How do you live in the present moment when the present moment sucks?

Not an especially eloquent way to state it but that’s what’s been going through my mind the last couple of days.

It’s not that life has been especially trying, not at all. But a conversation that I had recently with a wonderful nun really got me to thinking.

BridgetHaase
Sr. Bridget Haase, OSU

In preparation for my next column in the Catholic Free Press, I interviewed Sr. Bridget Haase, OSU. She will be presenting a workshop called “Walking the Path of Faith: Three Practices of the Abundant Life” for the Gather Us In 2013 conference sponsored by the Commission for Women of the Diocese of Worcester, a group I chair. During the conversation she spoke about the necessity of learning to live in the present moment so as to grow in the spiritual life. She shared about caring for her mother who had Alzheimer’s and how she had been plagued with regrets and memories of the woman she had known and loved, now lost to her in the haze of the disease. She began to realize that the only way she could cope with this loss was to accept her mother as she was, now, not knowing her own daughter nor remembering any of her own cherished memories.

I choked up, remembering my own mother, swallowed up by dementia, anger and despair, wishing I had known that wisdom. I shared with Sr. Bridget how a woman, Sandy, and her mother used to sit with us at dinner each night in the nursing home; her mother was just beginning her journey with Alzheimer’s. My mother was not the woman she had been and yet Sandy was able to accept her just as she was and perceive what she had been. She appreciated Mommy’s feistiness and when she began to fail, Sandy visited her in her room. After Mommy passed away, I talked with Sandy for a long time on the phone, thanking her for her friendship and telling her how much I appreciated that she was able to see the real woman behind the mask of dementia.

I never was able to be in the present moment with my mother because the present moment was too painful. I kept shrinking away from her, my fear trumping my love for her.

wellesley college entranceFriday I took a long walk during my lunch hour and again pondered this thought. I’ve written several posts about the joy I had found in walking, considering the fact that I have bad feet which had made it painful. For a time my legs and feet felt stronger and I had no pain. The walks reconnected me with nature and gave rise to wonderful reflections.

Since January however, walking has become painful again, legs heavy with knee pain, shin and muscle aches. Finishing my walk last Friday, I thought long and hard about the present moment as I slogged through the 90 degree heat with every muscle, joint and bone in my legs aching in pain.

pink rhododendron from Wellesley College

The route I took that day was exceedingly pleasant. I had chosen to walk through Wellesley College and was delighted and surprised to find that commencement was taking place. Beautiful music and the sound of peeling bells from the tower filled the air as graduates swarmed on the campus after the ceremony. I took in those sounds as I walked along the edge of Lake Waban, stopping to take pictures of the rhododendron bushes flashing their parade of colors.

Staying in that part of the present moment was easy.

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On the return to my office, the aches and pains set in along with the fatigue from the heat. The walk back became more and more difficult as I sought a path with shade and hills that sloped downward.

I struggled to stay in the present moment but the present moment was not a fun place to be. How do I stay there when my body is screaming “No!” and my mind is saying, “It won’t be long now, you’ll soon be back at the office and things will be better.”

The same thing happened the next day as I was cleaning out our swimming pool.  We have a leaf net on the pool to catch the leaves from the numerous oak trees in our yard. I needed to shovel out the leaves. At mid-morning it was already 88 degrees and after only twenty minutes I had to stop. Sitting inside in the air conditioning I thought again about how to live in the present moment. It’s a puzzle I have yet to solve.

Thoughts of my friend Jackie come to mind as she lives day in and day out with her pain and somehow manages to stay engaged with life. My gut says I better learn what she knows as I face the challenges ahead of aging. I’m only 57 but somehow, this year, there is a greater urgency to learn this lesson.

I know the answer lies in the Cross. To walk the path that Jesus walked. He utterly embraced the present moment despite its horror, conquering it with His love.

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A deeper spiritual life. This is what I desire. I had better learn to walk the way of the Cross.

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Detachment: a “dirty word” that promises freedom

What feelings come up when you read the following two words:

  • Obedience
  • Detachment

Are your feelings positive or negative?

