Meditation’s fruits: clarity, peace, relaxation

“You get all that by just sitting there?! I don’t believe you.” That was my dad’s abrupt response when I tried to explain how meditating actually improved my mood and concentration. Somehow, the idea of “just sitting there” seems almost daunting. No text messages, no Internet, nothing to look at and not even music to listen to. It sounds dull at best, frustrating at worst.

Like my dad, I also was skeptical about meditation – until I tried it. One day I couldn’t focus on my homework – my mind was buzzing, and I was flat-out lost in distraction. I was curious to test the lofty claims of meditation, so I went down the hall into an empty lounge and played a guided meditation I found on YouTube. Surprisingly, I enjoyed it so much that when the 10-minute video was done, I kept sitting. I found when I least expected it, a massive wave of peace hit me. I felt completely open, loving and content. I didn’t want anything. When I finally stood up, I found “just sitting there” for a few minutes had left me feeling lighter and more alert. I left feeling the inner glow of true contentment.

You know how you feel when you can’t concentrate – like there’s a cloud of thoughts buzzing around your mind like gnats? Whenever I sit down to work, and my mind is restless and flighty, it’s usually a symptom of some unresolved worry I am subconsciously trying to wrestle with: stress about all of my homework, people in my life, the cold weather or any number of things. Meditation clears away all of that clutter. Somehow, when you “just sit there” for a few minutes, no longer distracted by the endless enticements of the external world, you temporarily surrender control of all those concerns – you are letting go. Ironically, when you sit down to meditate and stop trying to solve everything, you leave feeling more alert, thus more capable of fixing your problems.

Millions of Americans regularly meditate to reap the priceless mental and physical health benefits. Meditators generally have low stress, a relaxed demeanor, a boosted immune system, mental clarity and improved health overall. A huge body of research exists on the benefits of meditation. One study that caught my eye was conducted at University of Madison-Wisconsin. Brain imaging of meditators suggested meditation gradually rewires the brain, conditioning it to react favorably to stressful situations. Instead of the typical fight-or-flight response, regular meditation cultivates an attitude of acceptance, which fosters contentment. A Harvard study found that meditating shuts down the parietal lobe, which integrates sensory perception. This allows the subject to loosen their sensory limits and achieve a feeling of “oneness” and connectivity with the wider world.

A few months ago, I upped my semi-regular meditation practice to twice a day for 20 minutes per session. But those 40 minutes a day bring me astounding results, my favorite being that most days I can sit in a classroom and do something I’ve never done before: effortlessly pay attention. I am absolutely convinced the change was due to meditation. For years, I always had my Adderall prescription on hand so I could focus and work efficiently, but now I easily do without. I tend not to sweat the small things quite so much. As a general rule I’m less irritable, more pleasant and happier.

The point of meditation is not necessarily to clear your mind of all thoughts. That’s nearly impossible, because all your life you have been conditioned to constantly think. If you try to force yourself to stop thinking, it will not work unless you have been meditating heavily for many years. Rather, the point is to let go of the world for a few minutes. If your mind overflows with thought, let it happen. If you think something unpleasant, let it happen. If you feel some emotion, let it happen. If you get bored, let it happen. The only thing you can do wrong in meditation is to try to do it right. As soon as I started grasping for moments of deep contentment during my meditations, they slipped away. The sensation only struck me when I wasn’t looking for it. That’s when I learned that meditation only works if you don’t try to do it right. This gets difficult, because once you experience the joy and lightness that can occur during and after meditation, you naturally want the same effect every time. But as the Buddhist ideal dictates, only by giving up your desire for something – in this case, peace – can you truly find it.

If you’re curious about meditation but would like some help, try a guided meditation hosted by the Art of Living club (for all of you at Truman) at 4:30 p.m. each Wednesday in McClain room 209. All are welcome. You might leave with a clear head, a lighter load and a smile on your face. I leave you with the words of Remez Sasson: “Your mind is your instrument. Learn to be its master and not its slave.”

Zazen meditation instructions
Online Meditation center

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Mindfulness Tames Clutter

NOTE: I haven’t posted here for over a semester, but I just started writing a column for the Index on spirituality, so I’d like to revive this blog. Sorry for the inordinately long delay. I’ll post something most weeks (for sure, now that I have a weekly deadline), and I’ll try to keep adding fun little things in between to keep you coming back. Here you are-hope you enjoy, and feel free to leave feedback!

