Pastor Jim Melvin
I bought a raffle ticket at a charity event the other night. Several times during the night the host got on the microphone to spur ticket sales and each time announced emphatically, “You must be present to win!” I’m on to their game. They do that to keep their crowd numbers up through the evening. Anyway, it reminded me of a main teaching of insight meditation, live in the present moment.
This seems like stating the obvious until we stop to examine where we place our awareness most of the time. Much of our time is spent regretting the past or worrying about the future. It is hard for us to keep focused on the present moment. We keep getting distracted. We live in a social media fueled world and everywhere we turn we are confronted by lighted screens demanding our immediate attention. Ever go to a sports bar and experience how hard it is NOT to keep your eyes from wandering to the nearest TV, even if it’s reruns of Chinese ping pong matches? (Which is pretty amazing, come to think of it.)
Living in the present is important for us individually, but it is also important in our relationships. How much of the time are we “really present” for the important people in our lives, our friends and family, and the people we work with? When we stop for a moment of self-reflection, we’re likely to find that we often aren’t present for those people much at all, even when we’re working beside them or sitting butt to butt with them on the couch.
Being in the present moment is obviously important on the job. If I’m fuming over that guy who cut me off in traffic on the way to work while I’m swinging a hammer, somebody is likely to get hurt. Or if I’m dreaming about the party I’m going to tonight while I’m entering payroll data on the computer, somebody might not get paid this week. You get the point. Being in the moment is vital to safety, productivity, and eventually to our success in life.
Being in the present moment is vital in our relationships. We can’t love anybody in the past. Love in the past is just a happy memory. We can’t love anybody in the future. Love in the future is a fantasy or a daydream. Only in the present can we love another person meaningfully. Love is best accomplished looking someone in the eye and connecting with a gentle touch. We must be present to love.
When you get a free moment today, stop and engage in this little mental exercise. Find a quiet place where you can sit and close your eyes. Try to think of a time today at work or when you were involved in a household task when you were really present and focused on what you were doing. Then think of a time when you were doing one thing while your mind was somewhere else. How does this make you feel?
Do the same exercise again, only this time recall a time when you were truly present with someone you care about. And when was a time that you were physically near someone, but you weren’t really present? How does that make you feel?
These recollections can bring up some strong feelings. Not only does a lack of mindful presence make us less safe, productive and a good companion, it leaves us with feelings of guilt and regret. When we engage in these behaviors day after day, those negative feelings grow and can eventually having a crippling impact in our lives. Regret and guilt are horrible companions.
Back to what that ticket seller said the other night, “You must be present to win.” That’s not only true with raffle tickets; its true with all of life. It turned out the jackpot the other night was four hundred and thirty-six bucks. (I was present, but I didn’t win.) The jackpot in life is much greater, happiness. But unlike a raffle, when you are truly present in life, you always win.