I’ve heard the cliche for years: “Just stay in the moment.”
But as with most things, there’s more going on under the surface than first appears. As I journey into the deeper places of my life, I’m finding new truths about this overly used piece of advice.
Fear and anxiety tell me the moment I’m in is not safe. It’s not okay. It’s uncomfortable. Run, escape, fidget, do anything to find solid ground again.
Anything will do.
Grab the phone and start scrolling. Rummage in the kitchen for some food. Add a new task to the do do list. Text a friend as a distraction. Post something on Instagram or Facebook so people’s comments and likes will make me feel better. Anything will do.
The belief that I can get somewhere better is a lion I’ve fed for a long time. The more I fed the belief, the stronger it got. “If I can just get over there, then the pain and worry will disappear.” I’ve spent years eyeing the healthy green grass just a few steps in front of me.
This untrue story has caused years of suffering in my life. Because I can’t go anywhere else. The moment in front of me is all I actually have.
I have moved through my life for years with judgment and fear that the moment in front of me wasn’t enough. I could do better and be better and I should be somewhere else that was better. So I did every little thing I could to escape the present moment because I was afraid I wasn’t enough for it. I want to give up all hope of an alternative to the present moment.
I am learning how to stay still while the truth stares at me. No hiding anymore.
And the truth is better and deeper and bigger than I really ever thought possible.
Pema Chodron’s “When Things Fall Apart” has helped tie together many threads for me. I love learning from my Buddhist brothers and sisters and seeing where the threads of Jesus’ gospel intersect. Here’s a bit that helps illumine this notion that we can’t really get anywhere else.
GENERALLY SPEAKING, we regard discomfort in any form as bad news. But for practitioners or spiritual warriors—people who have a certain hunger to know what is true—feelings like disappointment, embarrassment, irritation, resentment, anger, jealousy, and fear, instead of being bad news, are actually very clear moments that teach us where it is that we’re holding back. They teach us to perk up and lean in when we feel we’d rather collapse and back away. They’re like messengers that show us, with terrifying clarity, exactly where we’re stuck. This very moment is the perfect teacher, and, lucky for us, it’s with us wherever we are. Those events and people in our lives who trigger our unresolved issues could be regarded as good news. We don’t have to go hunting for anything. We don’t need to try to create situations in which we reach our limit. They occur all by themselves, with clockwork regularity. …
Most of us do not take these situations as teachings. We automatically hate them. We run like crazy. We use all kinds of ways to escape—all addictions stem from this moment when we meet our edge and we just can’t stand it. We feel we have to soften it, pad it with something, and we become addicted to whatever it is that seems to ease the pain. In fact, the rampant materialism that we see in the world stems from this moment. There are so many ways that have been dreamt up to entertain us away from the moment, soften its hard edge, deaden it so we don’t have to feel the full impact of the pain that arises when we cannot manipulate the situation to make us come out looking fine.
Meditation is an invitation to notice when we reach our limit and to not get carried away by hope and fear. Through meditation, we’re able to see clearly what’s going on with our thoughts and emotions, and we can also let them go. What’s encouraging about meditation is that even if we shut down, we can no longer shut down in ignorance. We see very clearly that we’re closing off. That in itself begins to illuminate the darkness of ignorance. We’re able to see how we run and hide and keep ourselves busy so that we never have to let our hearts be penetrated. And we’re also able to see how we could open and relax. Basically, disappointment, embarrassment, and all these places where we just cannot feel good are a sort of death. We’ve just lost our ground completely; we are unable to hold it together and feel that we’re on top of things.
Rather than realizing that it takes death for there to be birth, we just fight against the fear of death. Reaching our limit is not some kind of punishment. It’s actually a sign of health that, when we meet the place where we are about to die, we feel fear and trembling. A further sign of health is that we don’t become undone by fear and trembling, but we take it as a message that it’s time to stop struggling and look directly at what’s threatening us. Things like disappointment and anxiety are messengers telling us that we’re about to go into unknown territory.
Chodron, Pema. When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times