Living In The Moment

A mere moment separates the past from the future. This small moment is called the present. Considering the vast history and prehistory behind us and the infinite possibilities of the future ahead of us, it is not surprising that our minds pay little attention to this small moment that is the present. However, this small moment called the present is the only aspect of time that is real; the past is only a memory, and the future is only a projection or anticipation.

There are many valuable lessons to be learned from the past that can be applied to the present in hope for a better future. This mode of thinking is emphasized and encouraged, particularly in Western schools of thought. As with anything taken to extreme, a problem develops when this practice is taken to an extreme, also. Examining past failures can produce a range of emotion that can be summed up as regret. Projecting the possible consequences of present actions into the future (or anticipation) can produce a range of emotion that can be summed up as worry. Much regret and worry produces stress. Balance must be found to reduce stress.

Balance for the abstracts of past and future can be found in the reality of the present moment. Focusing on the present moment is a goal known as mindfulness when cultivated through a Buddhist practice known as vipassana or insight meditation. This practice is for taming the mind and involves no gods, so this practice transcends religious boundaries and doctrines.

So do not worry about tomorrow; for tomorrow will care for itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (Matthew 6:34 NASB)

Mindfulness of breathing may be the best known form of this practice. You essentially focus your attention on your breathing to anchor yourself in the present moment. Find a comfortable place, relax and take a deep breath. As you inhale, notice how refreshing the air is, but also notice the tension building in your body. As you exhale, enjoy the release of tension and let it flow slowly out of you. I find inhaling through the nose and exhaling through the mouth helps maintain focus. Nevertheless, your mind will wander, at least in the beginning.

A wandering mind is not a failure as long as you bring your attention back to your breathing. Recognizing and acknowledging where your mind wanders can actually be enlightening. If you are like me, you will be surprised to discover how much your mind wanders to the past or the future. I was amazed at how little time my awareness dwells in the present moment. However, this is also when I became aware that the present moment is the only real part of what has come to be known as the time stream.

The refreshing air and building tension in the body is very real when you inhale. The release of tension as you exhale is very real, but the inhalation has now become part of the past. Exhaling quickly becomes part of the past as you inhale your next breath. It takes very little time to become aware of how small a window the present moment provides within that so-called “time stream.” You may even wonder if time is simply a manifestation of the human mind, but realize that your mind is wandering again and bring your attention back to your breathing. (The human mind seems to love the abstract.)

It is important to recognize that our breath is only used to anchor our attention to the present moment. There are numerous things that can be used to focus our awareness on the present moment. Walking meditation can produce the same results as your footsteps become your anchor to the present moment. In her book How to Train a Wild Elephant: And Other Adventures in Mindfulness, Jan Chozen Bays provides fifty-three different exercises that can be used to anchor our awareness in the present. It is easy to recognize the analogy between our thoughts and a wild elephant, even if you have tried mindfulness only once.

The immediate benefit of mindfulness is that you are taking a break from the stressors of regret and/or worry. The blog on the Wildmind Buddhist Meditation website often reveals articles on medical research that suggest meditation is beneficial in other ways, as in this example. Some people seem to find mindfulness easier than transcendental meditation because focusing thoughts seems easier than clearing thoughts. The former could become a stepping stone to the latter, also.

There is another benefit of mindfulness. Grounding and centering are practices associated with some spiritual and/or magical pursuits. Mindfulness enhances this since you are essentially grounding yourself in the reality of the present moment. The inner transformation that mindfulness can produce seems magical in itself. As a beginner who still struggles with the wild elephant, I can only wonder what transformations continued practice will bring to me.

Wild Wood

It is found at the end of civilization where the pavement ends and the street lights stop. It is not like the well groomed, mechanically manicured parks in the centers of the great cities for plants grow there without any apparent plan or convenience to man. To enter the wild wood is to leave the creation of humankind, the man-made, behind and wander in the nature-made or the creation of the Divine.

To enter the wild wood is to leave the profane to enter the sacred. This undoubtedly sounds Pagan to most, evoking an image of a Druid ceremony in an Oak grove or naked witches dancing around a fire on the full Moon. However, this is not an exclusively “Pagan” principle.

If you make an altar of stone for Me, you shall not build it of cut stones, for if you wield your tool on it, you will profane it. (Exodus 20:25 NASB)

The Divine apparently prefers things the way they were created, rather than with the modifications of humankind. It is actually a curious thing that many people find the temples, churches, and grand cathedrals created to honor the Divine more inspiring than that which was created by the Divine. However, many mock and slander those who have turned to the natural world to find and honor the Divine.

Immediately the Spirit impelled Him to go out into the wilderness. And He was in the wilderness forty days being tempted by Satan; and He was with the wild beasts, and the angels were ministering to Him. (Mark 1:12-13 NASB)

I presume that many modern Christians associate the wilderness with the temptations of Satan, which they probably fear as much as wild beasts. Has the part about angels ministering been missed or overlooked? Doesn’t anyone wonder why Jesus went to a wild place after He was baptized, instead of the Temple? Some of the definitions of wild might be revealing in this matter.

A wild place has not been tamed, domesticated, or cultivated by the hand of humankind. No tool has been wielded upon it. Where no tool has been used, life is abundant. In the wild places there are no buildings, pavement, electric lights, furniture, automobiles, television or lawnmowers. There is abundant vegetation and animal life… and some uncut stone. Life is a sign of the Divine, and the sign is strongest where life is most abundant. If you truly wish to know God, go to the wild woods.I live at the end of a dirt road where the last street light has (thankfully) burnt out. The thick bush along the east side of the yard provides a home for a multitude of wild life. It is delightful to listen to bird song and chatter reverberate under the canopy of the trees on the hill beyond during the summer. There is a deep ravine between from which numerous creatures emerge. I feel quite fortunate to have found this place to live, as does my wife. The only place that could be better would be in the deep woods.

We are visited by numerous birds, particularly Dove and Crow. Woodchuck coexisted with us for a couple of years, but appears to have moved on. Raccoon and Skunk are common twilight visitors, as is Bear occasionally. However, Bear and Deer are more common in the early morning hours. We find our wild neighbors to be as respectful and cordial towards us as we are towards them. In fact, their conduct is superior to that of some of our so-called civilized neighbors, but now I digress.

Contemplation of the natural world invigorates me. It is particularly refreshing after eight or more hours of working in a manufacturing plant. I can feel the flow of natural life; I can sense Spirit. I suspect the contrast of the two opposite environments enhances this. However, experience has taught me that the dark of night also enhances this.

How can people who depend on their sight for so much sense the unseen? Either close your eyes, or wait for night. When you stand at the edge of the wild wood, it is better to wait for night because the distracting noisemakers go to sleep, also. Nevertheless, when you cannot depend on your sight, your other senses seem to come alive. If you cannot sense the Divine in the wild wood during the day, you certainly will at night.

I am not saying or implying that a person cannot experience a divine revelation in a city park, a temple, or anywhere else for that matter. What I am saying is that a person can have a guaranteed revelation of God by going into the wild wood (or wilderness) alone like the prophets of old did. You do not necessarily have to spend forty days there either; just go in one day and come out the next. I particularly recommend this experience to those who are rich in book learning, but whose self-righteous utterances reveal practical ignorance. A little practical experience would benefit them greatly. Of course, the longer the stay, the greater the experience.

I prefer to think that I live at the edge of the real (natural) world, rather than at the edge of civilization. The real world is simple and straightforward. Civilization is quite complex, convoluted, and in great distress. It seems that the only distress in the real world is created by civilization. Perhaps this has something do with the Judeo-Christian God feeling that tools profane things.