presence as a participant

Continuing with the second of Thich Nhat Hanh’s primary teaching of being in the present moment, I will admit that being in the moment is a wonderful aspiration.  It is the point of practice.  It is practising.  I listen to CD recordings of guided meditations that cheerlead me to congratulating myself for noticing I’ve wandered into the thickets of my mind.  “That’s the moment!  Congratulate yourself and come back to the present!”

For the most part, it trundles along well, this distraction from and retraction to the Now.  Sometimes however, when I’m at my most snarky, I want to stop the CD and pen an email to the creator: But if the moment I notice I’m not here is the moment I’m here, where am I coming back to?

But enough silliness and onto some seriousness.  Frank and I spend a lot of time with beginning mindfulness practitioners who get really confused about what it means to “be in the present moment.”  The practice of mindfulness subtly promises relief from the heaviness of our everyday moments with phrases like “just be in this moment” or “rest in the present” or “know it’s a wonderful moment.”

At one level, it’s true.  Practising is very much about letting go thoughts of past and future.  It is very much about grounding oneself in what is unfolding now.  It is bringing a gentle awareness to the sensations arising and falling away continuously.  Over time, we cultivate a steadiness in the rhythm of letting go and returning.  Through our steady presence in this moment, we are participating in the experience, not being engulfed or buffeted by its wildness.

However, for most of us, the very reason we find ourselves thrashing in the dark thickets of our mind is because the string of moments presented to us are not easy to be with.  What then?

Returning to this moment is, in those moments, a practice of equanimity – a willingness to be with whatever pain is here regardless of our judgement of its worth.  In fact, it is a willingness to be present to our pain regardless of our judgement of our own worth.

Thank you for practising,

Genju

nowhere to go, nowhen to be

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Our sangha was listening to Stephen Batchelor’s dharma talk from Upaya Zen Center the other evening.  It was, for the most part, a fascinating take on the raft metaphor.  Then in the Q&A, Batchelor slew that mythic worm, The Present Moment, which he referred to as a concept that Buddhists today have become overly attached.  I could have cheered – well, I did.  The idea that we can swing away from our mental meanderings and plop into a single moment in time has to be one of the most misleading and damaging concepts ever perpetrated in Buddhopsychology.

Most people I’ve talked to confound “present” moment with “pleasant” moment.  So, it’s quite understandable that given a choice between the dark places the mind goes to and finding that “wonderful” moment, we would want to strive for the latter .  It’s where we hope to be nourished, find compassion, or be comforted.

Reality, however, is not as cooperative; some “present moments” are unpleasant, painful, wearing, or boring.

And, here we are anyway.  Whether we like it or not.  That’s the truth of having nowhere to go.

It’s in the “I-didn’t-mean-this-kind-of-present-moment” that practice can be a way of avoiding what is going on and we start doing things that amount to scouting around for a different “present moment.”

Even Thich Nhat Hanh (synonymous with the teaching of being in the present moment) writes

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The more deeply we penetrate into life, the more we see its miracles and the more we see its heartbreaking and terrifying events. Have you seen the life of a spider?  Have you lived through a war?  Have you seen torture, prison, and killing?  Have you seen a pirate rape a young girl on the high seas? (from The Sun My Heart)


Experiences come as a package deal.  Highs, lows, and in-betweens; good, bad, and who-the-heck-knows.   That’s the reality of having nothing to do and no other moment in which to do it.

Thank you for practising,

Genju