I have a confession.
Three years ago, I began to explore a new way of being that leaned heavily upon concepts of Buddhism (that wasn't the confession, by the way). The catalyst for this expansion of my worldview was a book called Wherever You Go, There You Are.
It introduced me to the idea that we don't experience life in the future or the past but only in this present moment, and the moments to follow, strung together one into the next. To attempt to look up the length of the string is to miss the moment that is before you, and to miss life. These moments cannot be controlled or predicted, only embraced and settled into with an unresisting curiosity.
There is a richness to this kind of mindset, and as I began to practice, I found that many things in my life that had caused me anxiety, discontent, and fear, had their roots in this lack of presence. I’d been living like the boy in the fable, who was given the golden ball of yarn that was his life thread and the ability to pass entire years in an instant when he pulled on the string.
Like him, I’d looked ahead to the future, and metaphorically unraveled the ball through the difficult times, and boring workweeks, hurrying life along with the hope that satisfaction and something "ideal" would find me in the next season...or the next. Or the next. At the rate I was going, my life would have ended like his, with unwound yarn in my aged hand, marveling that I’d come to the end of my life without ever having lived it or found satisfaction.
The irony of the fable was that it was only at the end of his life could the boy turn and see that nothing was missing in any of those moments he bypassed—the wonder and meaning had always been there, but he had not, and only now, did he realize that he would give anything to see a sunrise.
My world expanded in many directions after this philosophy sunk in. I dove into this practice and began finding joy and meaning in the smallest of things—the steam unfurling from my coffee, the acorns beneath my shoes, the smiles of strangers, the ache of disappointment—all permeated by a wonder I’d never felt so intensely. The presence was accompanied by a spring of empathy for my fellow humans and a greater willingness to understand what moved them and what we had in common.
That year, I watched 350 sunrises, and nearly as many sunsets (read about that year, HERE). I forged a deep connection to the earth and the turnings of the universe and began to discover stores of creativity within me that I didn't know were there. From this headspace, I began to write books, and blog, and travel. I wanted to be here—wherever that was—and explore the deeper meaning of existence through creative forms.
And here is the confession: since the divorce, I’ve put all that aside to escape the pain that existed in my present. I spent three months just looking forward to the end of December when I would leave the States, fly to Peru, and begin the new year with the old life thousands of miles behind. I pictured standing on the coast, soaking it all in as the weight fell off my shoulders and joy and relief took its place.
It seemed to be working out for me Ok, until I stepped off the plane, and discovered I'd lost the ability to be present. Intentional presence is not a light switch, after all, but a practice of continually acknowledging and accepting what is. It was frustrating to find that my first weeks in Peru were overshadowed by a feeling of distance, as if I were watching myself watching my life, instead of living through my own eyes and senses. Maybe you know this feeling.
I stopped writing—creating requires attention of the highest fidelity to what is, and for weeks I couldn’t muster the courage to be fully present and confront the sorrow that had followed me here.
But now...now that is beginning to change. It is a hard, slow course back, but I am trusting the process. There is an ambivalent mix of hope and grief, regret and joy in my present, and the intensity therein often takes my breath away. But I am staying the course, and little by little, I am finding my way through.
I write this by my open window. The windows are always open in Miraflores to let in the breezes and are unscreened both day and night. A familiar sound drifts in—a sliding baritone, mournful, and low. I thought it might be the call of a whale, but I doubt I could hear it from here, even with how close I live to the ocean. I'm told it’s a bus brake, but I don’t see how it could be, for there is no protest in its cry. The tone is soft and rounded with heaviness, like a sigh of acceptance.
I close my computer and follow the sound down, out the townhouse door. An old lady sticks head and shoulders through her open window to crane her long chin down at me and I smile up. The courtyard cat springs up to stalk me as I cross the tiled walk, but she finds the effort too much for the end of day and returns to the shade of her palm tree outside apartment K.
I let myself out the gate and past the towering trees on the center lawn, where mobs of vivid-green parrots are calling back and forth riotously. The air around me thickens, rosy and flushed, reflecting in the tall windows of the high-rise across the street. My feet take me further, past the fruit and bread stands on the corner with its sleepy attendants, through the park, to the coastline path atop the ivy-covered cliffs. The place I'd dreamed of being for so long.
I climb over the side of the rail and sit amidst the green vines and the purple flowers, breathing, watching the tide below me comb into the shoreline like fingers of the deep, and I realize suddenly that I am here.
All of me.
Time circles and slows, and a weight eases from my shoulders and is replaced by the buoyancy of gratitude, as I watch dozens of hang-gliders dip and sail on the breath of the wind and feel that I am flying as well. They climb high on the inhale and pause a moment to sit atop of the draft, then plummet down the side of the cliff with the out breath, rising again suddenly with the in-breath, I smile as I follow their paths through the golden air, while the sun lowers gently over the ocean and slips quietly below the horizon—off to wake souls on the other side of the world.