illusion of certainty vanished within a few days. Life as we knew it was slipping away. I was on an emotional roller coaster, and no one could tell us when the ride would be over.
And then something shifted. After a couple of weeks, I surrendered to the quiet of home and to the open space in my schedule. My head got emptier, and I reconnected with my heart and my belly. Without trying, I found myself resting in the here and now. In fact, I had trouble being anyplace else. The past was a blur, and the future refused to show me anything. I could only be present with what was happening right here, right now.
On the surface, it might seem that my life has been reduced to today. However, it’s actually just the opposite. Day by day, I have discovered that through being fully present in the now from my heart and belly, my life, awareness, and connection to everything keeps expanding. My thoughts and emotions drift to the past or future much less frequently. Through keeping my focus in the present moment, I am learning to be present with past and future from right here, right now in a whole new way. “I am” is taking on even deeper meaning.
Apprenticing Myself to Right Here, Right Now
I claim no expertise or mastery here. I feel like I am just at the tip of the iceberg for what is possible. I’m meeting parts of myself in ways I never have before, and I’m finding fears and strengths I didn’t know were there. I am apprenticing myself to right here, right now. The present moment is my teacher.
After three months, I have greater understanding about why we humans avoid living in the now for more than a few moments. Coming face-to-face with the depths of our experience and the complexities of our emotions can be tough. Living in the now has proven to be more challenging and more profoundly rewarding than I could have ever imagined.
And so I keep practicing. The more I can stay present with all of it at the same time, the more compassion and understanding I find within myself for everything. Right here, right now.
It’s probably a good thing that my sheltering at home, and therefore my apprenticeship, will go on for a while longer. From the United States, the future remains uncertain for international travel and public life. Yet deep in the heart of my being, I’m traveling far and wide. Some days are still like a roller coaster. Other days are more like gently rolling hills on a country road. That’s just how it is for me for now. And I’m grateful for the gift.
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