“Clearly, all fear has an element of resistance and a leaning away from the moment. Its dynamic is not unlike that of strong desire except that fear leans backward into the last safe moment while desire leans forward toward the next possibility of satisfaction. Each lacks presence.”
― Stephen Levine,
It is funny how the mind and the body works. The last thing I wanted to do in the midst of stress was to be present enough to write. I would get up in the morning, often run, and head to work. I’d eat square meals and sleep, attend any appointments only to repeat my day. In short, my days were measured out in fairly predictable chunks. This works well for general maintenance of the body, but not so much for the mind and fully living in the present. My mind spent a lot of time managing the day to day operations and attending to possible future needs, but I was not settling in and noticing.
“This noting of mental states encourage a deeper recognition of what is happening while it is happening. It allows us to be more fully alive to the present rather than living our life as an afterthought. It enables us to watch with mercy, if not humor, the uninvited swirl of “mixed emotions” not as something in need of judgement but as a work in progress.” Stephen Levine, A Year to Live
A teacher asked me “How’s that writing going?” I hastily replied: “A lot has fizzled lately…some kind of block. Largely because I think it’s all a bit too much.” Attending to this blog was (is) very much like sitting in meditation. It was less of an afterthought but incredibly restless. I often had an awareness that there was an intention to do this, but all that I could churn out were general ideas that I shelved for a time I thought I’d be less in a state of “monkey mind.” To be with the cacophony of sounds, responsibilities, and to really notice my experience, whether it be anticipation, fear, joy, or exhaustion was just too hot…too real.
Yet, restlessness of the mind is no different than restlessness of the body. Both are a resistance to fully exploring and being with the present moment. As Gil Frondal notes “because restlessness is uncomfortable, it can be difficult to pay attention to. Paradoxically, restlessness is itself sometimes a symptom of not being able to be present for discomfort“
So what exactly did I mean by “a bit too much?” A bit too much physically? A bit too much emotionally? Or some variation of both?
I will go with both.
Don’t get me wrong, I imagine there is a time and place for this muted “side-eye” acknowledgement of life and its experiences within it especially during acute stress. There is a fear of judging or naming the discomfort because one is afraid of it overwhelming and overstimulating and not being able to handle it. It’s a way for the body to prioritize self preservation over the delay of reflection. But knowing when it’s time to wake up from this trance and maybe lean in a bit deeper is the tricky part.
Maybe it is waking up again when I encounter that moment when “coping” becomes stale and unsatisfying. Then, possibly it’s time to look at the uncomfortable a little bit more squarely and to sit with it a little bit more intently.
So, back on the writing horse I go.
Every piece of writing requires an introduction. Often one feels compelled to write when something big happens and my situation is no different. This is especially true when a medical situation arises and triggers a whole host of uncertainty and other emotions. For me, on March 30th everything changed; not a death sentence but a random, and scary turn of events nonetheless. This particular situation however, is not the focus in this blog/online journal.
Instead I am attempting here the exploration of living mindfully and in the moment. Change is always happening and our bodies do what they do. Its more about how we approach it, how we work with it rather than our reactions and our tendency to push unpleasant situations away. This is the focus; it is my musings on living mindfully and in the moment even when our minds spend a lot of time in the past and the future. This is about listening to and working with what is and the various ways in which mindfulness, meditation, and focusing intersects with life.
As Steven Levine retells:
Once someone asked a well-known Thai meditation master, “In this world where everything changes, where nothing remains the same, where loss and grief are inherent in our very coming into existence, how can there be any happiness? How can we find security when we see that we can’t count on anything being the way we want it to be?” The teacher, looking compassionately at this fellow, held up a drinking glass that had been given to him earlier in the morning and said, “You see this goblet? For me this glass is already broken. I enjoy it. I drink out of it. It holds my water admirably, sometimes even reflecting the sun in beautiful patterns. If I should tap it, it has a lovely ring to it. But when I put this glass on a shelf and the wind knocks it over, or my elbow brushes it off the table and it falls to the ground and shatters, I say, ‘Of course.’ When I understand that this glass is already broken, every moment with it is precious. Every moment is just as it is, and nothing need be otherwise.
When we recognize that, just like the glass, our body is already broken, that indeed we are already dead, then life becomes precious, and we open to it just as it is, in the moment it is occurring. When we understand that all our loved ones are already dead — our children, our mates, our friends — how precious they become. How little fear can interpose; how little doubt can estrange us. When you live your life as though you’re already dead, life takes on new meaning. Each moment becomes a whole lifetime, a universe unto itself.”
Quote From: Levine, Stephen, and Ondrea Levine. Who Dies? : An Investigation of Conscious Living and Conscious Dying. Bath: Gateway Books, 1986, pg. 98.