Present Moment

Waking up this morning, I smile.Knotted tree
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
And to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh’s Present Moment, Wonderful Moment

As I began this blog, a beloved Buddhist teacher appeared to be lying in that tender place between life and death. Thich Nhat Hanh became a Buddhist monk in Vietnam when he was still a teen. When war came to Vietnam, monks and nuns were confronted with the question of whether to stay meditating in the monasteries or to help those around them suffering under the bombings and turmoil of war. Thich Nhat Hanh chose to do both, and in doing so founded the Engaged Buddhism movement.

I didn’t learn about his peace activism or his mindfulness teaching until I was in my 30s, a Presbyterian minister living in Rochester, NY. The first book I read was his little book of “Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living” quoted above. Simple and beautiful, a few of the verses slipped easily into my own spiritual vocabulary. “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” Years later, I would use this verse each time I led a meditation day or retreat.

It’s probably good I pull these writings off my shelf now. Because I’m still feeling an itsy bit pissy about the mid-term elections. And the fact that my boyfriend dumped me recently – right after my only child left home and I became an empty-nester. And also the time change. And the weather.

So I sit to offer a prayer for Thay (as he is known to his disciples) and I read through a few of these verses and I breathe.

Breathing in, there is only this present moment.
Breathing out, I know that it is a wonderful moment.

And then I laugh out loud.

Once upon a time, when I was feeling especially crazy and lonely and confused and scared, I entered a program for contemplative spirituality. I thought they’d help me get still and centered and make me feel OK again. It sort of worked. One of the best parts of the program was my teacher, Jerry May.

Jerry was one of these guys who exuded happiness. It spilled off of him, like a waterfall. You could just stand near him and feel the mist. By the time I was privileged to know him, he had been dealing with several painful and debilitating illnesses for years. But this is not what I noticed about him. I noticed the light. The light enveloping him and shining out from him.

Anyway, Jerry and Thay were old friends. They both came out of experiences with the Vietnam War committed to help people become move loving and compassionate. And Jerry would say, “I know Thay says (and here he would put on a beatific smile to imitate the monk) ‘Present moment, wonderful moment.’ But let’s face it: some moments just suck.”

I laugh every time I think of Jerry saying that.

What a relief to hear my experience from this beautiful man. This man who didn’t appear to let any moments suck, ever! A person who, in spite of his own physical pain, wore joy as bright as any saffron robe.

And so it goes. Moments suck. And don’t. And sometimes I get stuck in the suckiness. And sometimes I don’t. That’s my daily journey. To learn to glory in this moment, whether it sucks or not. As Agatha Christie said, “I like living. I have sometimes been wildly, despairingly, acutely miserable, racked with sorrow, but through it all I still know quite certainly that just to be alive is a grand thing.” And so it is.

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3 Responses to Present Moment

  1. Michelle Marshall December 15, 2014 at 6:51 pm #

    I really got in the moment reading this and thanks for sharing honestly that sometimes life just sucks and sometimes it is grea.

  2. Bob Lantis December 15, 2014 at 7:10 pm #

    Thank you, Laura!

  3. Melissa Milkie February 27, 2015 at 1:09 pm #

    I love this column Laura. It’s so insightful. Thank you for sharing this!!

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