I knew something needed to change as I hiked one summer along the Pacific Crest Trail. I had looked forward to the seven-day backpack for several months. I had entertained frequent day dreams in which I visualized myself hiking across open alpine meadows, surrounded by the snow-laced peaks of the Cascades and swimming in cold sky-blue lakes. But as my fantasy became reality I notice something troubling. My mind had trouble staying on the trail.
Instead I would discover that my thoughts were ruminating about some worry or concern back home in Minnesota. For a moment I might be able to enjoy a colorful alpine flower or a striking mountain peak, but all too quickly my mind jumped to some pestering concern at my church or my family. My intention was to be on the PCT in Washington; my mind seemed to be at dozens of other locations. And I wanted that to change.
When I came back to Minnesota, I began to hear about “mindfulness” – the ability to be in the present moment. My health plan offered a simple six-week exercise that focused on mindful eating. I thought it would be easy to simply focus on my meal as I ate. I discovered that it was incredibly hard for me. My eyes continually looked for something to read; my ears sought the noise of the radio. The challenge was to simply be present to my bowl of cereal, to see the color and texture of the granola, to taste each bite, and to give thanks to God for the meal.
I began to read more about mindfulness and my emotional impulsiveness. A key book was The Emotional Life of Your Brain by Richard J. Davidson. I remember reading about how our brains have plasticity, that they can be rewired or remolded with certain practice. The author discussed how people who have participated in Mindfulness Based Stress Reduction classes have been able to deal with their chaotic, impulsive mental thought patterns. After reading the book, I signed up for a MBSR class.
“Courage to change the things I can” is the second part of the Serenity prayer. I once thought courage was reserved for the “big” things like racism or sexism. I admire Dr. Martin Luther King’s courage to challenge the racial injustice of his time. We need such models of courage in every age.
Yet there is also the daily kind of courage to face our own flaws. Through the MBSR class I learned the practice of daily meditation. The practice has begun to calm my busy mind and to live in the present. I am thankful that God gave me the courage to change the ways I look at the world and to be fully alive in each moment.
How do you stay living in the present moment?
Lord Jesus, thank you for your promise to be always with us.