As a teenager, when I’d ask my dad, “What time is it?” his response was often, “Now.” I’d groan and roll my eyes. I just wanted to know the time. I wasn’t interested in his tomfoolery.
As I’ve grown older and the pace of adult life has grown faster, I’ve come to realize my father was teaching me some simple wisdom: the importance of living in the Present Moment. The Gift of Now.
Living in the Present Moment allows us to slow down. It gives us the opportunity to savor the richness of each moment. It even slows our heart rate, experts at the heart-math institute say. As we move into the heart-space, our busy minds relax, allowing the body to flood with the calming hormone oxytocin, known as the love or bonding hormone. This secretion creates harmony and order among the various systems operating within our physical bodies so they work together efficiently and smoothly, creating coherence.
In addition to its physical benefits, spiritual leader Thich Nhat Hahn, teaches that the practice of Living in the Present Moment (aka mindfulness) gives birth to joy and happiness, and leads to deeper insight and spiritual wisdom. He writes:
“The energy of mindfulness carries within it the energy of concentration. When you are aware of something, such as a flower, and can maintain that awareness, we say that you are concentrated on the flower. When your mindfulness becomes powerful, your concentration becomes powerful, and when you are fully concentrated, you have a chance to make a breakthrough, to achieve insight.”
Thich offers five exercises to practice living mindfully:
- Mindful breathing—focusing on breathing in and out;
- Concentration—focusing on an object or person;
- Awareness of your body—becoming aware of your body and your five senses;
- Releasing tension—consciously letting go of stress; and
- Walking meditation—taking a walk with a simple awareness of all that’s in and around you.
The other morning, I had an unexpected opportunity to practice mindful concentration. As I snuggled on the couch in my den (in what I’d hoped would be a time for quiet meditation), my dog’s snoring filled the room as he lay at my feet. Then my wife’s clock-radio rang out with strains of, Baby I Need Your Loving. And to top off the morning symphony, the grandfather clock in the living room struck six times and then played Ode to Joy.
“Oh, for God’s sakes. Be quiet!” I moaned. But then I relaxed my shoulders, took a few deep breaths, and concentrated on the beauty and wisdom underneath this trinity of noise.
My dog’s snoring is a gift. He’s resting. Peaceful. He’s recharging his battery so he can offer our family another day of unconditional love, filled with wagging his tail, giving wet-willie kisses with his tongue, and embracing each moment with innocent joy as the day unfolds.
The song from wife’s alarm clock then drew a smile on my face. It brought to mind how much our love has grown and blossomed after thirty-four years of marriage and raising four good-hearted children. I’m grateful that I’m gifted with another new year with her, our family, and friends.
The chime from the grandfather clock then became like bells ringing from a monastery tower, as I recalled how we each carry in our hearts a hermitage of peace and love that radiates into the world when we live in the Present Moment.
Our Western culture has taught us to plan insidiously for the future. And we often get caught up with regrets or nostalgia about the past. It’s as if we have to retrain ourselves to take it one moment, one breath at a time. We have to remind ourselves to live in the Present Moment so it once again becomes a natural practice.
Life is precious. And when we live in the Now, we begin to see with the eyes of our heart, and from that space, we connect with wisdom. We grasp with awe the beauty that fills each moment.
This New Year, along with resolutions to lose weight, be kind and patient, and a host of other promises, I wonder if asking the Creator for the grace to Live in the Present Moment would be a good one to add to our lists? Would the Gift of Now free us from that frantic energy that so often creeps up during the day? Could we live more fully from the heart, letting it flood our bodies with the love-hormone and connect us with the wisdom each moment contains?
I think it’s worth a try. I’m adding it to the top of my New Year’s resolution list. Perhaps 2018 will be the year I’ll hear my father’s wise voice when I wonder, “What time is it?” And discover the wisdom of Now.
—brian j plachta