One night, about a month before I moved from Boston to NYC, I was walking home from Cambridge after dinner with one of my best friends. The weather was pleasant, not too hot and not too cold. There was a lovely breeze and a sort of electricity in the air. As I walked across the Longfellow (or salt and pepper shaker) bridge, I stopped to gaze at the Charles river, glittering with the lights of Back Bay, while the T rumbled into Charles Street station behind me. Standing there, I felt a sense of magic, specialness, something almost sacred.
I think about this moment from time to time. What made it different from the millions of other moments I experience from day to day? Why does it stick out in my memory? My explanation is simply that I was fully present: not thinking about packing boxes or perseverating on my fears about moving. Just experiencing the beauty of the moment and gratitude for my ability to notice.
In meditation, we practice synchronizing the body and the mind. By placing the mind’s awareness on the breath, we remain in the present moment. And each time the mind escapes to the past – replaying events, solidifying stories – or races ahead – planning the day, fantasizing about something in the future – we practice bringing it back, to the breath, the present, NOW. And it is always NOW.
Particularly during this time of year I find it difficult to remain aware of the present moment. I am constantly going somewhere, getting something done, performing some task in order to move on to the next. As I check off my Christmas shopping list, meet friends, and prepare for the festivities, this holiday season, I’m experimenting with being fully present during the moments I usually view as means to an end. While walking to meet a friend, I enjoy the trip, instead of seeing it as standing between me and meeting my friend. While shopping for gifts, I take care in thoughtfully selecting something that shows my understanding and love for the recipient, instead of just focusing on the moment when he or she will open it up.
Even as I write this, I’m practicing awareness of my fingers typing, the feeling that this concept is important enough to want to share it, and how fortunate I am to be able to do so.