What makes being present so challenging? Is complete presence possible in our overwhelmed lives?
To be fully here or not to be, that is the question. Presence, or being immediately here in the moment, at this time, right now, is hard. It is really hard. The alternative is to duck and distract ourselves away from the now—and we do this A LOT—where we rely heavily on fantasized notions of who we think we were and who we think we might become to make us feel more stable in the present. Ironically, our preoccupation with the past and future ultimately absents us from what we strive for, to be vibrant expressions of our true selves.
Still, it often takes an extreme event or emergency to suck us deeply into the present moment. In these instances, our attention is whole, our focus complete, where one foot in front of the other, or one conscious breath at a time becomes the only operating code. The experience of this full body contact with the present actually creates an opening to everything in existence, a vast receptivity right in the middle of our crazy turmoil.
I remember an entire month last summer when both my kids were sick. There was a point in the stressful blur of those weeks, when I was lying with my 15-month-old daughter in her crib at 3 o’clock in the morning. Her croupy chest heaved and pressed into mine. I lay there, with my hands on her back, breathing and gazing softly up at the ceiling. I was doing a sitting meditation practice really, just lying down. Suddenly, I had the profound recognition “This is all there is”, the ‘all’ of the magnificent present stretching to encompass the whole universe.
Sounds like nothing, but in that split second, I had a fraction of a glimpse of what Dogen Zenji, the 13th century founder of Soto Zen in Japan, meant when he wrote in one version of translations, “Each moment is all being, is the entire world. Reflect now whether any being or any world is left out of the present moment.” In my sleep-deprived swirl, I showed up in the present. From that showing up, or in other words, by allowing myself to be at the center of the messy moment, I greeted the infinite space of the expansive now.
Which oddly enough brings me to tea. Yes, tea. Just as sitting (or lying) meditation trains us in greeting presence, so too, can tea. In fact, on the side of Choice Organic’s tea boxes it says, “Savor every moment,” as if each bag in the box were an invitation into the present. How simple and lovely is that!
The Way of Tea, or the formal art of Japanese tea ceremony, is equally catalytic in its invitation into a close understanding of what’s happening right here. The instruction for one such ceremony at the Green Gulch tea house in Northern California is “simply to be willing to be fully present and open to the possibilities of this particular gathering of people, this particular time and space.” In the practice, each respected cup gently roots and opens the practitioner to an intimacy with the moment at hand. This intimacy with presence is beautiful, and astonishing really. Here’s an idea: When next embracing now feels beyond you, sit or lie down. Or better yet, drink tea.