Several times in my life I’ve heard a saying that goes
“The past is history; The future is a mystery. This moment is a gift — that’s why it is called the present.”
To be honest, previously I just saw it as a clever little saying and then didn’t think much more about it.
It has only been in the last year that I have really been struck with the idea of how powerful it is to live in the moment. (Appreciating the idea, however, is very different from actually living the application of it, which is still difficult for me). I watched a movie called “The Peaceful Warrior” (that I would highly recommend) which helped me see the importance of letting go of some control (or illusion of control) and the value of living in this moment, right now. Most of the time our minds are worried about something in the future which we can’t control or contemplating something in the past, for better or worse – but rarely do we stop and enjoy or even just experience right now, which is really the only thing we have.
I’ve now talked to 4 friends (two from the US – one of which was in India, one from Germany living in Finland, and one from France living in China) who have attended a Vipassana meditation course (absolutely free of charge) where you try to apply this principle through 10 days of total silence and Buddhist meditation – just trying to focus your mind on the experience of now. Each has said that for most people the first days are way more difficult than they would imagine, and even painful (being left with nothing but your thoughts, fears, doubts, regrets, uncertainties and trying to focus on the moment, without talking for the entire time – one of my friends could only last a few days). The three that were able to make it all 10 days said that by the end of the experience their life was changed – one of the most powerful experiences they have ever had.
It is more personal than I usually get on my blog, but over the last two weeks I’ve been experiencing some pretty intense “soul pain” (the kind of emotional grief which can seem at times worse than physical pain). I read some scriptures in The Book of Mormon which talk about the value of “today”, and I thought about my friends who have attended this Vipassana course. While feeling a deep sadness, I started to ask the questions:
How is it possible to value this moment when I am in pain now?
How can I focus on now and not think of past joy and/or hope somehow for a better future than the present moment?
What is there to see of value in this very moment, even when the moment is one filled with pain, sadness, and/or uncertainty?
I had a few experiences (which I might or might not share later) where I came to understand some of the answers to these questions for my situation, helping to provide meaning for being in the moment, even if it was hard and regardless of what happened in the past or what the future held.
One friend of mine shared with me some stories of others in her life who are going through some pretty severe trials, and it reminded me of hearing a poignant thing from President Henry B. Eyring when he indicated that you could go up to almost anyone and instead of asking “How are you doing?” – you could ask “Where does it hurt?”
So that makes me curious for anyone reading this:
How would you answer those questions (e.g. for the hard times you have gone through)?
Do you think it is possible to treasure (or at least value) a moment even when that moment is filled with sadness, pain, and uncertainty? Why and How?
Even when unpleasant, how can you want to experience and be in this moment, as opposed to any other ones that you could imagine?
I like the questions that you are asking, even if they are not pretty! So how can we make use of these moments that are filled with sadness and pain? I would say that these moments are often far more useful, in terms of what can be learnt from them, than those moments which are filled with happiness and joy. When things are going smoothly, I rarely consider what is really going on in my mind — I don’t learn much, I just enjoy. But when things are not so great, well that is really an opportunity to watch what is going on in my mind, what I am unhappy about or what is causing my troubles. If I ignore these difficult moments by thinking about the past/future, the great time I am going to have next week, then I might escape the pain but I do not learn to deal with it.
What can be learnt from watching the present moment is probably going to be different for everyone. I don’t believe that anything you hear or read will help understand the real benefits of watching the present moment — you have to experience it for yourself. However, most people that learn to meditate by watching the present moment (like when we concentrated on the breath) start to notice all things are coming and going. Those happy moments, they come, and then before you know it they are gone. Even those sad moments, they come and they go. When I have started to notice this, well all I can say is that there is not so much to be unhappy or concerned about. 🙂
I have also made the great meditation course called “Vipassana”. This is helping me in my everyday life sooo much! The most important thing I learned in this course is to live in the moment. The problem is, that this is one of the most difficult things to do in life, because we are used to live in the future or in the past. During that meditation course I asked myself: “Why is it so difficult to live in the moment?”
