Saturday, December 4, 2010

The art of being present

There is never a more difficult time of year to remain present than right now close to the holidays. After all, there seems to be so much planning involved...what to buy people, when you will have the money to buy it, when to ship if that is necessary, what sort of entertaining you will do and planning that, the list goes on and on.....that combined with the financial downs of the past month have pushed me full force into that trap once again. Over the course of my adulthood I have suffered many insomnia issues. Getting to sleep is usually not a problem but staying asleep is. I would get caught in the endless storyline of my past, present, and future.....all the what ifs, all the fears, feelings of scarcity, worthlessness, etc. After reading some Pema Chodron last year I started to find ways to cope with this. Instead of getting caught in the storyline I would simply name the emotion and focus on that. It was much easier to get back to sleep when there wasn't a constant inner monologue in my head. Then if I had the bouts of anxiety with heart palpitations or whatnot instead of letting it spiral into all sorts of fear based assumptions of what was happening I would simply focus on exactly what was happening as a fact, nothing more. I suppose this is a bit like cognitive therapy which I've always supported more than the pharmaceutical route.

At any rate, I've found myself slipping into old patterns lately, same storylines dominating waking and sleeping hours. So my practice right now is going to be focusing on the present. Sure, it is hard. I have to do some sort of planning but I cannot dwell on it with all sorts of emotions and I most definitely cannot let it come into my sleeping hours. I had the pleasure yesterday of picking up a local cult classic at the bookshop called "Be Here Now" by Ram Dass. I've heard of it for quite some time, even knew the story. There is a great documentary on instant play at Netflix btw called "Fierce Grace" about Ram Dass. I would highly recommend it for anyone struggling with issues surrounding chronic illness, aging ,or death. At any rate, reading this book which was written several decades ago about his luxurious upbringing, prestigious Harvard professorship, and then gradually his quest for spiritual enlightenment which started with psychedelics and eventually led him to India where he found many answers. "Be Here Now" reminded me of all the ego trappings and how my neurotic side has eclipsed all other common sense lately. Last night I had the most peaceful night sleep I have had in a long time because I gave no power to the storyline or inner monologues. I just breathed into the present, a time set aside for solitude and sleep with no other requirement but to rest. Being in the present moment, the sound of nothingness, the black night, the faint buzz of the space heater in the background. This being in the present is so ridiculously simple and yet so elusive in the business of modern day culture.

I've been disappointed with how I've been handling stress and life circumstances lately but I've also realized what is missing. Back in Florida we had found the perfect sangha which basically means Buddhist community at a dharma center. We had a great spiritual teacher there and it was a lot like church for other faiths, even on Sundays like a traditional church with a kids' dharma program like Sunday school. I was really finding my groove and it was one of the few things I was sad to leave behind in Florida. Somehow I thought I would find something similar here though. I'm sure there are more Buddhist centers out here than in Florida. Nothing has lined up though. The local Buddhist centers all gather in the evenings when Riki is working and I have no way to get there...and even if I did none of them offer kid programs. It is just unrealistic to expect small children to sit in a quiet meditate session for a period of around an hour. So there it is. I still haven't found a community/teacher to help keep me on a spiritual path. I'm certainly not implying that this is the only way to be on a path but for me I can see where just being around the energy of the people and teachers helped keep me going until next week's event.

So I'm doing the best I can solo with no community support and I'm having to offer a little compassion for myself in realizing that is all I have....myself and a few books I come across and actually have time to read every once in awhile...and trying to make that enough.


liz said...

hey, dont you ever think yourself worthless.. you do a great job with raising your kids and teaching them the value of life .. you protect them from the horrors of public are a great person and dont think otherwise.. let the past go you cant change it anyway , live for today.. try to adjust the future, but dont dwell on it.. look to the happy part of today.. you love your family and they love you..just to have this is a great accomplishment.. love yourself first and others will love you back... take care of you.. i love you ...

Bon vivant said...

I agree 100%. Government school costs everyone, a LOT. Your family's sacrifices to home school are ones which will pay back 100 fold! I've been in your shoes and one of the greatest challenges is to stay present and remember the general goals, not the daily challenges.

I too long for sangha and intend to search actively now since reading your post.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting about Ram Dass...he is my hero!

I LOVE the organization that he founded called SEVA. They work with indigenous populations on health projects. They are best known for their work in preventable blindness, and have helped nearly 3 million blind people suffering from cataracts to see again in poor countries around the world. Check them out at

I particularly love their GIFTS OF SERVICE catalog. You can restore eyesight to a blind person in someone's name as a gift. A wonderful alternative gift! Check out the catalog

Thanks Ram Dass!!!!