“There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
There are countless ways we try and escape from the present moment, our daily lives never serve us short on distractions, but we (I) do plenty a good job on my own coming up with ways to comfort or decompress or put off processing what’s happening. Another cup of coffee, a “quick” skim of the Facebook feed, an article on how to solve all my family’s health problems with garlic (of course I need this information, it cannot wait!) Especially in times of high stress, before I even can name my stressors, I notice my habits of seeking extra comfort, a way to decompress. The surefire sign I need to slow down and check in is when I catch myself for the fifth time foraging mindlessly for non-existent treats in the kitchen cupboards.
There may be a swami or two out there that would come up against Calvin Klein on the benefit of occasional healthy escape. But losing track of time with a good book or an engaging film/TV show, dancing to a great song, being carried away by daydreams, a sexy rendezvous or an afternoon nap can all be cathartic in shifting our focus especially if we are really working through something physically, spiritually or emotionally taxing. I believe a cookie can be a totally valid form of therapy. We can all attest to the necessity and helpfulness of getting out of our own heads for a little bit, indulging, disconnecting from constant analysis and mental pandering. When escapism becomes habitual however, when I notice myself itching for the next “fix”, then I can call avoidance by its real name. Just the noticing, the awareness that I am avoiding, maybe that’s as far as I get today. But it’s something. “I’m not ready to deal with these feelings, they are too big, I want a treat.” Awareness.
Meditation is often misperceived as another escape, a way to tune out the world and achieve some sort of “above it all” Zen serenity. In fact, it is the opposite. It is the way IN to the present experience. Never has this lesson been more tangible that sitting in a room with a toddler. (If you don’t have a baby, you could try it with a puppy.)
To escape is to believe that peace can be found in someplace other than here. Meditation teaches me to find it where I am.
Here is an experiment: Stop, be completely still and try and expand your awareness to touch every inch and corner of the moment you are in. Start with the physical room or space. See if you can fill it up like water into a reservoir, reaching even the dusty crannies behind the furniture and in the back of the closet. See the colors and textures, the feel of what physically surrounds you most of which we pay no attention to. Freeze frame it like a snapshot and explore it like a detective taking in all the details as if each held equal significance.
Now let your awareness seep out under the door and into the wide world outside. What does the air feel like? The sky? What sounds do you hear, what does the light look like?
Zoom out to see your neighborhood, the area beyond, as far as you can go. Life is happening all around in this tiny moment. Did you know?
Now bring your attention back to your own body. What messages is speaking? Is it cold, warm, stiff, at ease? Are specific areas asking for care?
Be an investigator of your own heart. What is happening there? What does it say? Don’t silence it, don’t judge it. Give it a chance to say whatever is there.
By fully embodying the moment I am in, I open myself up to unexpected joy I might not have seen before in what appeared mundane or tedious or unexceptional. Suddenly, my awareness lends a beam of sunlight to fall over the scene, illuminating and shading it differently.
Just now, I realized it is a tremendously beautiful day. I have been at my computer for two hours and had not noticed that the clouds have finally acquiesced to let the sun to share part of the afternoon. My body says it needs to move and my heart says suddenly there is nothing more pressing than to go be out of doors in the sun.
“Listen to your life. See it for the fathomless mystery that it is. In the boredom and pain of it no less than in the excitement and gladness: touch, taste, smell your way to the holy and hidden heart of it because in the last analysis all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.” ~ Frederick Buechner (seriously, this guy.)