Living in the moment means to accept the reality as it is and that is what is very difficult for us. We are able to live the moment, when the moment is wonderful. But the moment often is not wonderful, but difficult and hard, because we feel pain, frustrated, depressed, or just very bad!
We always want to feel good and not bad, so we try to escape that moment by thinking of nice experiences in the past or of nice things that will happen in the future. That unfortunately makes us feel even more bad.
I have experienced during that meditation course that the moment which we consider as very hard is not that hard as we think, we just make it that hard by judging it as hard and as something we do not want to feel. What we need to understand is, that we never feel just happy and good in life, because life changes all the time and we always feel good AND bad. So why making it harder than it needs to be by judging a negative feeling as bad. If we stop judging bad happenings, feelings whatever in life and just accept them as they are, they will loose their power and disappear, they actually stop to be bad because we do not see them as bad anymore. That is the best way to get rid of negativities.
To live in the moment means to accept all negative feelings and experiences, which we consider as negative, and to just observe then as they are. That makes them powerless and they disappear. But if we judge them and try to escape, we push them deep in our unconscious mind and there they will grow even more and get more power.
I really try to learn not to escape the moments with negative feelings anymore but to let them be and observe. I know that this is just at the moment and this moment will change and other feelings will come, so why to make the moment harder than it is?
So if someone want to know more about this Vipassana meditation or wants to make a course, just put the words “Vipassana meditation” to google and you will find better explanations about the meditation and about living in the moment as I am able to describe.
The best thing I can say about it is that this mediation course was the best thing I have ever done in my life and there I got the most powerful tools to deal with all kind of problems in my everyday life!
With best wishes
Those are really great thoughts. Ant, I agree that I totally can see how I am a lot more open and able to learning during the sad moments. I had a couple specific experiences during the last couple days which have been quite transformative and actually surprise me as I can now start to look back with a kind of gratitude on the pain because of the things I was able to learn because of it.
I have also noticed that a lot of the pain is not actually associated with the moment I am in, but with a memory of the past or a unmet expectation of something I wanted to have happen in the future. So I suppose by focusing on the present moment it helps to live the only thing that I actually have, which is right now.
What Miriam says about not judging the moment also makes sense. I sometimes have felt bad, and then I felt bad about feeling bad (i.e. judging the feeling) – and so that made things worse 🙂
It is a much different approach to just notice and acknowledge the feeling instead of trying to push it away or hide it.
In my blog entry I also forgot to mention a couple interesting comments posted to one of my previous entries by a Thai Buddhist monk named Yongyut who describes an interesting meditation experience he had.
He has also been kind enough to agree to engage in an interfaith discussion on this blog sometime soon.
One interesting question I have now is that as I am starting to come out of the sadness (and actually feel pretty good most of the time), I notice that I am becoming excited about some things in the future again.
And even in my previous post I talked about “looking back with gratitude”.
So I suppose that means that it is again difficult to live in the moment (unless I focus on it), but for different reasons.
I’m just curious if you have any thoughts about that?
Would you say, for instance, that I missing out on anything by looking forward to something in the future? Or missing out on something in the moment from contemplating with gratitude something in the past?
Or do you just consider those feelings something that are also part of the present moment?
Well, I’m also one of those Vipassana guys. I would say that I suffer quite often today but not for a very long time. I feel intense love , quite often too, but quite often there is no special target, I’m just in love. I think it would then be easy to find a target and fall in love with love… The same as I could easily find a way to rehearse any pain, just link the pain with some kind of target, any target. As long as I can rehearse and “make” my pain, mine, control it to the point, I can’t get rid of it 🙂
Clint, you are a very unique guy and you are curious, even without any target, you are just curious. You might just Not be the subject of the careful attention you pay to everything. You are gifted. A wonderfull attention and awareness span…
Vipassana has been added to my bucket list.
I spent a summer fighting depression until a friend of mine made a really cool analogy.
She asked if I had ever broken open a cocoon, being a compassionate type I had not. She said ‘what is inside is no longer a worm, but not yet a butterfly – it’s just goo. That’s what you are right now – you’re just goo. You are not a worm anymore, but you still have a little growing to do before you become the butterfly you were meant to be. For now the best you can do is just BE GOO! Don’t try to do more – embrace the goo!’