Are these words to be avoided at all costs or embraced?

Do these words hinder your freedom or enhance it?

In a later post I will deal with obedience, one of the most freeing words in the entire English language.

Today I will deal with detachment because I finally found out what it means.

Detachment can strike fear into the hearts of those pursuing an authentic spiritual life. It means walking away and letting go.

What do I have to give up?

Will I have to watch less TV, skip that beer or ice cream, put aside dreams of a tropical winter get-away in order to instead travel to snowbound Buffalo to visit elderly parents?

Will I have to give up something, or someone I dearly love?

What will I have to sacrifice?

Detachment in part means sacrifice and both words have a negative connotation in this age of you-can-have-it-all.

And there’s more to sacrifice than giving up time, money and material items. There are feelings inside of us that need to be sacrificed too.

That sacrifice is known as self-control.

Thud. Another word that stirs up a negative connotations.

In this age of exposing ourselves on Facebook and Twitter, self-control has fallen by the wayside.

When we feel bad, we show it. Why hide it? We not only show it, we indulge in it. We feel entitled to wallow in it. Hell, we feel like crap so why not just let it take over?

At some point you long to escape. Escape, as you know, comes about in many unhealthy, even deadly forms. Just ask Whitney Houston, Michael Jackson and Anna Nicole Smith.

Oh that’s right. We can’t.

What does all this have to do with detachment? Here’s how.

And I only just learned this in the last few days.

On Saturday we said goodbye to our 26 year-old son. He is moving from his place near our home in central MA to Brooklyn, NY to explore new options in his life. It’s only four hours away but it might as well be on the other side of this planet to this mother’s heart.

I urged him to go.

Heck, I was the main cheerleader. And I was bound and determined not to lose it in front of him.

So just before the big goodbye, I stole away to the bathroom in his house and begged God to help me put a lid on my emotions.

The response was an impulse to pray the Hail Mary.

With that first of many Hail Mary’s I recalled that the Mother of Jesus had to endure such a goodbye too. She would understand and she would listen to me.

I then rifled through my pocketbook and found my rosary ring. I put it in my pocket and fingered it, continuing to pray.

And when it came time to say goodbye, I only cried a little.

We exchanged warm hugs and a few tears flowed but I held it together.

I realized at that moment that asking God to intervene, He stepped in between my son and myself, providing that little bit of detachment that allowed me to keep a lid on my emotions.

Later on in the privacy of my kitchen, I had my cry.

Detachment saved me from embarrassment, not only for myself, but for my son and everyone else that was there when we exchanged goodbyes.

from http://www.physicsoftheuniverse.com/topics_blackholes_blackholes.html

And now I am working on building on that detachment.

The pain of saying goodbye is not unlike grief and it can become a black hole, sucking you in and smothering the life out of you.

The natural inclination is to go towards that black hole.

The smart thing to do is to step back.

I work up this morning filled with pain over the goodbye. But I washed up, went to Sunday mass, did the food shopping and spent the day with my husband.

I clung to God and made a deliberate effort to tell that black hole I wasn’t going to be sucked in.

It wasn’t easy.

A lot of the time I just wanted to lay down on my bed and go to sleep.

The lesson of yesterday’s goodbye and the taste of freedom from that small bit of detachment gave me the impetus to keep pursuing it.

I sacrificed the urge to give in to the pain.

Using self-control, I deliberately turned away from pain of the past and fixed my gaze upon the future.

Little things like a medium Dunkin’ Donuts mocha ice coffee helped in the cause.

God teaches us detachment for a reason.

He wants to set us free. I feel like I have discovered a most precious secret.

And so I bid my son a bittersweet farewell, knowing it’s for the best and wishing him many blessings in his journey.

I have already found mine.

Click to Tweet & Share: Saying goodbye to our son hurt but taught me something new: turning to God, I learned to walk away & not lose it. http://wp.me/p2D9hg-8s

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Read my other blog, Louisa May Alcott is My Passion