In the moment, perfection is a worthy goal, kind of like giving up red wine and sugar when everything in life is running smoothly or vowing to stop emitting four-letter words right before a hammer lands on a big toe.
Living awake is noble, difficult, repetitive, annoying, brilliant, hideous and amazing.
I first encountered the notion of wide-awake living at 44, from Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth. The concept sounded ridiculously easy, far easier than the complicated presentation in the book.
It is the conundrum of awareness. The approach is simple; the practice difficult.
That isn’t the case for newborns or young children. Witness a kid intensely watching a snail meandering a path as an irritated parent nudges them toward the car. The adult is carrying obligations from event to event without glancing at the moment in front of them. Missing this moment, then this moment and so on. Which means that unlearning decades of grown-up training is hard, but not impossible.
Initially, when I set the intention to be in every second, the thoughts in my head went something like this:
“Am I in the moment? Well, the pancakes I’m making smell a little burnt and my feet hurt because I forgot to put my sneakers on, so yeah I’m in the moment.
P-A-U-S-E. Oh right. I’m supposed to be in the moment. Let’s see, what am I doing? I’ve made peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. The kids will love that. What else? Oh. Wow. Three whole hours got lost while I apparently cleaned up after breakfast, did two loads of laundry and called the bank about a bounced check. How did I do that? I must be a genius or have a split personality. Probably the latter. Okay stop beating myself up. Look at the sandwiches. Talk to the kids, feel the floor under my feet. There. Yes, I’m all here again. Woot.”
Ten years later, after asking myself “Am I in the moment?” thousands of times, I’m finally “in” more often than not. As a surprising twist, given the sad beginning shape of my awareness core, I now train others intent on gaining present moment abs.
A new mother recently asked me for feedback, “I’ve had a really rough 20 hours, which has made me unable to stay present and stop my negative thinking.”
I told her what I used to remind myself when I popped back into a moment after being gone for days or weeks:
“No regular person is present all the time. Only people like Eckhart Tolle and the Dalai Lama, and neither of them gave birth or raised a newborn.”
Nor do they have mother-in-law’s, stand in line with screaming kids at Target, promise hot chocolate in the middle of a blizzard only to find the milk has gone bad or put on a bathing suit after having twins. I don’t tell her these last bits, because she isn’t there yet. Why take her more out of the moment than she already is? The young mother laughs at my analysis of the awareness gurus.
“The Dalai Lama raising an infant, that’s funny.”
I let her in on another secret.
“I’m fairly confident both he and Mr. Tolle have a chef and someone to do the laundry.”
Living present as a regular person—not someone who is sequestered on a mountaintop with like-minded individuals—is brutally hard. It’s mindfulness while making breakfast as a toddler screams mommy 42 times in a row. When driving the same route, in the same traffic every single day. Awareness while playing Candy Land for the 10 billionth time or when someone says, “I hate you.” Staying in the game even when it’s boring, hurtful, difficult and ugly.
It’s okay to feel like running from a difficult experience to hide in the backroom of our consciousness. Flitting in and out of moments is how we develop perception of “in” and “out.”
When I was a newbie and faced the holidays with relatives I tended to leave the moment intentionally, because every year someone was unkind or thoughtless. On the ride home I’d pop back into awareness. In doing this, I consciously tuned out, then jumped back in, strengthening my present moment abs until one day I was peaceful in the middle of a sh*t storm. Which is what happened when I finally stayed present at a family gathering and dealt with their rude behavior.
For me, it was the turning point in this practice.
Facing that experience, I realized I could survive the hard stuff. Afterward I chose staying in and found out just how many wonderful moments I’d been missing. If situations are non-consciously rejected because they may be awful, the beautiful ones will be lost too. Like when a woman stays mindful as she labors and gives birth, the wind swirls the leaves, a daughter empathetically strokes her sibling’s face or a pair of foals dance in a meadow.
The new mother I’m mentoring is in the grueling first stage of the parenting marathon. Raising a newborn is a shock to all norms.
We become sleep and regular meal deprived, as well as confused by everything the baby does. A baby doesn’t have an on and off button, which means they are present all the time. In a perfect world, parents would intend awareness, making it possible for newborns to carry the ability throughout their lives. That’s what my lovely client is choosing.
That’s courage; that’s brilliant; that’s amazing.
A suggestion for fellow wake-up walkers is to be kinder to ourselves. It takes a present mind to recognize the twists and turns of this arduous trail.
Awareness is a ridiculous enterprise of everlasting depth made more challenging by babies who can’t tell us what they need, in-law dinners, the dog puking down the stairs at two a.m., taxes and supervising Pizza Day for your child’s school.
We of the Mindful Brigade need to remember that though this is deeply spiritual work, it’s okay to laugh while standing in a shit storm.
Author: Deb Lecos
Editor: Toby Israel