How Good Are You at Being In the Present Moment? Most people I talk to these days all describe their difficulty in being able to live more deeply in the present moment. The ability to stay present at any given time is becoming a rare art. We get caught up in the crazy and often overwhelming demands of staying alive and what we think comprises living life. Consequently, time flies by without us ever really having lived in the moment. And we either get fixated on the past or anxious about the future.
My last blog post told a zen story from which emerges six powerful steps to learning how to be grounded more deeply in the present.
A monk is being chased by a ferocious tiger through the jungle. He breathlessly comes to a clearing and is faced with a cliff right in front of him with a rope hanging over the side. With the tiger catching up and no more options available, he quickly grabs the rope and shinnys down along the side of the cliff until he reaches the end of the rope. He glances up and sees the tiger baring its hungry fangs. He glances down and sees huge, sharp, jagged rocks beckoning to him 100 feet below. What should he do? About that time, two mice begin gnawing on the rope above him. Now what?
Caught between a rock and a hard place, he suddenly notices something that captures his attention. It’s a bright red, delectable-looking strawberry growing out of the side of the cliff an arm’s length away. Hanging on to the rope with one arm and both feet, he reaches out with his other hand, plucks the strawberry, and puts it in his mouth. Eating it, he exclaims, “This is the most delicious strawberry I believe God has ever made and I have ever tasted. Yum, yum!”
Quick Summary of the First Three Steps
I describe the first three steps in my last blog post: First, notice the strawberry; pay attention to what's around you; Second, take a risk and reach for the strawberry; and Third, take it--don't just be a spectator, get involved, participate in life right now.
But if we stopped with these three steps, we wouldn't really be plumbing the present moment for all it can truly give to us. The final three take us to a deeper, more fulfilling and satisfying experience. Here are the next three steps the story describes the monk taking.
Step Four: Eat the strawberry.
Had the monk simply hung there on the rope looking at the beautiful strawberry, or had he even just held it in his hand, admiring its beauty, he would have missed the most delightful potential of that moment. He had to put it in his mouth and chew it.
I wonder how often we miss out on joy and delight by simply not partaking of what's in front of us? We're great at analyzing and debating the pros and cons of strawberries. We dissect the past and philosophize about the future--we're experts with this. But could we be missing out on the deeper experience of the present, the eating of the strawberry itself? We stop short of putting it into our mouths and tasting it. We can talk about it until we're blue in the face, but if we haven't eaten it, we really don't know what we're talking about.
This is why sacred scripture makes this statement:
"Taste and see that the LORD is good."
No taste, no see, no good. Without taste, everything else is only theory.
Step Five: Savor the strawberry.
The fact that the monk, hanging on to the rope for dear life, is so present in his moment with the strawberry that he not only enjoys the taste but notices it enough to realize that it's the best strawberry he's ever tasted, shows that he has mastered the practice of savoring.
Savoring means you stay present long enough, you linger over something, that it deepens your enjoyment of it.
When is the last time you truly truly savored something? When is the last time you stayed with an experience long enough to really really appreciate and delight in it? When is the last time your lingering over something gave you an focused appreciation of the various nuances of delight caressing your senses in that moment? That's savoring.
One of the reasons more of us don't savor is because savoring takes time in the moment. We have to choose to invest more than a split second seeing and tasting something. We linger and pay attention to what we're experiencing while we're lingering. We develop vocabulary to describe what we're tasting or sensing or feeling. And that takes knowledge and awareness, both of which take time to develop.
But if we practice it, we get good at it. And consequently our delight and enjoyment and focus deepen and widen and profoundly increase.
Step Six: Give Thanks for the Strawberry.
This is tying the bow on the gift we've just received. Expressing gratitude. The monk, in the throes of his culinary ecstasy while hanging precariously on a rope (with tiger above and rocks below), gives thanks to the God who could create such a marvelously-tasting strawberry.
Neuroscience research informs us that expressing gratitude is the strongest, most transformational activity your brain can engage in. Brain function becomes more balanced, harmonized, and supple; your heart begins to pump in a much more coherent and harmonious rhythm; and biochemical changes trigger a host of healthful responses throughout your body.
Studies how us that people who practice gratitude consistently report a host of other benefits:
- Stronger immune systems and lower blood pressure
- Higher levels of positive emotions
- More joy, optimism and happiness
- Acting with more generosity and compassion
- Feeling less lonely and isolated
What's so amazing about this simple practice, step six in living in the present moment, is that it in the end grounds us and anchors us to the delightful moment we've just experienced. It seals it for us, physiologically, emotionally, and spiritually. It ties the bow on the gift we just received.
We could learn a great deal from that little old monk who hung there on the rope suspended between a fearful past and uncertain future. There's always a strawberry. So look for it, risk a reach for it, take it, eat it, savor it, and express thanks for it.
Your present moments will never be the same again!
Personal Reflections For You:
- When you notice something good in your present moment, do you take the time to taste it, to put it your "mouth" and feel it?
- Describe an experience when you truly savored something, lingered long enough to relish the flavors or delightful nuances to your senses.
- How often do you express thanks and gratitude for your positive experiences in life--whether it's to yourself, to others, or to God?
- Do you have a regular gratitude practice? What or Why not?