My friends and family tell me I am the spaciest person they know. All my life, I’ve been dubbed the “space cadet.” Since my first years of grade school, I struggled with inattention and took ADD medication for years before deciding in college that I couldn’t depend on a pill to solve my problems anymore.

Unfortunately, a running commentary of fantasy, worry and analysis constantly streams through my head. If I absentmindedly wade into this seductive current of daydreams, it lures me into the tantalizing world and keeps me distracted from whatever is actually happening. Despite my most valiant efforts, I am simply not the student who raptly follows a teacher’s every word during a lecture.

Although I realize my issues with inattention are at least somewhat worse than average, I think most Americans struggle with it to some degree. We avoid boredom like the plague. A friend of mine tells me that her house literally has a television in every room – even the bathroom. We have iPods to drown out dullness when we’re walking around campus, and we usually read or talk to friends while we eat. TV commercials have reached a five-second run time and USA Today no longer prints stories that are long enough to jump to another page because readers might get bored and never finish the story.

With a new distraction around every corner, I am not surprised that ADD diagnoses rose among school-age children by three percent per year between 1997-2006, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Something in us always wants something more exciting than what is in front of us.

The downsides of this mentality? First of all, we waste our money funding our distractions, and we waste our time planning for future distractions simply to avoid existing without something colorful or interesting around. Second, we lose when we forget the moment we are in right now. I have read the words of Eastern mystics who claimed the present is the only thing that exists. After turning over the idea, I decided this was true. Yes, the future will come, but the future only exists when it becomes the now – when we are living it.

When we spend all our time fantasizing about the future or wringing our hands over what could happen, we miss out. The same idea goes for the past. The cliché holds true – don’t cry over spilled milk. If you spent all last weekend procrastinating instead of studying, then stressing out about it won’t help. Just do the best you can right now.

On a side note, I don’t think the Eastern philosophers meant that you can’t plan ahead. As we all know, a degree-seeking Truman student probably couldn’t emerge from college unscathed without planning ahead. But agonizing over what you cannot control is anything but productive.

Although I will probably never be rid of my inattentiveness, I have learned that practicing mindfulness – living in the present – helps me immensely. Mindfulness slowly tames the mind to ignore the mental clutter, but Lord knows I haven’t mastered it – mindfulness is about as easy as capturing jelly in a net. We have hardwired our minds to sniff out the most interesting objects around, so change takes some time. But I have discovered that when I consciously focus my attention on what I am doing right now, the present becomes a lot more interesting. My mind stops trying to plan out my next ten minutes or ten years, and I can relax and enjoy myself.

Anyone who has tried to pay attention in a boring class knows that mindfulness is pretty difficult. But from what I have experienced, simple practice eventually pacifies the wild beast. The more I think about mindfulness, the more frequently I remember to be here. When your mind simply cannot come down from the clouds, try breathing. As someone once told me, breathing connects the body and the mind. That sense of physical stability will focus your mind and bring you back. Meditation clears and sharpens my mind-without it, I would never have survived school sans Adderall.

Buddhist Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a book called “The Miracle of Mindfulness.” I distinctly remember one passage in which Hanh explains that even when we undertake tedious tasks, like doing the dishes, the mindful individual doesn’t do the dishes simply to make them clean. Rather, he or she does the dishes for the sake of doing the dishes. Hanh writes, “While washing the dishes, you might be thinking about the tea afterwards, and so try to get them out of the way as quickly as possible in order to sit and drink tea. But that means you are incapable of living during the time you are washing the dishes. When you are washing the dishes, washing the dishes must be the most important thing in your life. … Each act is a rite, a ceremony.”

Those dishes are sort of fun to wash when you are living every moment, and the tea afterward tastes quite robust when you savor every taste.

Embracing Imperfection

Sometimes the hardest part of spiritual growth is overcoming the expectation that my problems will disappear once I’m “good” enough.

I often assume that I must fix myself: I am acting too disorganized, emotional, insecure, stressed. Then, I seek answers. (Enter this blog, spiritual efforts, and personal growth.) During the process of searching, I uncover some epiphany: perhaps a lesson or a quote that awakens me a little. Maybe I learn that I’ve been too self-absorbed, or that I haven’t been living in the present. Maybe this time, if I really let go in meditation, or maintain the right frame of mind, or if I stop straying from my chosen spiritual path, essentially if I do it right, then I will reach some plateau of infinite fearlessness, calm, confidence, ambition…all my issues will disappear, and I will become effortlessly loving and accepting toward all humankind.

