By Lisa Boken Many times after driving from one place to another, I realize that I don't remember most of the trip. I often eat a plate of food so unconsciously that I wonder where the food has gone when I awaken to an empty plate.
Here's a "day-in-the-life" example: I have plenty of time and a friend and I are having lunch together. She is telling me about a movie she saw and how it relates to something that happened to her. She mentions something about a father in the movie and my mind wanders off thinking about my son's father and then to my father, oops, I missed the next part of what she is saying. Back to listening. Then I see out of the corner of my eye the local librarian walk by and I remember a book I have that is overdue. I start to think about how I should xerox the pages I need for my next sermon and return the book to the library. Thinking of the sermon makes me think of my work at the church and I try to remember if I turned off the heat when I left this morning. Right about then I pick up on the conversation my friend is trying to have with me as she is ending a sentence with the cadence of a question. Well, I blew it again. I happened to get caught not listening this time. Quite often this goes on in my daily life—sometimes I am caught and sometimes not.
One time I asked my son, Zac, to draw a picture of life on a blank piece of white paper. I left him alone to do this and when I returned, in the center of the paper was a splatter of black ink, on the top of which were splatters of metallic gold and silver paint. Coming off the sides were little wavy combs of green and yellow. When I told him how much I enjoyed his picture of life he said, "I bet you didn't even see the picture of life." I was confused and asked if it was not the one on the kitchen table. He said that on that paper up in the left-hand side there was a small red heart and that was the picture of life but no one ever notices it because there is so much going on all the time. Sure enough, I hadn't seen the small red heart of life. Once again, I was reminded of who I am and where I was at that very moment.
I have found that breathing helps me return to the present moment. When I feel ragged or disconnected, if I stop and take a deep breath and really let it go, I can relax my muscles and say to myself, "Lisa, Monday morning has not arrived yet," or "You are not at that meeting you were at yesterday, you are right here. Take a deep breath and come back to where you really are."
The seasons don't hurry. The Earth does not turn more quickly because someone is impatient for the dawn. We can't rush the seasons or the dawn of our understanding. The past is gone, the future is not yet here. If we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.
I often wonder whether there is anything that corresponds to mindfulness in the Judeo-Christian religion. Much of the Bible is written with a view to the future, not encouraging us to look to the day we are in but to promised days and lands to come. Jesus' words, as recorded in the gospels, are probably the most present-moment oriented, with such messages as, "Stop being anxious about your souls as to what you will eat or what you will drink or about your bodies, about what you will wear. Does not the soul mean more than food and the body more than clothing? Who of you by being anxious can add one cubit to your lifespan? So never be anxious about the next day, for the next day will have its own anxieties." It was also recorded that on many occasions, Jesus was very present with the people with whom he was in contact. He would notice small children and talk with them. He spotted Zacchaeus up in a tree trying to get a look at Jesus through the crowd and called him down to talk and listen. And when the Pharisees demanded of Jesus to tell when the Kingdom was coming, he answered them, "The Kingdom of God is not coming with striking observableness. For look, the Kingdom of God is in your midst." Luke 17:20-21.
Perhaps Jesus taught more about being present than is recorded. The word "spirit" in the Bible is said to come from the Hebrew word ruah and the Greek word pneuma. Both have root meanings in "to breathe" or "to blow." Spirit is present in the breath. Life is in our breath and our breath is always in the present. We can think about yesterday or last year or next week, but we cannot breathe yesterday or tomorrow. Breath is always here and now. When it isn't, there is much anxiety.
When we find ourselves living out of the past and into the future, it is not too late to take a deep breath and experience the present moment. This is where life is. This is the only place where the sacred can be found.
Lisa Boken is a Unitarian minister in Orleans, Massachusetts.