Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Key is the Present Moment

Lately my understanding of the importance of the present moment has grown.

I've seen my spiritual director and my therapist several times in the last couple of months, trying to understand why I've gained so much weight. Well, of course I know why--It was given a major boost by being on steroids for two months last year--I was ravenous! It's hormonal changes. I'm 52--it's time for my metabolism to slow down. It's the little fractured vertebrae in my back that kept me from any exercise.

But I've been vaguely aware of a deeper reason. All those little physiological jumpstarts were easily overcome, had I just worked at it.

I'm aware that thoughts of food have filled my mind. My therapist asked me, "So what are you trying to avoid?"

"I really can't think of a thing," I replied. "My marriage is good. My family life is good. My work is good."

"Doesn't have to be anything big," she responded.

That's when I realized that I do live my life rather stressed. Eckhart Tolle has a line that struck me a couple of weeks ago: "Stress is simply feeling you'd rather be somewhere else. You'd rather be finished with the task. You'd rather already be there. So the present moment becomes an enemy!"

It kind of hurts me to realize that I've lived most of my married life (all four years of it) with an underlying expectation that D would be the man of my dreams. My fantasy man. I had dreamed of marriage for so long, that I didn't realize how insidious my dreams and fantasies about it really were. So I have missed out on some fantastic things, I'm sure. The point here, though, is that these EXPECTATIONS = STRESS.

My work is my vocation. I'm meant to be a minister, pastoral counselor, spiritual director, preacher, etc. etc. etc. -- And that's the point---all those "etc's." I counsel people on how to say "no" all the time, but didn't realize that once again I need to take my own advice! My previous job was in an incredibly conflicted congregation where I witnessed the dark underbelly of the church, so when I came to this fabulous and healthy UCC congregation, (yes!) I just dove in head first. It's the tradition in my current church that we have no Christian Education during the summer. Zero. That seemed strange to me, but instead of resting a bit, I implemented three new projects! And then there is always that "demon of external validation" sitting on my left shoulder whispering lies to me:

You must do everything perfectly, Katherine.
You must please everyone, Katherine.
Of course, I've defeated that "demon of external validation" many times, but it's still there. Smaller and weaker, but still there. And when I get a new job, it very much tends to wake up. Some of my taking on too much is because I'm genuinely eager to do these projects--I love them! But some of my taking on too much, I admit, is out of a need to prove myself. ~sigh~
The point here is that TAKING ON TOO MUCH WORK = STRESS

And stress is an enemy of the present moment.

I began to reflect on all the times I've lived in the present. I had a couple of weeks in the summer of 1994 when I lived in present, aware and awake. It was truly amazing. I had been sitting in Zen meditation for over a year. I had found the courage within me to resign from ARCO, but I had not as yet left my job and entered seminary. My mother was going downhill that summer. (She died September 25, 1994. Today is the 14th anniversary of her death.) But for two weeks or so that summer, I was SO ALIVE. AMAZINGLY ALIVE. I remember feeling the touch of the steering wheel in my hands as I drove to work each morning. I remember feeling love for those I worked with. Oh, I loved them so! I remember walking into my house from the garage and the REALITY of my awareness hitting me. Everything just stopped as I felt my awareness. Those were glorious weeks.

The effect of those glorious weeks has stayed with me, of course. That kind of experience never leaves you. But immediacy faded. When I entered seminary I stopped going to the Zen center. And I think that my way of thinking about the present moment changed a bit.

It's actually not all that uncommon for me to let go and open up to what I've been calling THE DEEPER REALITY. I'm very kinesthetic. When I try to talk about this I make a double motion with my hands. "I let go," moving my hands outward from my heart, and "I open up," moving my hands toward my heart but also outward, like I'm parting the waters. I see now that I rarely do this in my marraige or when I'm rushing to accomplish some administrative task at the church. It's the in-between times when this happens:
  • When I'm in a counseling or spiritual direction session--it happens a lot then.
  • Or at the lectio divinia group I'm part of--it happens nearly every time there
  • During worship--the minister I work with is a very thoughtful person and his sermons often help me move into this DEEPER REALITY.
  • My work at HeartPaths--oh, I love that work because it's all about this movement to open up and let go.
But lately I'm seeing that God is calling me to be more intentional about living in the present moment.

In the present moment, I am stress free...I allow God's love to flow through me to the world....I experience NO FEAR....I seem to be more easily in touch with Wisdom...and I am above (or is it behind?) all those thoughts about food! :-)...I experience being distinct from my thoughts.

Ah yes, the Present Moment is key.

(All photos from flickr. I think. Or maybe Google Images:-)


Jiff said...

Oh, my, do your words resonate with me!
I am struggling with allowing time for better self care. I find it so challenging to let things go.
Your post feels like spiritual direction to me this day.
Thank you, Katherine!

Ava Nell said...

Yes! I need to live more in the moment and appreciate life as it is. And I too am in a new job fighting that same demon.

The exact words I needed to hear after a long day of work.

Thanks, Katherine.

mompriest said...

It's just that sometimes the present is so difficult....that it is sooo much more pleasant to imagine a different kind of future....that or a very narrowly defined sleeping...or swimming...or petting my dog...

at another time in my life I'd be right there with you...the living in the present idea.....I'm sure it's a good thing for YOU at this time...

Jan said...

Katherine, your thoughts always touch me deeply. I think you should collect your various postings, refine them or whatever, and publish them!

Being in the present moment is key, but I avoid it by doing so many things. At least, you have positions to fill; I'm on my own and don't get much done. . . .But where is each moment???

Thank you, my friend.

"PS" (a.k.a. purple) said...

The Deeper well said. I too feel that when doing Spiritual Direction. It is certainly a two-way street for me in that process. And I find I continually "revisit" stresses I thought I had overcome. The pull is less...but there none-the-less. You are a great gift to many.

RevDrKate said...

Oh indeed. This is the gift and the challenge isn't it, "just" being here now and seeing what God is doing in this moment. I have a plan for daily blogging about this and a post forthcoming in the next day or two. Perhaps we can be in community.

Jan said...

Katherine, I gave you an award.

steve said...

Thank you for sharing these thoughts. The present moment awareness you discuss has so much depth to it. I was also struck (in your writings and from my own experiences) how subtle and profound our expectations, fears, etc. can be in influencing our perceptions and habits. Peace to you.

C. said...

As I pondered your right-on description of living in the present moment, the passage about Jesus in Ephesians came to mind: "he emptied himself . . ." What a picture of the beautiful life of Jesus, lived always in the present moment, truly seeing, hearing, feeling, touching, receiving, giving. It's a picture that's become an icon for me, helping me practice letting go of control and opening my heart to trust,to practice living in the present moment. You opened that scripture to me one afternoon at Prothro. Thank you for your honesty that inspires me again and again! CCW