One important piece of wisdom I’ve recently uncovered is this: a lot of my life has consisted of my searching for something I’ve thought to be missing inside myself. While perhaps my goal is to come to terms with the fact that there is nothing missing. I am a process, a work in progress, and I always will be. There is no perfection, only the beautiful acceptance of imperfection.

Goal: to embrace the natural incompleteness of existence!

When I think about it, perfection is one of the most unrealistic expectations anyone could put upon themselves. I’m learning that life is usually an uphill battle. We don’t work hard all our lives just to get to a stopping point, where we can sit and bask forevermore. The turmoil is what shapes us. You will always make mistakes. Sometimes, you will be unreasonable. Angry. Confused. Hurt. You’ll hurt others. You’ll hate people, or even yourself. But over time, we learn and gradually see through our shallow shields of defense. They will slowly subside.

But one quick-fix solution is highly unlikely.

And yet, I keep assuming that if I can find that one thing to change my perspective, then I will be cured of the human experience? No. The principles I uncover in my spiritual path help me gradually, but not immediately. Not at once. And that’s okay.

There are only a few principles I can cling to, which I know will never fail: choosing love over fear, hope over despair, and letting go over a false sense of control.

Maybe the most I, or anyone, can do is to accept our beautifully flawed selves the way we are but to never give up trying to become better.

Let go of a teardrop…gain the entire ocean

If you want something, let it go. Then, you will uncover what you were looking for in the first place.

Today I used a meditation technique to improve my concentration. My attention span typically lasts only a few- look-a-bird! -moments, and my new short-term goal is to develop focus. Here’s the technique I used: I counted each breath, flowing in and out, for ten breaths. And if any distracting thoughts invaded the arena of my focus, I started over.

This was, of course, notoriously difficult. I started over repeatedly and repeatedly. Sometimes I couldn’t even count to two breaths. With a steely determination, I continued…one (in, out), two (in, out)…and as I tried harder, a voice of authority started overseeing the meditation, “fixing” my improper technique.

You shouldn’t try so hard. You should stay in the present. You should observe yourself more. You’re sliding. You’re sliding…

Eventually, this voice became another distraction, and I re-started my counting sooner each time.

Then, I gave up. My mind isn’t used to focusing for this long, I thought. I need a break. And the moment I stopped trying, I was there. My mind was crystal clear, and I counted my ten breaths with ease. Surprised, I stopped and checked myself, and counted ten more breaths without a glitch.

As soon as I started trying again, the same voices and clutter and limitations emerged. Whenever I honestly gave up, I stayed in the present without a problem.

The object of meditation is to let go of the meditator-the part of you trying to do the meditation right. This effort is the voice of your ego (the part of you that needs, wants, desires, and hurts). But when you clear away this ego-clutter of wanting and striving, you are free. And when you are free, you achieve the fulfillment you sought in the first place. You find happiness and peace, by letting go of the need for happiness and peace.

I believe that when we trust ourselves completely instead of obsessively controlling our actions, we will naturally do right. As I wrote in my last entry, love is our very core once we strip away the rest.

Try it right now, as an experiment. Take a breath, and notice how you’re feeling. Don’t try to achieve anything. Just sit…notice that if you try to achieve anything with this exercise, it won’t work. If you’re just sitting, with no underlying intentions, you will feel peace.

What won’t work is controlling your desires- whether you want comfort, possessions, or validation. Let it be. Don’t tell yourself you’re letting go of your desire to stop craving when REALLY you’re just doing it so you can get rid of the craving, because you want to stop hurting. Letting go must be honest, and if it’s not, desire still controls you. Relax- we’re human. It’s natural. (By writing this, I do not imply that I am at some expert stage of “letting go.” It’s not easy for me at all, but it truly works.)

When you stop fearing the loss of what you want, then nothing can hurt you.

Great meditation instruction website here.

Honest Love: how to put yourself aside

Compassion

Love is not what you feel. Love is who you are when you strip everything away.

Why is love important?

Growing up, I remember reading in my first spiritual text, the Bible: “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them…But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great.”

Since I read this, I have consciously and unconsciously sought to fulfill this universal ideal of unconditional love. I probably always will be. Giving of oneself is psychologically healthy and oddly enough, incredibly joyful. However, selflessness is probably one of the hardest tasks we’ll ever face as humans. After all, we are biologically programmed to look after ourselves first. But the rewards of putting oneself aside are abundant. Don’t believe me? Try a random act of kindness and enjoy the happy buzz afterward.

Your endless needs and desires disappear when faced with pure love, and you enter a state of abundant,  selfless giving. There’s a reason why every major religion commands this practice!

