“You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.” – Thomas Merton
The “present moment” is “having a moment” (to use popular vernacular). It was once a concept I encountered only in my yoga and spirituality studies. Now however, I’m coming across this concept in People Magazine, on television (the morning news as well as entertainment shows) and all over Facebook, Instagram and Pinterest.
On a yoga mat, we learn that the present moment is as full and as brief as a single breath. One breath can feel like an eternity when you’re struggling. One breath can also flit by in an instant when you’re in your favorite posture. One breath can contain a moment of disappointment or a moment transformation – when you finally become someone who can actually do a long-sought-after posture.
On a yoga mat, we learn to resist distractions from without and within. We learn to pay keen, close attention to each moment lest we miss the lesson, the success or simply the experience. This is one of those huge lessons that we carry with us off our mats and into our lives.
Meditation and contemplative prayer teach the same lesson in a slightly different way. While on a yoga mat, we seek the present moment by being fully absorbed in what we’re doing. In these quieter, stiller practices, we dive into the present moment while doing nothing. We learn to connect with the spaciousness within that is always there, but is often camouflaged by our hectic, churning thoughts.
We find in these practices that the present moment is endless as long as we don’t end it. That, of course, is the hard part. While we’re new at practicing (and I, for one, think I might be “new” for the rest of my life), the present moment is as beautiful and as fragile as a bubble. One fleeting thought – even a really good one – is enough to pop it. The good news is that the moment is always there awaiting our return.
As Thomas Merton indicates in his words above, the present moment is often filled with unknowing or at least uncertainty. The present moment, then, asks us to trust even when we have no idea what is happening or where life is taking us. In fact, one of Merton’s best known prayers opens, “My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end.” Even the most enlightened of us feels clueless a great deal.
Certain present moments, however, are filled with clarity. They are those “A ha!” moments along our journey where we suddenly understand where we’ve been heading all along.
Some of these moments are sweet. Perhaps a dream that you (almost) forgot you were dreaming has suddenly come to fruition. Perhaps you suddenly face a surprising new possibility that feels somehow perfect. Others come with some bite. Perhaps a lost job leaves you suddenly with the freedom and space to spend time seriously reflecting on your life.
These moments are not frequent (at least they’re not for me), so it’s wise to savor them when we arrive at one.
These “A ha!” moments teach us a great deal. Through the power of hindsight, they teach us that it’s OK and totally normal when one or more steps along your way are less than pleasant. In fact, it is in these challenging, difficult moments that Merton’s admonition to have courage, faith and hope comes into play.
Courage helps us hold firm to our path – to maintain trust in our values, our instincts and the nudges of our hearts. Hope keeps us walking along our path with a smile on our face despite our challenges. Faith, though, is the key. It is faith that keeps whispering in our heart that we are here for a reason. Faith keeps us certain that we have special gifts that the world needs. Faith bolsters our desire to become the person we have the potential to be.
These “A ha!” moments reassure us that it is safe to trust the process. They teach us the amazing power of patience and persistence. They teach us that there is absolutely no sense in hurrying – each step along the way must be taken in order to travel our unique path.
Whether your present moment feels spacious or full, quiet or hectic, cloudy or like a clear-blue-sky day, dive in. Resist the temptations of distraction. Resist the urge to rush or skip a step. Dig deep and find the courage, hope and faith to embrace each step along your very special path.
This is your moment.