It is 5am in the morning and I am here in the quiet of the pre-dawn. I would normally tiptoe downstairs to my faithful meditation cushion to sit. This has become my daily routine; to spend an hour, sometimes more, locating that still, clear, empty space that welcomes the swirling thoughts, emotions, desires and fears that float through my awareness like clouds across a clear blue sky. As I watch them come and go, arising and passing, not clinging to the pleasant and pushing away the unpleasant, they tend to disperse and clear.
I have come to know that if I can recognize and stabilise in this place and carry it into the new day, I can meet the ups and downs, stresses and challenges of whatever the day brings with an attitude that is calmer, more cheerful, more benevolent and more generous to those whose paths I may cross.
Today, however I am sat at my laptop writing this. Today is one of those days that marks a transition in life. It is my last day working for Shelter, the housing charity, after twelve wonderful years with the team here in Sheffield. This Blog goes out to all my dear friends and colleagues that I have worked with over the years.
I would like to share with you all some of my most cherished ideas.
Let us dive straight into some of the deep wisdom from the East wonderfully epitomized by the Dalai Lama who, when asked what most surprised him about humanity, replied:
Man sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived
This wisdom is not unique to the Eastern traditions. The great American poet Emerson makes the same point:
These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God today. There is no time for them. There is simply the rose; perfect in every moment of its existence. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time.
What is being pointed at here? Is it really possible to live like this? and if so what could it possibly mean for how we live our day to day lives?
I have spent over a decade trying to find answers to these questions by studying and practicing the many and varied teachings, paths, maps and philosophies that attempt to guide one to the liberation promised by being able to live ‘in the present, above time’.
It has often been noted that in order to enquire deeply into ones life in this way, one needs support. It has been my outrageous good fortune to have found that support. My support for many years has been twofold. First I have had the love, kindness, friendship and inspiration of my darling soulmate Rachel, and secondly the stability, security, trust and high regard of my wonderful colleagues at Shelter. On these twin foundations all of my insights rest and I am eternally grateful to you all, my dear friends.
So, what of this ‘living in the moment’ about which we hear so much. It is a rather overused term that’s for sure. It has unfortunately become a rather tired cliché. However I can report from my enquiries that the news is good and it is not only possible and highly achievable but is all it’s cracked up to be and more! Furthermore, I have found that the embodiment of these ideas leads to a deeper and more authentic engagement with all aspects of life, rather than an aloof ‘Zenned out’ disconnection that some might suspect.
If I have piqued your interest then I highly recommend you investigate some of the genuine writings on this topic. After reading literally hundreds of books on meditation there is, in my opinion, one that stands head and shoulders above the rest, it is: ‘Mindfulness in Plain English’ by Bante Gunaratana. It has accompanied me for many years and is a perfect, jargon free, non-sectarian, introduction.
I have a few last thoughts…
I have found that it is crucial to realize that being present, here and now, is not something difficult to achieve but rather something that is impossible to avoid! You are already present here and now, as you always have been. It is not a task to perform by forgetting the past and ignoring the future. The very idea of the past and the future arise here and now!
Thus the trick is to somehow simply realize that you already are living in the present. This very moment, as you read these words, already contains everything you could ever hope or dream of.
The wise Sages from all over the world, from all cultures, from all times speak of life lived like from this perspective as : Liberation, Enlightenment, Nirvana, Self-Realization and, dare I say it, Heaven on Earth – and it is not some future state of zoned out bliss or lofty, unattainable goal to be reached for, it is rather the simple realization that here, now, and now again everything is already achieved and you are as happy as it is possible to be in this life.
And if you are not happy
in this eternal moment, dear friends, then when??