This week I borrowed a unique documentary from my local library, Walk With Me, a contemplative journey which follows the steps of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, with rare insights into life within a monastic community. So begins Max Pugh and Marc J. Francis’ fascinating exploration of what it means to devote one’s life to mindfulness.
“With unprecedented access to the famous secluded monastery of Plum Village in the South West of France, Walk With Me captures the daily routine and rituals of monks and nuns on a quest to develop a deep sense of presence. It is an insightful rumination on the pursuit of happiness, living in the present and our attachment to material things – a welcome remedy to the stresses of city life and a world in turmoil.” — Laure Bonville
What I found most fascinating about this immersion into monastic life is how similar it can be to life outside of cities, where life is luxuriously slow and overflowing with simple joys. The theme is crystal clear:
Be here now. There is no past, there is no future, just this moment…
One of the ways this short film has changed my life is in my desire to be more contemplative in each moment. For example when I first wake up I now love to look out at the birds outside my door. I find them to be the perfect topic for my first meditation of the day.
Wild animals do not sit around thinking about their past or imagining their future, because if they focused much on that they would not survive for long. We were also once totally focused on the present moment. We had to be. But now we have the luxury of too much time, so we think about way too much stuff!
Luckily the mind can be trained over and over again. Today we can decide to stop all the concern and worry about everything else in the world, and focus on this moment before us, the only one we truly have.
“There is a fire inside. Sit down beside it. Watch the flames, the ancient, flickering dance of yourself.” — John MacEnulty
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I have been changed by the experience of leaving city life behind. The greatest change has been my new ability to at least occasionally be in the present. I see now that before I moved here, I was constantly stressed out, and in distraction mode.
“Distractions are both more tempting and more destructive than we realize. It’s tempting to fill in every little minute of the day with productivity or distractions. Don’t. Leave some emptiness.” – Zen Habits
It seems to me that cities are set up for constant distraction. Any time you feel uncomfortable in any way, you can call up someone to go see, order some new kind of food, go out shopping or to see a movie. People in cities spend most of their time sitting in traffic or driving somewhere else. Cities are distraction machines, and the Internet is the ultimate, easily available escapism.
Being in the present means you are not planning ahead. You are sitting still, willing to be here now to observe and absorb your present surroundings with no thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow, and no need to distract yourself. I find many of the observations of ZenHabits.com useful in my new mindset:
“If you’re filling your life with distractions, its probably because you’re afraid of what life would be like without constant Internet, social media, news, TV, games, snacks.”
To be honest, I never really had the time to gain full awareness of all of this until I moved away from modern American life. I knew I was anxious and not as relaxed as I wanted to be in the city, and now I see why. Cities simply raise anxiety levels. I know because it took me at least a year away from a city to see how anxious I have been most of my life, and then find ways to allow myself to truly relax.
I have been a worry shopper my whole life. Once I solved one problem I moved on to the next one. Here there is so little to worry about, leaving me much more time to focus on what is important to me. Now that’s a great new challenge! And what is important to me now is a few important relationships, and appreciating the natural world and its wonders.
We can sit and dream about so many things, but we would be wasting our lives. This present reality is all we get. Let’s learn to love it.
“It takes a lot of courage to release the familiar and seemingly secure, to embrace the new. But there is no real security in what is no longer meaningful. There is more security in the adventurous and exciting, for in movement there is life, and in change there is power.” – Alan Cohen
When I lost my marriage, my job and my career, I finally confronted exactly how miserable I was with my life so far. I knew I needed to release my familiar and embrace the new, but did I have that much courage? Could I change in that many ways?It always helps when you feel like you have completely run out of options!
First I started a small, local dating service, because I didn’t trust online dating. That eventually led to meeting my new husband Mike, online of course. He has been such an important factor in encouraging me to become fully me for the first time in my life. And I just realized yesterday exactly how free I feel living here in the middle of nowhere, depending on the sun for most of our heat, and Mike and our pets for love and support.
I never feel judged, and rarely even angry in my new life. I live my life as I like, and find my greatest critic comes from within. But I have gotten much better at telling it to “shut up!” It takes time, peace, and support to let go of the voices in your mind, and then move on to being present for the moment before you, the only one you have.
I am slowly relaxing into each moment as it arrives. What a wonderful way to live. I only wish I would have figured this one out sooner!
How did this happen? How did I end up here, feeling so fortunate?