Learning to live in the present
I retired years ago after having recovered from a major heart attack and subsequent quintuple coronary bypass surgery.
My early retirement years were blissful. I wrote articles, read books, watched movies, traveled here and abroad, and enjoyed my grandchildren.
My life went on smoothly, until a hearing disability, an impaired lower back and other age-related ailments slowed me down and limited my social interactions. It also did not help that our house then had become an empty nest.
Getting up in the morning was a daily struggle. The prospect of another day just eating, taking a nap, reading a book, browsing the internet or watching a Netflix movie became unappealing.
Instead, I was aching for the past when I could engage others in a hearty conversation and enjoy listening to music. I was yearning for something that was self-fulfilling, like volunteering again in our parish or doing simple chores once more around the house.
I was also dreading the future. I was constantly thinking about my own death. I was worrying about what would come next at every turn and asking too many “what ifs.”
I was distressed and close to being a nervous wreck when I came across a line from Andre Dubus’ “A Father’s Story”: “It is not hard to live through a day if you can live through a moment. What creates despair is the imagination, which pretends there is a future, and insists on predicting millions of moments, thousands of days, and so drains you that you cannot live with the moment at hand.”
A realization suddenly washed over me: I have not been living with the moment at hand! Instead, I kept looking back at the past. For so long, I have been a worrier about the future that I have forgotten to appreciate what was before me at the moment.
And I remembered our trip to Europe years ago. It started well as my wife and I got upgraded to Business Class because the airline staff in Manila thought we were on our second honeymoon. Our good fortune, however, did not keep me from fretting over our children who had been left behind. I barely appreciated the Business Class amenities that were right there before me for the taking.
And on the Eurail tour while taking in the sights of Western Europe, I kept worrying whether we would be on time to catch the train to our next destination and whether we would find a good lodging place for the night! Again, I hardly enjoyed the beautiful European sights and landscapes that I was seeing for the first and maybe the last time.
All because I was not living in the present.
“Living in the present” has recently become a buzzword of the new millennium, made famous by New Age guru Eckhart Tolle in his book, “The Power of Now.” According to Tolle, the present moment, the now, is all that we have. We should make it the primary focus of our lives.
In a similar vein, Regina Brett in her bestselling book, “God Never Blinks,” writes: “You can get through whatever life hands you if you stay put in the day you are in and don’t jump ahead.”
And in a website article, “Being Present to God and Life,” Oblate priest and spirituality author Fr. Ronald Rolheiser (www.ronrolheiser.com) initially lays down the truth that God is inside of us. The problem is that we are not aware of this and so we tend to seek God outside of us. He then goes on to say: “Sadly, this is also true for our presence to the richness of our own lives. Too often we are not present to the beauty, love, and grace that brim within the ordinary days of our lives. Bounty is there, but we aren’t.”
To remind myself daily of this truth, I have a calendar on my desk that shows only the day and the day’s date. Every day upon waking up, I flip it on to the new day and date, to remind me that today is a gift from the Lord that I should relish and enjoy.
As the Bible says in Psalm 118, 24: “This is the day that the Lord has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.”
Today is what matters most. Not yesterday. Not tomorrow. But today.
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Danilo G. Mendiola, 77, is the proud father of four grown-ups and the doting grandfather to four lovable grandchildren.
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