A story is told by the desert fathers (ht):
“Where shall I look for Enlightenment?” the disciple asked.
“Here,” the elder said.
“When will it happen?” the disciple wanted to know.
“It is happening right now,” the elder said.
“Then why don’t I experience it?” the disciple asked.
And the elder answered, “Because you do not look.”
“But what should I look for?” the disciple wanted to know.
And the elder smiled and answered, “Nothing. Just look.”
“But at what?” the disciple insisted.
“Anything your eyes alight upon,” the elder continued.
“Well, then, must I look in a special kind of way?” the disciple said.
“No,” the elder said.
“Why ever not?” the disciple persisted.
And the elder said quietly, “Because to look you must be here. The problem is that you are mostly somewhere else.”
Mostly somewhere else. So easy to do nowadays. We are so geared toward tomorrow and all the big plans we have that we neglect to simply be present in the moments of our lives. This has been such an easy trap for me to fall into in ministry: always looking for the next thing, never content or fully experiencing the current thing. Partly it’s just a leader’s job to be looking toward the future, but never at the expense of actually living the present moment.
It strikes me as essentially unthankful to never simply enjoy life. To be fully present in a moment is to be a receiver of grace in that moment – it is to acknowledge that I am living a life that was given to me as an extravagant gift.
One of the disciplines that is helping me be fully present in the moments of my life is making oatmeal every morning (seriously). It might seem silly, but the simple discipline of waiting for the water to boil, then stirring the oatmeal occasionally while it cooks, has been extremely helpful for me. It slows me down, if only for a brief moment, and allows me to concentrate on something fairly mundane: fully present to the preparing of oatmeal, so that perhaps later I will be tuned in to the possibility of being fully present when my son asks me a question, or when I have that appointment later, or when my wife wants to talk after dinner.
Our culture pushes us to go, go, go… and there’s some merit in the drive to improve and become better, but if it isn’t balanced with a commitment to be fully present in the moments of our lives, we can become like people who never actually exist; we’re always regretting the past or attempting to change the future, never just enjoying the present. Here’s to being fully present!
Another strong post on an important topic. Thanks.
I’d like you to take the argument further. At what point is someone ever ‘too present’? Is it possible? What would it look like?
That might help us understand just how far from ‘t/here’ we are now.
Ben Sternke says
Too present? That’s an interesting thought. Because obviously in advocating being present I am speaking into a cultural situation where being “mostly somewhere else” is the norm.
Anyone who has ever had any leadership responsibility or impetus to change something knows that a future-orientation is necessary, as well. We need not only to be present in moments, but aware of the past and praying into a future. We are storied beings, and being entirely “in” a moment, unaware of past or future is probably a less-than-human state of being.
Prayer itself is an act of being aware of the future: we pray because we desire this future, not that future. We pray because we want things to be different than they might be, and this is obviously a good thing to do, so in our “being present” we ought to keep Jesus’ teaching in mind, too, that we are to pray for the kingdom to come (future tense), for God’s will to be done (future tense)… but Jesus teaches us to look to the future with trust in our Father in heaven, rather than with trepidation and fear.
So perhaps you can never be “too present” but you can be “not future enough” or “not past enough.”
Perhaps our ability to be fully present is heightened by a rich awareness of the past and a prayerful leaning into the future.
(A bit of a stream of consciousness there, but your question was thought-provoking again… thanks!)