I continue to use that. Every time I’m struggling, or encounter another who is suffering I think ‘Embrace the Goo!’
I am truly grateful for all of the painful and difficult experiences in my life, without them I’m sure I would not be as close as I believe I am now to the person I was created to be. I believe they have shaped me more than the happy, easy times.
I like that: “Embrace the Goo!” 🙂 Everyones thoughts have been so valuable to me.
Your point about even being grateful for the difficult experiences I think is so interesting. I’m to the point now where I also feel grateful for them, and wouldn’t trade anything for the things I’ve been learning through them.
I like these two additional thoughts as well.
1. I am visiting my brother in Orlando and they have this on the wall of their home:
“Be content with what you have.
Rejoice in the way things are.
When you realize that there is nothing lacking
the world belongs to you.” – Lao Tzu
2. The second thought came from reading Mormon scripture. There is an experience where Joseph Smith was going through an unusually difficult time. He was unlawfully put in jail for a period of months due to false testimony, the people he loved were being persecuted and violently treated, and it must have seemed like everything he had felt inspired and called to build was falling apart.
In desperation, he pleaded “God where art thou?” — and part of the answer to his prayer was this:
“My son, peace be unto thy soul; thine adversity and thine afflictions shall be but a small moment…
If thou art called to pass through tribulation; if thou art in perils among false brethren; if thou art in perils among robbers; if thou art in perils by land or by sea;
If thou art accused with all manner of false accusations; if thine enemies fall upon thee; if they tear thee from the society of thy father and mother and brethren and sisters; and if with a drawn sword thine enemies tear thee from the bosom of thy wife, and of thine offspring, and thine elder son, although but six years of age, shall cling to thy garments, and shall say, My father, my father, why can’t you stay with us? O, my father, what are the men going to do with you? and if then he shall be thrust from thee by the sword, and thou be dragged to prison, and thine enemies prowl around thee like wolves for the blood of the lamb;
And if thou shouldst be cast into the pit, or into the hands of murderers, and the sentence of death passed upon thee; if thou be cast into the deep; if the billowing surge conspire against thee; if fierce winds become thine enemy; if the heavens gather blackness, and all the elements combine to hedge up the way; and above all, if the very jaws of hell shall gape open the mouth wide after thee, know thou, my son, that all these things shall give thee experience, and shall be for thy good.
The Son of Man hath descended below them all. Art thou greater than he?
…Thy days are known, and thy years shall not be numbered less; therefore, fear not what man can do, for God shall be with you forever and ever.” (D&C 121:7; 122:5-9)
All the examples in this depiction of bad things that could happen do seem extreme to me (in my context and world) – but I realize that they do happen to some people. The interesting thing about this scripture is that the emphasis is this: regardless of what you pass through – it will really only be a moment, ultimately it will give you more experience that you can value, and in the end it really will be for your own good.
That is also a comforting thought.
And I think I can now see a little more clearly now how that is more than a thought, but how it can be a reality.
If anyone else has any other things to share as well, I’d love to hear them.
What a unique soul you are. Thank you for sharing the journey.
One of the friends I crossed paths with in Paraguay this summer introduced me to Vipanassa–and I have wondered often since what I would encounter in those long silent moments alone with myself. Would I find that I am false? That I am afraid? That I am weak or shallow or small?
One thing I have realized is that even in silence, even in solitude I could never truly be alone. Sometimes in those moments of lonely, empty “soul pain” I feel most profoundly my relationship to God, my potential as his daughter, and his perfect parenting [which sometimes feels a good deal more hands-off than I would choose]. Sometimes my broken heart is even more certain than my singing heart.
The other thing comes from my mother. She taught me as a child that “bored is a choice.” I haven’t been bored for more than a decade 🙂 What I have realized more recently is that lonely is also a choice. I don’t know yet about the other pangs that hurt my heart, but I imagine there’s more agency in my moments than I know how to exercise now.