One morning years ago, driving into town from the country, I found myself feeling at one with my surroundings. The cornfields flanking the road, faded asphalt, lively bright sky overhead: instead of being caught up in an endless cycle of mind chatter, I was present to the experience of driving down the road on a cool late summer morning. On a back burner simmered anticipation of a trip my love and I would be taking later to hear one of our favorite musicians play, but for the most part, I was at peace with the circumstances in which I found myself, striving neither to return to a former moment nor straining to rush toward the next.
This seems to me a quiet triumph, the result of years of consistent mindfulness practice, not a goal one can strive to attain but an experience that emerges from directing the mind to the present over and over again. My mind is addicted to its habits of worry, distraction, concern with others’ lives, reacting to events, ruminating about what may come, obsessing about what has transpired. The best I can do is to train my mind to quiet by practicing yoga, sitting meditation, and disciplining myself to write regularly. In this way I cultivate focus, an endangered species in the cacophonous, hyperactive fragmentation of modern life.
Practicing mindfulness, my attention is focused on the present moment. I am not longing to be someone else, or to be somewhere else, sharing anyone else’s company—I am content to be in my own skin. I now know the feeling I have read about for years, now see the waste of waking up with the story of other people’s good fortune and wise choices scrolling through my mind instead of my own.
No life is perfect. Circumstances assure it. The best I can do is to be here for this life I have been given. It feels like a weight lifted from my shoulders—at least for this moment—not to be envying any of my friends, but simply appreciating the love in my life, the family relationships I have cultivated, the deep friendships I can count on, the good work I have been able to do.
Embracing the present requires honesty. A person in denial cannot live fully in the moment because a part of consciousness is engaged in deception. While often painful, acknowledging the truth of my own limitations, weaknesses, and poor choices has granted me access to peace. When I’m dodging my own truth, I’m drawn into addictive patterns of behavior, whether they be overeating, overdoing, overviewing (screen time) or obsessing about other people and constantly criticizing them. What a waste!
Glimmering on the edge of consciousness today is the glowing being I am under the layers of socialization, expectation, internalized messages that I must masquerade in order to be loved. With steady attention, I can unearth her. What a worthy life’s work for each of us, and the greatest gift we can give to the world: to be ourselves.