“Wherever your feet are let your head and heart be also.”S D Armstrong
Living alone and in covid caution, I find that I am spending an inordinate amount of time conversing with that tiny little voice in my head. We’re like best buddies spending hours together in front of the fire, sipping mango-ginger tea discussing the profound and the mundane. Sometimes we agree on a conclusion, but we often talk in circles. Lately, we’ve been discussing being present, what exactly that means, and perhaps more importantly…how to achieve it. One of us will stress the importance of living in the moment while the other blethers on about making plans and considering options. We wonder… if we only have the present moment…what happens to memories of the past or desires for the future? It’s confusing.
I know I don’t want to live my life constantly looking backward at the past or the way things used to be. But, conversely, I don’t want to live my life in a future of…someday I’m gonna… or… it’ll be better when. Wouldn’t it be a pity if I fail to recognize each unique, unrepeatable moment by remaining stuck in a past that has already taught all its lessons or in anticipation of a future full of what-ifs? Perhaps living in the present means existing in the space between.
“Life can be found only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.”Thich nhat hanh
Since I prefer discussions to nearly any form of physical activity, I find it rather remarkable that I…a rather slug-like person…have more than one friend who has ridden a bicycle from one shore of the United States to the other. Years ago, my friend, Linda, was the first to take up the challenge. Her route was mapped, and her stops were planned. She was trained, fit, and ready to go. She dipped her bike tires in the Pacific Ocean near Portland, Oregon, then set off to meet three young men who were going to make the trip with her. Together they began the adventure.
At some point early on, Linda became separated from her companions. In those pre-cellphone pre-internet days, with no hope of reconnecting with the guys, she wandered into a cafe to grab a cup of coffee and ponder her next move. Before long, she was relating her tale of woe to four of the coffee shop regulars who were seated at a nearby table. She was disheartened and discouraged. Could she go on alone, should she go on alone, or did it make more sense to pack up her bike and take the next flight home? The old men listened carefully, and then the one with the salt and pepper whiskers and a Johnny Cash t-shirt put down his cup and looked at her earnestly. Then, slowly and deliberately, he asked, “Can you do today?”
“Sure, I can do today,” she replied.
“Then do today. You can always quit tomorrow.”
And so it went all across the United States. Each day she would rise and ask herself. “Can you do today? Then she’d add,” You can always quit tomorrow.”
Knowing that she only had to do today and could always quit tomorrow gave Linda permission to cast worries aside and be fully awake and aware during this never to be repeated adventure. Together with the preparations and conditioning she had done, this simple idea allowed her to move forward one day at a time while staying right where her feet were… in the toe clips of her bike…alive, joyful, and open. She lived each day enjoying the wind in her hair, feeling the aching muscles of the climb, marveling at the beauty of the earth that surrounded her, grateful for the blessings of people she met along the way, and truly living in the present moment.
“Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.”George Harrison”
It’s probably true that if I want to hear God laugh, I just have to tell Her my plans. On the other hand, having a plan…preparing for what might lie ahead…takes much of the worry out of an uncertain future and allows us to live with confidence that all will be well. Using lessons from the past, we can see the path forward and can relax, be present, and delight in the ride.
It’s not necessary to forget or ignore the past to live in the moment. Just don’t stay there. Check the weather report, study for the test, make sure there’s gas in the tank, and then let it be what it will. We’ve done what we can. Pay attention, savor, and enjoy. Then even if things don’t work out the way we want or expect we’ll know that everything will be all right.
All of life is lived in short, bite-sized pieces…days, hours, minutes. Ordinary moments. None of us can do more than live the best now we can. We don’t have to do life all at once. We just have to do it one day at a time. And…there are times when we need to remind ourselves…that each day is lived one hour…one minute… at a time. Sometimes it’s enough just to do that one hour…that single minute, knowing that even in moments of pain, despair, fear, and grief, living in the moment can help us find peace, hope, and grace.
“Living in the moment means letting go of the past and not waiting for the future. It means living your life consciously, aware that each moment you breathe is a gift.”Oprah Winfrey
One summer, as the week was winding down at the Arts Retreat on Star Island, the minister for the week, Rev Bill Clark, gave us this instruction “Don’t leave the island,” he said, “until you leave the island.”
All of our off-island problems would be waiting for us onshore when The Thomas Layton docked in Portsmouth. So why pick up that luggage before it’s absolutely necessary? With seven miles separating us from the mainland, why squander our remaining time concerning ourselves with that we couldn’t control anyway. Instead, drink in the startling beauty of the star-studded sky, the comforting warmth of friendships, the peace of a chapel full of candlelight, and the orchestral sound of sea birds and waves…remembering to stay where our feet are, living in the glory of now.
We build our future upon bricks we laid in the past and let go of what we can’t control, realizing the only time we really have is the moment we are living. Sometimes that includes creating the grocery list, putting gas in the car, and making the bed. Mountaintop experiences are rare, so we must find joy in the ordinary, the mundane, and the common. Let the chocolate melt on our tongue. Feel the crunch of snow beneath our feet. Watch the birds at the feeder. Smile at strangers and hold our loved ones close. After all, I ask that wee voice…isn’t that living in the moment and being present for life?
“THIS is the day that the Lord has made. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”Psalm 118:24
Epilogue….Two months later, Linda dipped her tires in the Atlantic Ocean in Portland, Maine