I am sitting at my desk in my home office, the sun filtering through the open slats of my blinds, forming a play of light and shadow on my desk, on me. I am aware of birdsong outside my window, and imagine I sense the beat of their wings. A wise friend asked just yesterday, “How is life best lived one day at a time?"
Buddhist nun, Pema Chodron, writes that she “heard that in Tibet in the past, the only way women could attain enlightenment was by practicing in the gaps of their busy and full lives…..Any moment of ‘betweenness’-- waiting for someone, walking from one place to another, milking a cow--became a valuable chance. Instead of thinking about what just happened or planning what would happen next, they enjoyed the space to pause the conceptual mind and touch in with nowness.”
When I first learned I had cancer my mind raced, as my mother would say, “Every which away.” My thoughts moved into the immediate future and what I needed to do next, then farther outward into the beyond of an unknowable chasm that was frightening to contemplate. One evening I found myself moving backward into my past, and wondering what had been the meaning of my life until this moment. What had it stood for -- is standing for?
These questions of past and future brought forward anxiety, vulnerability, a sense that the ground was giving way beneath my feet. As I attempted to grab hold of something to thwart an emotional freefall, I began to realize that I was most comforted being in the embrace of now, focused only upon this moment rather than the monkey-mindedness of racing backward and forward in time.
I use meditative inquiry to ask, “What is this here for?” I do not ask, “Why?” -- for me a more anxiety-provoking and useless question. But to inquire, “What?” has led to deeper explorations about possibility and purpose: “If this is here right now then how might I be with it, whether a full recovery is in the offing or not?” And, “While I shall willingingly follow most directives of my medical team -- who seem to have a version of my future well in hand -- then what might I do about now, in this moment?"