If love were easy…

Practicing love seemed nearly impossible during my first attempts. People were irritating. Selfish. Cocky. If I didn’t like someone, I ignored them or talked down to them. I yelled at my siblings. I wanted the last cookie. Though my conscience was strong and my intentions were pure, I could only rarely bring myself to give when I didn’t feel like it, or to love someone I despised. Afterward, I felt racked with frustration and guilt.

Little did I know that those feelings of frustration and guilt were part of the problem itself. You can’t act compassionately toward others until you show compassion for yourself first. Here’s a quote (that I have shamelessly stolen from someone’s Facebook profile page). “Your task is not to seek love, but to seek out the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.” -Rumi

These barriers are our defenses. Every time we act selfishly, we are only trying to protect ourselves.

Hate is a symptom that something is not right within oneself. Thus, I cannot rightfully condemn myself nor anyone else for selfish acts. Hatred must be treated with compassion, not more negativity.

Know thyself.

How, then, do we change direction? Compassionately, from within. I cannot stress the importance of being compassionate and nonjudgmental toward yourself. Watch yourself, observe your actions. When you notice patterns of selfish habits, explore them. Ask yourself, why did I do this? I notice that when I’m pushing someone away, I’m usually afraid of letting them in. Maybe this person’s irritating tendency to be clingy or obnoxious is a trait I suppress within myself. Maybe I’m afraid of letting them in because I don’t want to seem vulnerable and weak. Fear, in some form, is at the root, and learning to let go of that fear will bring you closer to natural kindness. Practicing meditation to help you let go of these fears.

Honestly, you will probably screw up. But wallowing in guilt and anger will only add more negativity to the mix.  Go easy on yourself. You have woven these intricate patterns of fear throughout your entire lifetime. They’re not going to disappear overnight.

Eventually, we will cease to automatically think of ourselves when faced with making a sacrifice. We will accept everyone without hesitation, regardless of the way they treat us. Without expecting anything in return (not to serve our own needs). I believe this signifies the ideal state.

Personal growth toward this goal, then, is not selfish. Ultimately, growth is an act of compassion toward everyone in your life. As Leo Tolstoy said, “Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.”

Here’s a beautiful blog entry on Love & Liberation I’d highly recommend.

Enneagram: Pinpointing your Compulsions

Everybody’s compensating for something.

Maybe back in the playground days, the kid you really wanted to be best friends with shot you down in rejection. Maybe you had a tumultuous home life that molded you into a peacemaker who would never cause trouble for others. Maybe you could never measure up to your dad’s standards, or maybe you always felt endangered.

When you are young, you put your trust in life and people and at some point, something fails you. You unconsciously build up a protective guard so this will not happen again. Thus, most people spend life developing an entire personality defending themselves against these fears. This is your ego: a set of defense mechanisms and insecurities locked into satisfying the desire not to be hurt. The ego is your individuality and your self-image. It’s the part of you with wants and needs, that rages when these aren’t met.

Enter: the Enneagram, a psycho-spiritual personality typing system rooted in mysticism, like Sufi thought and the Kabbalah. Unlike other personality systems, it hits the root of you. The heart of your motivations. The core of your behavior. And once you pinpoint your type, Enneagram doesn’t box you into some category. It identifies your own automatic ego tendencies so you can free yourself from them.

Enneagram views your personality as a constant cycle of wants and needs which will ultimately never satisfy you on a deeper level. Most importantly, who you are is not limited to these tendencies. You can find liberation from the constant clinging and worrying by letting go of yourself. A long but infinitely rewarding process.

Some philosophies speak of annihilating the ego, but I personally believe that we are not to destroy it (you will be an individual as long as you are alive, like it or not.) but that we must learn to see through its tricks so that they no longer control our actions.

Enneagram has helped me immensely. Since I discovered it in a workshop over four years ago, I have a pretty firm idea of what I’ve spent my life hiding from…mostly fears of unacceptance and rejection from elementary and middle school days. Frought with the notion that I was inadequately different, therefore rejectable, I tried to prove my worth to others and myself by strengthening my individuality and uniqueness and living in an inner world of emotions. The incessant effort I spent maintaining this image and dealing with turbulent emotions was NOT worth the few moments of triumph I felt when my vision was satisfied. I’ve learned to see myself as a continuous process rather than a fixed entity, and I no longer have to define my worth to anyone. I’m still trekking the road to liberation (will be for a while), but so far the process of letting go has been infinitely rewarding.

