Two ongoing narratives are played and replayed in our heads countless times every day.
One is the narrative of where we’ve been.
We think back to yesteryear — old memories triggered by a smell at the coffee shop, or a particular word overheard in conversation. We think to the events that have shaped us. The struggles and hardships as well as the achievements and “conquering moments” of happiness and success and joy.
The second ongoing narrative is the narrative of where we’re going.
We weigh our decisions and actions against what might result in the future. We plot. We plan. We consider implications for how we behave, what purchases we make, how to allocate our dollars. We imagine where we’re heading next. What moves, what trips and vacations. When we might plan for our first child or when would be best to propose to a loved one. Our minds wander and we dream. We hope. We daydream.
We think about what could be, and think in reverse to find ourselves presently — perhaps somewhere that we don’t wish to be. A place that’s less than ideal. Fine, but not great. Circumstantially comfortable, but not soulfully challenging enough.
And in this little window of presence, we remember the third narrative.
Overlooked as it often is, the third narrative is the narrative we live in this moment.
The presence of mind that, like an expanding bubble, grows and grows as we attune to where we are. Who we are. What the air smells like and how it feels just to sit and look at the clouds. And as that bubble expands, presence begins to swallows up both ends of the timeline — the edge of the “past” narrative and edge of the “future” narrative.
And for a while, we can just be.
Honoring Where You Are
Any of us who enjoy reading great works of literature or poetry, or has spent any amount of time digesting and sharing motivational quotes on social media, can understand that the idea of “being present” is of great value. It’s also a hell of a difficult practice for many of us. Eckhart Tolle says that it’s the ego — our inner thinker, the one that incessantly divulges a stream of endless narrative — that derails our presence with worry and fear. Some might say it’s our modern society: a capitalistic culture that influences in each of us a “never stop, never slow down” mentality. So, we push and push forward.
Whatever the reasons, we know that presence is a good thing — as hard as it is to come by. Presence promises peace. It promises the essence of alignment in your life between where you’ve been, and in accord with where you wish to go. There’s plenty of talk about presence. Plenty to ruminate on, ponder, consider and even debate. But what is the real importance of honoring where you are?
The importance of honoring where you are is what is capable of happening in the space of that expanding bubble of presence.
Love happens there.
Love can only happen presently. Love as an action, love as a word, love as a way of being, love as the essence of how you teach in front of a classroom, love as love-making, love as an overriding belief that trumps little worries or enormously complicated circumstances — they can’t happen anywhere but here. Now. In this moment, in the space and time that you and I share.
The past has so much to teach us, I know that. Tell someone that the past has not shaped who they are and they’ll battle you to the end on it. Why? Because we feel about our pasts, our stories, our experiences, our credentials, our memories and our resumes as if we truly do own them. We feel of the past as if they are our material possessions. Tell us they do not exist and we will fight you to prove otherwise. “This scar on my arm?” You might hear someone bite back, “It happened in high school basketball practice. Tell me that didn’t happen! I have a mark to prove it did.”
But that scar has no bearing on my presence.
Okay, it’s obvious: circumstances today are impacted, influenced and perhaps dictated by what’s already happened — in the past. You’re talking here to a student of history, a lover of story, a politically-minded expat of the civil service world. But what bearing does it have on what you choose, do, say and believe in this moment?
When the memories of the past become objects of our possession, we become slaves to the past, not enlightened dignitaries who live today to shape a better tomorrow.
Dare yourself to forget the narrative of the past. Do it for just 10 seconds.
What now is possible? How much more are you suddenly capable of? What love can you swell in your chest and sing into a blue sky? What hand might you hold? How tall could you stand?
Dreams, too, are gorgeous. Dreams guide us to a brighter reality. They give us hope when there is no hope to be found — a hope that can carry our feet towards what seems like such a distant tomorrow. Our reality today has been led by them. I am a dreamer. I’ve had nothing but dreams to rely upon since I was young. Skill was never present. Brilliance, intelligence, cunning, natural ability, no. But the power of vision and sight, the power to imagine, it freed me since I was a child and it frees me still.
I dreamed throughout my young schooling years, drawing sketches of nonsensical “inventions.” I can’t tell you how many attempts I made to, opening my family’s kitchen junk drawer, create a new invention out of what materials were present: thumb tacks, elastic bands and paper clips. Suffice it to say, no patent-worthy inventions were crafted in the Ursillo abode.
I dreamed throughout college, posing as a diligent note-taker during lectures while I was actually sketching out absurdly unconventional plans for public policy. I would take an entire blank page of my college-ruled notebook and jot out wild ideas that, I reckoned, could “revolutionize” farming subsidies and how our federal system incarcerates and rehabilitates prisoners.
The dreams gave me a power. They gave me a determination. A push. A nudge to keep pressing onward.
But I never found love in those pages. Only listlessness. Tenseness. A feeling that I was not where I wanted to be. It was as if every dream I crafted only created a further distance from where I actually was, presently, right here and right now.
The power of dreams is also it’s downfall. The gift of hope is also it’s lie.
What gives you the chance to see beyond the darkness where you are and into a glimpse of a brighter tomorrow just as much creates a longer and more unknown “path” that must somehow be walked to get there. Our wandering dreams, unbridled, stretch that second narrative of “where we’re going” so deep and so far that we forget where we are. What beauty might be there, around us. That meandering mindset is why we check our smartphones for emails instead of making eye contact with our local barista. It’s why we miss a chance to make a new friend in yoga class because we’re staring out the window thinking of the to-do list of tomorrow.
Dreams are beautiful. I owe them everything. But when dreaming — the narrative of tomorrow — comes at the expense of this moment, you’re only teasing yourself with unreal, imagined visions that evaporate in an instant like a rain shower in the desert. With a whisper.
When dreaming comes at the expense of your presence, you might forget to love where you are.
Oh, how did this piece begin?
I was talking of honoring where you are.
I think the fear in honoring where you are — the fear even I feel in my own gut when I preach it to you in these words — is that I fear that I’ll be “missing” something. It’s as if, if I’m not pressing so hard, or pushing so much, or challenging myself to earn more or travel farther or think bigger and “level up” this idea or “revolutionize” with that idea, that I’m failing. That I’m missing out on life, or my own potential, or what’s possible, or what God wills, or what others need me to be in service of.
Perhaps that’s all just a lie. Perhaps it’s just our fear making us feel like we’re not enough. “Less than.”
In you, as in me, is all of the essence and ability, the future and the past, the presence and the love that has ever existed and will ever exist. God is not just in you but is you. You don’t need to forget your past. You don’t need to forget your dreams. You don’t need to do anything differently than you already do now. You know what’s best for you. All that I’m saying is, it’s in this moment of presence that we connect to the God in us. Connecting to that source, there is no other way to love.
Presence teases you with fear because presence dares you to love.
Wherever you’ve come from and wherever you’re going, remember to connect to your presence and love in every moment that you can along the way.