Sunday, March 9, 2008

2nd Thoughts on the Present Moment

The Power of the Present Moment is the current remedy for a whole list of ills, most especially stress. Slow down, notice what's in front of your nose. Hear the sounds of this moment, smell the scents that you're not noticing, notice the songs of the birds, the shapes of the clouds, the sensations of your body. Bring yourself to the present and the power of many of your inner conflicts will melt away.

Yes. I know that. I teach it. It practice it. I get great benefit from it.

But what if the present moment is a flood?

Tuesday night it started to rain here, and it rained hard most of the night. I delighted in the Present Moment while I laid in bed, because I love the sound of rain on a roof, and have ever since I was a child and we lived in a house with a metal roof. I lay there, warm and toasty under my comforter while the storm raged outside, and I drifted off to sleep feeling peaceful.

Wednesday morning I came into the Church just before Matins to find nearly the whole community in a group by the outside door of the Church, wielding mops and towels and brooms. Just outside the door was an enormous pool of water and it had reached the bottom of the door and was streaming through. There was a pool not only outside but inside as well, and it had been lying there for who knows now many hours on the hardwood floor, soaking and warping it. (For those of you who know us well - no - it didn't reach as far as the new floor in the body of the Church).

The presenting problem seemed to be that in the recent storms the man who plows the snow had pushed the drifts so that they covered the drains outside the church door, and they were covered with about 4 feet of partly melted snow and ice. So Scott went out into the storm with a large shovel to uncover the drains, and the rest of us mopped and toweled the best we could and then settled down to say Matins - after which we mopped again.

The rain stopped, the sun came out. We had a beautiful day. And if part of our floor is showing significant warping, at least the Present Moment was beautiful and restful. This was dampened somewhat by the discovery that the monastery roof had leaked all over the elevator and shorted out the control board. The elderly brothers now can't get from floor to floor and it will probably cost $1,000 to fix. Who knows what the damage to the floors was or what it will take to repair them.

Saturday morning the rain started again. I could feel the tension building between my shoulders. By the afternoon the rain was torrential and it went on and on. The work Scott did on the drains carried us for quite a while and then in mid-afternoon, the pool redeveloped. We had built a dike of towels around the bottom of the door, but that held only for so long, and then the water began to stream in again. Off I went to find the wet/dry vacuum and the mop and the bucket, and an extension cord to connect the vacuum to an outlet that was safely out of the water. And off Scott went into the teeth of the storm to uncover some more of the drains. This time we were prompt enough. Charles and I mopped and vacuumed and Scott dug through the snow drifts and in an hour the pool in front of the door began to go down and we were dry (or at least merely damp) again.

And this morning it is clear and sunny and bright. The Present Moment is back in all its loveliness.

I don't want to make too much of this. We weren't in great danger, our lives were not threatened, and many of the large number of guests in the house never even knew anything was going on. But there still is an issue here: what is the Power of the Present Moment when the present moment is difficult, dangerous or painful? I feel the touch of God's Spirit often enough in that Church. Why should I not sense the same power and comfort in the midst of a flood?

This is just one instance of how we all - myself included - tend to use spirituality, if we're not careful. We cultivate the pleasant, uplifting, revealing moments, and very subtly (and sometimes not so subtly) push the not so pleasant moments back out of the way. It's a perfectly natural reaction, and one that all of the spiritual masters warn against. Spirituality is not supposed to be a method for eliminating half of human experience.

So if, in retrospect, I go back to that moment, what can I recover? What was the Present Moment, if I had been willing to be there? Well, there was a lot of frantic dashing about, some of which was useful and some of which was merely using up excess energy. There was the feeling of tension and anxiety. There was some feeling of hopelessness while the powers of nature roared outside our door and we couldn't do anything about it. And, if I'm right, there was a rather cosmic chuckle behind things at the thought that we could build a Church on this hillside and forever escape the powers that govern the law that says that water flows downhill. And there is also that freedom that does come with practicing the present moment: the sense that the best and most lasting things about life are behind and beyond and within all that is going on in this present moment. The present moment in fact can liberate or bind us, and sometimes it does both. But, as the old hymn says: "Underneath are the everlasting arms."

And of course I have had the experience, as many of you have had as well, of turning to experience parts of my reality that I have found so painful and difficult that I have shoved them away out of awareness. And of course it was painful, sometimes extremely so, but I have found liberation in facing that stuff at last, and finding that life is larger and more embracing than even the most difficult of my inner hidden stuff. The Power of the Present Moment is right there, in the midst of the worst of it. It's harder to practice. Sometimes it's a great deal harder, and feels nearly impossible. But with persistence and faith it is possible.

If you have experience of staying with the present moment in difficult situations, even small ones, and if you feel like sharing your experience, I expect we will all benefit.

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