There are nine different Enneagream types: one (the perfectionist), two (the giver), three (the achiever), four (the romantic), five (the observer), six (the loyalist), seven (the enthusiast), eight (the challenger), and nine (the peacemaker).

Notice the interconnected design. All types are connected. Each one displays tendencies of other types when stressed and secure. I’m a type four, and when I’m productive and generally secure with myself, I become discerning and perfectionistic, like type one (my security type). When I’m insecure and feel inadequate, I go to people, telling them about my problems. This contains shades of type two, the giver (my stress type). You’ll see bits and pieces of yourself within the entire Enneagram, but pay attention to how well you identify with the root dilemma of each type rather than the traits. What’s causing the turmoil?

The best way to discover your Enneagram type is to talk with someone who knows a lot about Enneagram. I’ve helped a LOT of people find their types, and I have a pretty solid grasp of the system. If you need any input, I’d be glad to offer my intuitions. Just let me know, or leave a comment. The second best way is to read about the different type descriptions. Taking a test is probably one of the least effective ways to discover your type (Tests measure traits while Enneagram measures root impulses) but it can point you in the right direction. Here’s a free test you can use.

Oh, and chances are, you won’t like your type at first because no one likes to face up to their shadow side. Pay attention to that. Once, I typed another type four and when I talked about the underlying sense of shame felt by most fours, he exclaimed (while turning red), “We don’t talk about those!”

The Enneagram has a lot of depth…subtypes, variants, levels. If you are all interested in knowing more, I can totally continue to write about Enneagram in the future.

Here’s some reading: Enneagram and Spirituality, and some good sites: Enneagram Institute and Enneagram Explorations and Enneagram Book.

Happy typing! 🙂

The Seduction of Pride

An old Buddhist story:

A devoted meditator, after years concentrating on a particular mantra, had attained enough insight to begin teaching. The student’s humility was far from perfect, but the teachers at the monastery were not worried.

A few years of successful teaching left the meditator with no thoughts about learning from anyone; but upon hearing about a famous hermit living nearby, the opportunity was too exciting to be passed up.

The hermit lived alone on an island at the middle of a lake, so the meditator hired a man with a boat to row across to the island. The meditator was very respectful of the old hermit. As they shared some tea made with herbs the meditator asked him about his spiritual practice. The old man said he had no spiritual practice, except for a mantra which he repeated all the time to himself. The meditator was pleased: the hermit was using the same mantra he used himself — but when the hermit spoke the mantra aloud, the meditator was horrified!

“What’s wrong?” asked the hermit.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m afraid you’ve wasted your whole life! You are pronouncing the mantra incorrectly!”

“Oh, Dear! That is terrible. How should I say it?”

The meditator gave the correct pronunciation, and the old hermit was very grateful, asking to be left alone so he could get started right away. On the way back across the lake the meditator, now confirmed as an accomplished teacher, was pondering the sad fate of the hermit.

“It’s so fortunate that I came along. At least he will have a little time to practice correctly before he dies.” Just then, the meditator noticed that the boatman was looking quite shocked, and turned to see the hermit standing respectfully on the water, next to the boat.

“Excuse me, please. I hate to bother you, but I’ve forgotten the correct pronunciation again. Would you please repeat it for me?”

“You obviously don’t need it,” stammered the meditator; but the old man persisted in his polite request until the meditator relented and told him again the way he thought the mantra should be pronounced.

The old hermit was saying the mantra very carefully, slowly, over and over, as he walked across the surface of the water back to the island.

———————————————————————————————–

A few days ago, as I attempted to do my homework, my mom was watching Oprah in the same room. The subject matter, spirituality, was too intriguing for me to ignore.

Oprah had brought three spiritual teachers onto the episode: two ran spirituality centers and authored books, and one was an Episcopal priest.

One caller into the show was a tearful woman who had invested her entire life savings into her bakery business, now failing. Her life, house, and her family’s welfare were all at stake.

During the commercial break, my mom mentioned that she liked the Episcopal priest more than the other two teachers. When I asked why, she pointed out that the priest was the only one of the three teachers who gave this desperate woman helpful, relevent tips instead of spouting rhetoric at her, such as, “You will grow from this experience in the end.” The priest talked with the woman while the other two seemed to talk at her.

These teachers had wonderful insights throughout the show, and while I don’t want to focus on the shortcomings of other people, (before I take the log out of my own eye…) I thought this demonstrated a paradox for a lot of spiritual people. A fine line separates humble spirituality from ego-driven dogmatism. Pure spirituality penetrates through the self-serving entrapments of the ego, such as pride, and shouldn’t feed them. While defenses are completely natural, they are still glaring signs that we still have a lot of work to do. Flaws are opportunities to grow.

