Sunday, June 01, 2008

Only Now

Sunday, June 1 ~ Albuquerque, New Mexico

"God works in moments."
— old French saying

"If you feel yourself pulled out of the present moment, stop — to write, to meditate, to reconnect with the earth and the heavens, to find your grounding and centering. Stop to remember who you are. Stop to listen to the voice of your muse, your soul, your heart. In that moment of cease, you reconnect with the inner and again find your flow, again find your way."
— adapted from The Voice of the Muse: Answering the Call to Write

You know how some events stick in your mind so clearly that, even years after the fact, you can easily re-insert yourself into the scene? I'm not talking about the obviously dramatic ones. Rather, I'm referring to ones whose significance is invisible in the moment.

I had one of those in 1996 when I was living in Penetanguishene on the Lake Huron shore, about 90 miles north of Toronto. It was during one of those periods of personal retreat that seem to turn up in my life at regular intervals. It was also during a period of stress-induced digestive disorders that, in turn, induced yet more stress around mealtime.

Each morning before breakfast back then, I would go for a long walk in the extensive woodlands that stretched up into the hills behind my house. And each morning as I walked, my mind would leap ahead to breakfast, trying to figure out what I could eat that wouldn't upset my stomach.

As I walked and stressed, I was so focused on how to avoid being stressed that I was blind and deaf to the resplendent glories of a Georgian Bay fall. The irony was that none of my stressing reduced the ultimate stress of breakfast.

One day, after weeks of this, it struck me that this was not a healthy way to live. It struck me, too, that this was not an isolated pattern. In effect, I had spent most of my life avoiding the moment I was in in favor of some future worry.

From that moment on, my walks became an exercise in pulling myself back to the present moment. Each time my mind wandered forward, I would refocus on some gift of the walk. "Now, I hear the leaves crunching under my feet," I would say. Or, "Now, I feel the texture of the tree bark." Or, "Now, I see the bay sparkling through the trees."

It was (and remains) a powerful exercise, not least because it demonstrated just how future-directed I had been.

One of life's gifts and challenges is how old issues resurface, not because we haven't mastered them but because it's time to graduate to the next level of our mastery.

For me, a new level of that particular mastery kicked in eight years later, not long after I had left Sedona, Arizona on what would turn out to be a 30-month road odyssey.

It was a journey of faith, one very similar to that embarked upon by Toshar and his questing companions in my novel, The MoonQuest, one very similar to the writing journey that produced the book. During much of that time, I didn't know where I would go from day to day...or why. All I could do was trust that each moment would lead to the next and that, one day, all those moments would add up to something meaningful.

Yet, what challenged me more than not knowing where I was going or why, in those early months, was not knowing how I would manage financially — with only the proceeds from my leave-taking garage sale to get me going and spotty income from teleconferences and telephone clients to keep me going.

Just as I had done eight years earlier on my woodland walks, my road travels were frequently punctuated with anxiety — this time about how I would pay my bills.

I wrote about this in my March newsletter (Infinite Possibility, Infinite Flow):

"In those moments [of high anxiety], that still, small voice we can all access would ask, Are all today's needs taken care of? Food? Gas? Accommodation? My answers were always 'yes.'

"Then let tomorrow and tomorrow's bills take care of themselves, the voice would say."

It was not always easy to focus only on the needs of the moment. The future-directed part of me often wanted to take over. Yet, the exercise worked. Somehow, the next day's needs were always covered and the next day inevitably took care of itself.

The memory of that experience still sustains me on days when financial anxieties feel overwhelming. In the moment, I remind myself, I'm always fine.

In recent weeks, a new level of now-moment mastery has been imposing itself on me. Instead of discrete aspects of my life, like food or finances, pulling me back into the now, it feels as though every aspect of my life is alerting me to the fact that nothing truly matters — or, perhaps, exists— beyond the present moment.

As I've written recently here, the house I'm renting in Albuquerque is up for sale, and I've been questioning whether it's time to go back on the road and, if I do, whether I should store or sell my belongings. Tied to these questions are others: Should I arrange for my daughter to visit this summer (not knowing if I'll even be here)? If I'm not here this summer, where should I go? If I'm not on the road, where should I move? Should I plan a book tour this fall? Should I plan the Nova Scotia trip I wrote about recently?

The absurdity of my situation was made clear to me the other day when a guy from a local moving and storage company came by the house to give me an estimate.

"What will you be moving and storing?" he asked. "I don't know," I replied.

"When do you need it moved?" "I don't know."

"How long will you need it stored?" "I don't know."

"Where will you want us to take it afterward?" "I don't know."

These and other questions have rattled around in my head incessantly and none of my usually reliable meditative activities (nature walks, long bathtub soaks, writing) have offered what seem like concrete answers...other than another round of I don't know's.

Even feeling out the energy of my various options isn't working. These days no option has a stronger charge than any other.

Over and over, to any friend who would listen, I have been repeating, "I have all these decisions to make and no information on which to base them."

And then I realized that none of the decisions I was stressing about actually had to be made. Not in the moment.

Unquestionably, the insecure, fearful and, thus, controlling parts of me yearned for an end to the uncertainty, longed to be doing something — anything — that would contribute to a sense of order, that would anchor my present to some future event, that would show me the next chapter of the story.

But as the mystical O'ric tells Toshar in The MoonQuest (and as I teach my writing students), "It is best not to know too much too soon. It is best to know only that the story continues and to follow where it takes you."

In the end, the mover and I settled on one possible scenario and that's how he calculated his estimate.

It's all an estimate. Like the weather, the farther we move out from the present moment, the less reliable the forecast. This is increasingly true in all aspects of life, including the weather.

Of course, there are decisions that have to decided, choices that must be chosen. But more often than not, the decisions and choices of the moment are the clearest and easiest.

If, as I felt the other day, my life seems to consist of a floor-scattering of jigsaw puzzle pieces with each piece from a different puzzle, it's just that in the moment I can't and don't need to see the bigger picture.

That doesn't mean I can't make choices and decisions. This isn't about paralysis.

It does mean that I'm coming to believe that, having already made the bigger decision of surrendering to my passion, the smaller decisions don't matter as much.

Perhaps they don't matter at all, and that's why they all carry equally neutral energy. Perhaps, again, having surrendered to my passion, it doesn't matter how I get there. Perhaps, as I've noted in my 10 Rules for Living and my 13 Rules for Writing, there really are no rules...just this moment...and now this one...and now this one...each lived as joyfully as I'm able, with as little focus on "getting it right" as I can muster.

Many spiritual traditions speak of the "now moment" as the only reality. And books like Ekhart Tolle's The Power of Now offer potent teachings on the subject. For me, though, there's a difference between getting it and living it, and a difference between getting it in several aspects of my life and feeling it permeate all of them.

As profound as these recent experiences have been and as firmly as they have held me in the divine embrace of the now, I know that this mastery is not complete.

In this as in all aspects of my personal and spiritual growth, the spiral continues to turn, my mastery continues to develop and my joyful surrender to the infinite nature of each moment continues to deepen.

What about you? Where in your life are you future-directed?

How, in this moment, are you focused away from this moment? What can you do now to gently, lovingly, compassionately and courageously draw your focus back to the present, remembering that even the fearful parts of you deserve your respect even as they cannot be in charge?

Whatever it is, do it, and feel your powerful presence expressed fully and joy-fully in this present moment.

Art by Mark David Gerson: #99 Medicine Wheel, Inspired by Medicine Wheel National Historic Landmark, Medicine Mountain, Big Horn Mountains, Wyoming

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