The Challenge of Living in the Moment
I was leading a telecall the other day with people who participated in my first spiritual retreat back in January. At the beginning, we shared with each other brief updates about our lives–one high and one low over the last few months. Most of us, including me, were wrestling with the challenge of how to be able to live more fully in and enjoy the present moment without being so obsessed and caught up in either the past or the future or the extreme busyness and demands of every day life.
I don’t think we’re alone in this challenge. The ability to stay present at any given time is becoming a rare art with so many people. 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. We lose opportunities to create wonderful memories and experience deep enjoyment because we’re so focused on other things. And not living in the moment means that we’re more likely consumed by the past or the future and whatever those two represent to us.
I shared the following story on our telecall out of which emerged during our conversation six powerful steps to being able to stay more fully present and plumb the depths of life.
You’ve heard the zen story of the monk 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!”
The Parable’s Point
What’s the point? If the monk had been totally preoccupied with the ferocious tiger (his past) or the menacing rocks below (his future) he would have missed out on the delicious strawberry (his present). Right?
I often realize, when I’m reflective enough, that I tend to allow the guilt or regret or memories of the past to weigh in on me, which can overwhelm my present. Or I tend to focus on the uncertainties of the future which inevitably raises my anxiety level in the present.
Why do we allow this to happen? As one author puts it,
“The past is already gone, the future hasn’t happened yet; the only moment we have is right now. Why waste it?”
Notice what the monk does as he finds himself caught between his past and his future which empowers him to live in the moment in a beautiful way. Six Steps:
Six Steps to Living in the Moment
FIRST, he sees the strawberry. He notices it. He’s paying attention.
Do you realize how many “strawberries” you and I miss out on because we’re simply not seeing or noticing or paying attention? You can’t enjoy what you don’t see.
SECOND, he reaches for the strawberry.
It’s one thing to see something. It’s another thing to reach out for it, to take an action to engage with what you’re seeing.
Sounds easy enough. But why then don’t we do this more often?
Because reaching out for the “strawberry” takes a risk. Think about the monk. In order to reach out for the strawberry he has to let go of the rope with one arm. That’s risky. Letting go is difficult. But because he takes the risk, he ends up getting the reward.
I truly believe that nothing good in life comes to us without some risk. You choose to love someone and you risk being hurt or rejected. You choose
THIRD, he takes the strawberry. You can’t just reach for something, you have to take it to enjoy it.
So much of today’s culture is a spectator culture. People are satisfied simply sitting on the sidelines watching the game of life happen in front of them.
The tragedy with a spectator culture is that people actually delude themselves into thinking that watching is enough; that watching is the highest level of enjoyment and satisfaction.
It certainly might be safer on some levels. If you’re in the stands watching football, you’re not getting beat up and tackled in the game. But it’s interesting, isn’t it, that if the team we’re watching wins, we feel really really good and satisfied. But there’s no way that feeling can match the exhilaration of the players who gave it their all in order to win the game. Right?
“This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.” George Bernard Shaw
We delude ourselves into thinking that spectating is good enough for joy and satisfaction. But we’re missing out on the deeper depths of truly worthwhile living. We’re robbing ourselves of real living in the moment. We can’t enjoy the strawberries unless we reach out and take them in hand.
Stay tuned for my next blog the final three steps to plumbing the present moment for deeper joy and fulfillment. “Six Steps to Living in the Present Moment.”
Four Personal Reflections for You:
- Which is your tendency more often: living in the past or living in the future? Why? What is it about either of those that traps you there?
- Describe a time when you simply missed seeing the strawberry in the moment–you weren’t paying attention.
- What are some risks you face in order to reach out to the strawberry? Which risks are hardest for you?
- Would you describe yourself more as a spectator or a participant? Why? Are there any excuses you have for watching more than participating? What might be some fears you have of getting in the game more often?