I am far from perfect and occasionally become a wind-up toy, automatically hurling my ideas at people. But I try to watch myself and to maintain an engaged discussion, listening to the other party instead of judging them. I must always ask myself: am I trying to benefit myself with this, or to truly be of service?

If I ever stop talking with you and start talking at you, please stop me. That’s pride speaking, not me, and clearly it’s counterproductive to helping anyone, including myself. Pride only traps and encloses. I find the satisfaction it gives is illusory, gaseous, fleeting, and ironically, a sign that I need to address some insecurity within myself. There’s no need to compensate for the parts of ourselves that we are comfortable with.

Humility, on the contrary, is the epitome of spirituality, for it gives birth to pure love. You can’t force love or goodwill. Remove your own barriers, and you will allow love to expand and become you.

“The best way to live
is to be like water
For water benefits all things
and goes against none of them.”
-from Tao Te Ching verse 8

On a side note: I think I’ll start a facebook group soon for those of you who are reading regularly and would like updates. Keep an eye out.

More life, less effort

“‘Are you able to have a little room where you can close the door and be alone?’

‘Yes.’

‘That is your cave…That is your sacred mountain. That is where you will find the kingdom of God.'”

In “Autobiography of a Yogi,” Paramahansa Yogananda runs to the Himalayas to find holy men. A saint he encounters chides him for running away from home (with his guru) to find adventure. The saint says Yogananda should not seek God by running far and wide but rather by stilling himself wherever he is.

This spearheaded me when I read it. Lately, I’ve been overcome with everything I have left to accomplish in life. I want to develop as a painter and musician. Read more about sustainability and gender issues. Write more poetry. Work on the garden. And somehow, fit in day-to-day duties, work, people, spontaneity, and spirituality.

The world is far too vast and interesting for one lifetime!

Is life a blank slate that we have a limited time to fill? A 90-minute videotape we must cram with as many interesting experiences and activities as we can?

In the end, what do we have to show for it? Who’s going to view a copy in 300 years when you and everyone you know is long gone? Why will it even matter?

When I think about life as a process, rather than a static box I need to fulfill, the question changes from what I do to who I am. Nothing ultimately makes me happier than becoming in touch with the part of me that is pure consciousness (rather than staying entrapped within the seductive haze of the ego). The Now is pure awareness. No future concerns, no past regrets.

Self-realization transforms the smallest experiences, from sipping water to gazing at the sky, into ecstasy. When the change shifts within yourself, you don’t have to stuff the world in your pocket. Instead of constantly working toward the next adventure, everything becomes vibrant. You can just be, and you do more with less.

Find a room and try to be still for a few minutes. See what happens.

“The life of sensation is the life of greed. It requires more and more. The life of the spirit requires less and less; time is ample and its passage sweet.” (Annie Dillard)

Eckhart Tolle on finding stillness now.

The Elusive Present Moment

Every now and then, the present moment slides into my awareness.

The autopilot self is an incessant whirlwind,  
Mechanically distracting itself.

On some level, we (at least I) are afraid of simply being, which would *supposedly* be completely dull and empty.

We live so often in a haze of habitual thought patterns, like a swarming cloud that floats a few feet above our actual existence.  I find I unconsciously divert so much  energy toward escaping from the present moment that I forget, continually, its EVER-refreshing beauty and simplicity. Never fails.

We watch TV. Compulsively socialize. Walk the dog. We even bring the newspaper into the bathroom so we’re not left with alone with ourselves for those precious few minutes.

Why does the idea of emptiness appear so threatening? What harm do we think could possibly come from simply existing, without a train of thought to cling to or a task to complete or a shiny picture to look at? When I truly think about it, emptiness sounds divine.

I’m learning to identify certain thought patterns that cycle endlessly on repeat. Which leads nowhere except the haze. Depending upon my self-image, my possessions, even relationships and ideas…leads only to the haze. Nothing can replace pure consciousness, moment to moment. I’m not saying not to think or have ideas and relationships with people. Just recognize when you’re using them to fill a void.

 Once I settle into the present, I remember how the moment is a sanctuary. There’s no future to dread or anticipate. No past to dwell upon. Nothing can hurt you. Nothing really exists except the Now…might as well experience it to the fullest.

This article from Psychology Today got me started on the present – six steps to living in the moment.