Spending this month thinking about being present has helped me to not only think about it, but also be in it. It has helped me remember the things I can do in my life to bring calm and peace into my life, especially on those days that are overflowing with things to do and have the potential to be stressful and chaotic. One of the things the writing of Thich Nhat Hanh reminded me of is to “Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.” That quote reminded me that everywhere I am and go is Holy Ground and every place I am is where I am supposed to be. As Hafiz once wrote, The Place you are right now, God circled on a map for you.” When I remember that where I am is a calm, peaceful, holy place the Ultimate created just for me, I can feel the stress leave my body and the calm fill it. How can one experience anything but that peace which surpasses understanding while standing and walking on Holy Ground.
There are all kinds of things, which we allow to keep us from having a peaceful day. When I asked people I know, personally or socially, I got a wide diversity of responses. They included:
Life, judging, and ignorance.
Work, the news, not staying focused
Technology, Facebook, Twitter, Television
The crowing rooster our "lovely" neighbors have as a pet
The things that prevent me from having a peaceful day include the following:
Having put too many things on my things to do list.
Computers and/or internet not working.
Getting caught up in my expectations of others that I did not realize I still had.
Poor planning on the part of others, which then becomes an emergency on my part.
This last month has reminded me it is not the external, which brings me or keeps me from having peace, it is my own mind.
For the most part, each of the situations listed above have one thing in common. They are all about how our mind handles the situation/problem. When I stay in the present, then it is just that one external situation and me. It is not me and a whole list of things that I need to worry about. If I wait to worry, as Zig Ziglar advises, then I am not worrying about anything from the past or the future. I am only focusing on the one thing in this very moment.
When my job demands that I focus on an urgent task, then I can choose to stress out because I have a whole host of other things that need to be done and tell myself that now I am not going to have enough time to do them. Or I can breathe and just focus on me and that one task. It is not me and the whole list of other things. It is just me and the one task. Then when I am done with that one task, I can move on to the next one.
When other people are behaving in ways that are judgmental or ignorant, we can choose to allow their behaviors to irritate and agitate us. Or we can choose to remember that they are just one person, not the world and we do not have to internalize or take personally anything they say.
When life seems to not be going our way, we can focus on all the things that have gone wrong in our past and may go wrong in our future. We can also choose to be in the moment, to experience each moment for what it is now, not an accumulation of moments at one time. We can experience just this one moment, address it. Then we can move on to the next one.
Several years ago, I remember looking at my homework dropbox, which told me I had 120 papers to grade and 7 days to grade them. I could feel my stress level rising and the calm hissing out of my day like a deflating balloon. Then I chose to take it just one paper at a time and they all were done and I was much calmer.
Social media and other digital distractions can be a distraction. However, they cannot interrupt us if we close them and focus on the one task we are working on at that moment. When I need to engage in social media, I stop what else I am doing, accomplish my digital task, and then move to the next task.
I live with pain and sometimes I feel these firecrackers going off in my foot. I can allow that to distract me and interrupt what I am doing and become stressed over the situation. Or I can choose to be present, acknowledge the pain, do what I can to alleviate it, and then move on to the next task until it is time for me to stop and address the pain again.
So regardless of what is keeping me from having peace in my day, my journey to restoring and maintaining the calm comes from my ability to practice being in the present. I say practice, because I have not yet mastered it. It is like the quote about how you get to Carnegie Hall. Practice, practice, practice. This is how we master being present; we practice it. When we catch ourselves being caught up in that which causes us stress and chaos, then we can stop and practice being in the moment. A friend of mine put it this way. How do you eat an entire cake? One bite at a time. This week, may we practice eating our life, one bite at a time.