“It’s all a matter of paying attention, being awake in the present
moment, and not expecting a huge payoff. The magic in this world seems
to work in whispers and small kindnesses.”
― Charles de Lint
Imagine you’re in a little car on a very busy, six-lane highway during rush hour. Even though the road is jammed with cars, everyone is moving at a good clip. But not fast enough to make you feel like you are actually getting anywhere.
Giant trucks barrel past you, shaking your car and blocking your sight.
Other cars cut in and out all around you, and you find yourself having to constantly make split-second decisions on where to position yourself so you don’t get hit.
Other cars have music blasting, the kind that rattles your jawbone. Some cars and trucks spew smelly black exhaust. The high concrete walls on each side of the road have graffiti all over them- not the artsy kind but the kind that’s 400 layers of personal tags, just a big mess of faded color and unintelligible symbols that doesn’t make sense.
You decide that you have had enough.
There are two options in this situation.
The first is to just stop. Literally, just stop everything- hit the brakes, turn the key, shut off the car.
Sure, you’ll stop moving, but you’ll be the only one. Traffic will flow on around you. And it will likely be only a second or two before another car in that traffic rears the back of your car and pushes you forward, crashing into another car. So even if you TRY to force a stop, it won’t work. (Not for longer than a few seconds, at least.)
The other option is to exit out of the loud, steady, aggressive traffic. You keep moving forward, getting towards your destination, but you choose a different route.
Exiting requires awareness- where is the next exit? Can you get over in time?
Exiting requires slowing down- once you get off the highway, you have to monitor your speed because it’s rare that side roads have the same speed limits and flow as the main highways.
Exiting requires you to become acquainted with a new set of road rules (slower speed limit? Lots of curvy roads?) and adjust accordingly.
By now you probably get that this traffic/car metaphor is about awareness, about mindfulness, about being present.
There’s this misconception that being mindful and present – whether it’s through awareness from moment to moment or meditation or any other approach- requires STOPPING. Stopping your body, stopping your brain, stopping your thoughts. I struggled with this for a very long time, especially when it came to my meditation practice and trying to be more mindful every day. Stopping my thoughts and the running narrative in my head of the way life changed moment to moment became a huge challenge, something that exhausted me. I didn’t see the benefit in it because I *couldn’t* get any of it to stop. Actually, I could for very brief moments of time, but my thoughts and senses and internal narrative and anxieties would come rushing back and hit me like a car barreling into me at full speed.
It was only this week I realized that “stopping” isn’t what mindfulness or presence is about at all.
Life is about energy- EVERYTHING is in motion, all the time. The cells in our bodies. The blood in our veins. The air, the water, the basic *everything* that all exisiting things are made of.
If life doesn’t stop, how can we?
Instead, mindfulness and presence is about switching from one flow (the loud, aggressive traffic on the main highway of our mind and culture) into another flow (the slower, quieter back roads of the present moment). We can’t just STOP our “cars”, we have to gently ease off one road and onto the other. And when we are beginners at “driving”, exiting a busy highway is one of the most challenging things we learn to do in our cars. So if you’re in the first few days/months/years of a mindful practice (like me), you have to remember we’re still learning and it takes time to really learn the ropes.
Mindfulness is about settling into what’s happening right this moment. And every moment will change instantly, and so we’ve got to follow that change. Trying to just STOP and freeze in any given moment just causes more stress- it’s like digging your heels in. Instead, imagine picking up your feet and letting the flow slowly take you with it.
Awareness, presence- it’s not about stopping, it’s about moving forward with life as it unfolds, not focusing on ten minutes ago or ten days from now.
So next time you want to be more present to the “now”, remember that it’s not about stopping, it’s about shifting into a different flow. Just allow yourself a few moments to slow down, adjust. Feel what’s going on. Be present for whatever is happening in the moment, and allow yourself to move along with it. In a few seconds, everything will have changed, and by all means, you are allowed to be present for that, too.
(Quote in title by Lily Tomlin)
Chel Micheline is a mixed-media artist, curator, writer, and avid gardener/reader/swimmer who lives in Southwest Florida with her husband and daughter. When Chel’s not making art or pondering the Bliss Habits, she’s blogging at gingerblue.com (come say hi!) or posting new things in the gingerblue etsy shop.