Category Archives: being present

And a Worm on the Sidewalk

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been walking in the mornings – not at all something unusual. Except that it is Wonderfully Unusual.

A friend recently invited me to join her in her new practice of intentional, silent, contemplative walking. Together. While this seemed to be a practice more suited for solitude, I was intrigued, and agreed to join her.

At first, it felt strange to walk silently next to someone with whom I actually wanted to be better acquainted. I have questions I want to ask her. I want to engage in one-one-one dialogue; of listening and sharing. Yet, in the thud-thud rhythm of our feet on the sidewalk and synchronized swish-swish of our rain-jacketed arms, I’ve noticed something completely unexpected. As we walk in silence I am keenly aware of a deep-calling-to-deep connection — a sacred journey of sorts — smack-dab in the middle of a suburban neighborhood. How profoundly powerful, to walk side-by-side with another person who, for those moments, has the same intention of being fully present.

As a spiritual seeker, I’ve developed a level of observation that often allows me to see the sacred, not only in nature, but in ordinary and often man-made things. Yet, I’ve noticed an accelerated deepening of my senses as I journey with my silent companion. Somehow, in this joint activity, I become more fully myself, with a heightened sense of awareness and ability to notice things that seem to be wanting to show themselves to me:

  • A plethora of well-chewed gum, stuck to a sign post at a neighborhood bus stop – a youthful statement of rebellion, as well as a desire to be noticed.
  • A bright red rocking chair in a garden clearing near the sidewalk – a sign of welcome and of radical hospitality.
  • A broken sidewalk – a powerful testament to the man-made concrete conceding to the God-made roots beneath it.
  • Three cherry trees, planted in a row, at the same time, in the same soil and light conditions. One of them in nearly-full bloom, another beginning to bud and the third still deep in its winter dormancy – each a reflection of the perfect balance of the wisdom found in diverse reactions to the same situation.
  • A child’s pedal-powered, 1950’s-era red metal car now parked in a garden and reimagined as a planter – embodying the passing of time and the sometimes-unwanted truth of the consistent presence of change in our lives.
  • And, a worm on the sidewalk – a tender reminder of the very moment I fell in love with my husband over 20 years ago when he rescued such a humble creature from a hot sidewalk and placed it carefully in someone’s garden.

Would I have noticed these things, had I been walking alone? I have no way of knowing. Perhaps so, yet I am quite sure that their message to me would have been more muddled, more abstract, less substantial.

And so we journey on. In this contemplative, companionable just-short-of-power-walking pace, the miracle of our need for each other plays itself out. Like the glorious frog-concert that was part of our recent walk past a neighborhood pond, we each sing in our silence a song of harmony and oneness.

Shhhhhh — listen – can you hear it?

Spoiler Alert

We’ve all been hooked by it:  “Coming up next …” or “Stay tuned for scenes from next week’s show.”

As our favorite TV show transitions to yet another commercial, “Coming up next …” entices us with glimpses of upcoming scenes in hopes we will not change the channel. There’s something in our psyche that figuratively salivates at the allure of knowing what’s next; even if it’s just bits and pieces. “Stay tuned” in this context carries with it a sense that we will somehow be lacking if we don’t take a peek at what will happen next time. It’s like reading the last page of a book when we’ve barely begun to let the story unfold in Chapter 1.

Lately, these teasers have troubled me. Do I really need to see the preview of a contestant on Chopped  having an unfortunate run-in with an ill-behaving food processor after the commercial break, likely leading to the dreaded words, “You have been Chopped” before the scene even happens? Must I get a sneak peek at the finished kitchen while they are still tearing out the cabinets? Or, is it really necessary to know that by the end of this episode or season, one of the characters will die, while they are still alive in the story?

They try to warn us: “Spoiler Alert!”

There’s a reason why they are called spoiler alerts. Last week, in poking around the social media buzz about the U.S. debut of Downton Abbey’s much-awaited Season 5, I came across (sorry, Spoiler Alert!) a photo of my beloved Anna where clearly something terrible had happened to her. Again. Just when she and Mr. Bates were getting back to a semblance of normal after his imprisonment in Seasons 2 and 3 and her rape in Season 4. Now, instead of letting the story of Season 5 naturally unfold, every time I see Anna smile, I think, “Oh, but you don’t know what tragedy awaits you next!” For me at least, this out-of-context information about the future spoils the telling of the present story.

All of this reminded me of one of the best stories I know about Spoiler Alerts, or, shall I say, an Alert to that which Spoils. It is in the biblical story of the journey of the children of Israel from Egypt, through the wilderness, and ultimately into the Promised Land. When they left Egypt, fleeing across the Red Sea, there was neither fore-knowledge nor capacity to carry provisions for what turned out to be a journey of 40 long years. So, God introduced them to Manna. God promised to deliver each morning a new kind of bread in the proportionate measure for each household — exactly what was needed each day to consume in order to have the sustenance they needed. No more. No less. Abundance without excess. Pretty sweet, eh? (After all, the manna purportedly tasted like wafers with honey.)

This new manna arrived in the dew of the night and had to be collected each morning, before it was melted by the heat of the sun. Okay, maybe a little inconvenient — like actually waiting until the next episode to see what happens? Or, like not being privy to what might be “coming up next” in our lives?

But, alas, the children of Israel, like us, needed to know what’s “coming up next.” What if God didn’t provide manna for the next day? Wouldn’t it be wise to withhold a portion of today’s bread, and save it in the event that tomorrow’s bread did not come? Nothing wrong with planning for the future, right? A difficult, yet important lesson to be learned: Any manna that was stored from the previous day spoiled to the point of being inedible the next day (except in the case of preparing for the Sabbath — which I hope to explore in a future blog posting).

And haven’t we all learned that lesson the hard way, too, when we live our lives from a mindset of scarcity by not fully consuming what is present before us? When we miss the fullness of today because of fears about tomorrow? What life-sustenance do we miss in a conversation on the phone with a friend when we are glancing at our email while they are sharing with us?

In this new year, I’ve heard from more than one person of a longing to be more present in their lives. For me, this story of manna is the ultimate alert for us to that which can so easily spoil the goodness and gifts in whatever is happening in the present moment — whether in moments of joy or most especially in times that are not easy. Just as the manna was to be fully consumed each day, it helps me to see that I cannot possibly glean the full benefits from the event, conversation or feeling that is presently with me, if part of my attention is spent in looking for the next meal, so-to-speak.

I appreciate this encouragement to be Alert to that which Spoils the blessings of the present, and a call to Stay Tuned — to the scenes in the episode of our present life.