Updated: Aug 20
There is a wonderful little lake just a short walk from my house. It has long been a favorite place for me to capture shots of sunsets and sunrises such as this one. From the east side of the lake, there are incredible vistas of the entire front range. In the fall you will find thousands of geese gathering as they begin their migration to warmer climates. Waneka Lake is a favorite for my morning walks with our two-year-old Bluetick Coonhound, Skye. On the hot days, she drags me down a little trail on the north side of the lake so she can stand in the water to cool her feet. On a clear cool day in the spring, it is nearly impossible not to get lost in the view of the snow-covered mountains in the background as you round the western edge of the lake.
I have no idea how many times I have walked the one-mile perimeter of this small and beautiful lake—many of them completely lost in thought about something other than that moment. Sometimes I am able to catch myself doing so and remind myself to be present and let go of whatever my mind is fixated on at the moment. Just be here now, Chris. There are days, like today, where I start with an explicit intention of being totally present as I walk the trail around the lake.
I told myself to walk mindfully, feeling the trail below my feet. As I walked I allowed my mind to fill with the muted crunch of each step. As I walked, a soft breeze gently caressed my face, cooling me as the light perspiration on my brow evaporated. The sound of a robin singing in a nearby tree joined in along with the laughter of a child, somewhere in the distance. It was so incredibly peaceful that I couldn’t help but wonder, How many people experience this lake this way, I thought. I bet very few. I should write about this experience, and before I knew it I was three paragraphs into it. So ended my serenity this morning. It takes work to stay present. There is a constant pull to bring us into an imagined future or relive the past, but the only thing that is real is this moment. The past is long gone and the future is little more than a dream.
Contrary to what the story of my morning walk says about my meditative prowess, I have observed meaningful changes in the way I see the world as a result of my practice. I am just beginning my journey and the insights I gather at this point are frequently as blurry as my vision, but I no longer feel as though I am blind to the world around me and what’s happening in my heart.
I have a friend who has a great heart and can be a lot of fun to spend time with, although he can sometimes test my patience. He has an explosive temper and struggles with a lack of self-esteem and frequently compensates for that by bringing those around him down. Our friendship has lasted this far, largely as a result of my ability to see, and therefore control, the reactivity I feel at times. It’s not something that came to me quickly, but with time, I have been able to see when my hurt and anger begin to cloud my judgment about how to respond in the middle of a difficult conversation.
Clarity gives choices.
I was listening to a book the other day, which was largely about meditation, and the author made an argument that meditation is not only good for us as individuals but one of the best things we can all do to make this world a better place. The more we understand the truth about ourselves, the better we will show up in our interactions with the people around us, and one of the best ways to do that is to be here now rather than lost in some emotional reaction from the past or somewhere in an imagined future that will likely never unfold as you hope or fear.
Albert Einstein once said, “The search for the truth is better than its possession,” to which I might add in this context, “and truth can only be found in the present.”
I was talking to a friend of mine recently about meditation and she said to me, “It’s not for me, Chris. When I try to meditate, I can’t stop thinking.” I think that’s the point. Are minds are always filled with chatter and most time we are completely unaware. Meditation helps us become aware of that chatter and it is that awareness that lets us make more informed choices about our lives.
They say the Seinfeld show was a show about nothing. I sometimes feel like the soundtrack in my mind was pulled directly from an episode. There is constant chatter and if I pay close enough attention, it becomes clear that there is little more than entertainment value to be found. I don’t think I am abnormal in that regard. If you really pay attention to what’s going on inside your head you will come to a similar conclusion. Most of the time it is just filled with random thoughts that may or may not have any basis in reality. Most are driven by emotions like fear. We tend to think our thoughts reflect the truth but all too often it’s like looking into one of those funhouse mirrors that distorts your reflection.
The last time I stepped off my motorcycle or hung up my skis I had no idea I would never again experience those activities. The last time I played golf with my father was just another round, and I am sure I took for granted my mother’s last hug.
There will be a last time for everything in life, The question we need to ask ourselves is, what would we do differently if we knew it would be the last time?
How present would you want to be?