"It seems we all have the tendency to move away from the present moment. It's as if this habit is built into our DNA. At the most basic level, we think all the time and this takes us away. In his teachings on the difference between fantasy and reality, Chogyam Trungpa said that being fully present, having contact with the immediacy of our experience, is reality. Fantasy he described as being lost in thought."--Pema Chodron, from Taking the Leap
I started this blog to experiment with living in the present moment. So far, five months into it, I've been largely unsuccessful...habits being hard to break and all. Take someone who's a daydreamer, a worrier, an avoider, and a romantic, and ask her to stop thinking so much. It's nearly impossible. Yet I've read again and again, in Pema's books and from other Buddhist thinkers, that it's OK to fail; in fact--there is no success or failure. When you find yourself spinning off, you just need to catch yourself and return to the present moment.
One of the times I find it easy to be in the present: my visits with Linda. Linda is the 63 year-old woman with whom I have weekly friendly visits. I like the predictability of our hour and a half together. I ring her buzzer around 7PM and when I tell her who it is, she always cheerfully answers "OKAY!" She meets me at the door wearing either pink or blue scrubs (she doesn't work in a hospital--I didn't know you could just buy scrubs if you weren't in the medical field.) I greet her cat Maxine while Linda goes to get her "iced coffee" (a cup of coffee that she's kept in the fridge all day.) There's always a bowl of pretzels on the tray table situated between her chair and mine. The chairs we sit on are her latest find in the basement, where apparently everyone in her apartment building leaves stuff they don't want. She's practically furnished her apartment with these giveaways.
And then we talk. We talk about her mood, and then I'll tell her how I've been feeling so she doesn't think I'm playing therapist. We talk about our cats, the weather, and what she's been up to with her neighborhood friend, Chris, and his family. They have really embraced Linda as their own and have given her a TV/DVD player, a bed, and a laptop, among other gifts. I feel miserly in comparison--all I've given her is ginger tea (her request) , a cat hanging on a candy cane Christmas ornament, and some Valentine tulips that died prematurely. But of course, I'm not about giving her things, I'm about offering my time. And I did tell her about the music channels she can access on cable--she said she often listens to Soundscapes (new age-y music) before she falls asleep at night, and that it relaxes her.
When we're talking, I try to be fully present for her. I watch myself to make sure I don't start daydreaming about what I'll make for dinner when I get home or if too many pretzels will make me fat. I look her straight in the eye to let her know I'm interested, even when she repeats herself, which is often. I really enjoy our time together because I'm keeping myself in the moment. I try not to plan things to talk about; although her outside world is limited, we still manage to fill the time.
It's really true that you can get out of volunteering as much (or more) than you put in. I highly recommend it.