I have found that living in the moment is what has allowed me to experience the fullness and richness of my life. I have learned how to be fully present with all of the love, joy, excitement, pain, fear, disappointment, and all of the rest of the experiences that come along with being fully alive in each moment of my life. I am pretty sure that I am a better person because of my commitment to be fully present in my own life.
I learned to live in the moment by practicing Zen Meditation. I started meditating when I was 19 years old. I was a very active young person. I love physical movement indoors and out. I lived in Austin, TX, and like Bellingham, it is a city of great natural beauty and entertainment. When I was home, I was never still. I was always creating art, playing music, cooking, tending to my house plants or rearranging my furniture. It used to be a standing joke among my friends and roommates,“Never walk into Kathryn’s house at night without first turning on the lights!”
When I began to meditate, it did not come easily to me at first. I learned to meditate
from my good friend, Bob Murphy. He was a year younger than me. We met at a bakery
and espresso bar that we both worked at. He talked to me for months about music, art,
philosophy, astronomy, and politics. The conversation would always find its way
around to the subject of spirituality. He shared with me all of the benefits that he felt
that he had gained from learning to meditate. He loaned me several books about
Buddha, Buddhism, and meditation.
My favorite book was Zen Mind Beginner’s Mind. It is a small, simple, and well written book about the practice of Zen Buddhist Meditation. Several things appealed to me about Zen practice. It is a “one-pointed focus” type of meditation. You pick one thing and train your mind to focus on that one thing for a specific period of time each day, every day.
In the book they suggest several objects to focus on externally, such as a candle flame,
a flower or a picture of your favorite spiritual teacher or saint. They also suggest several internal focal points such as your heart beat, your “dan tien” (an energy point just below your navel) or your breath going in and out of your nostrils. I chose my right nostril. The first morning that I attempted to meditate by being fully present with the air moving in and out of my right nostril, I noticed that I couldn’t maintain my focus for more than one second! I had no idea how active and essentially out of control my own mind was. Over the next 16 years, I adhered to a strict discipline of meditating one hour in the morning and one hour at night every day, no matter what.
The process unfolded slowly, but pretty steadily for me. At first, I got to see what a thought generating machine my mind was. My mind was like the conveyer belt of candy in the candy factory in the Lucille Ball Show and I was like Lucy, unable to keep up. Next, I noticed that every thought created a whole series of emotions. These emotions were not real, they were born of what was happening in my immediate environment which was usually sitting in my peaceful garden just breathing. My mind was constantly creating drama after drama while I was trying to simply be. It was impossible. I was like ten walking/talking mini-series happening all at once!
In the beginning, I was not able to have one second of peace. After a few weeks of just sitting and breathing, I experienced one full second when my mind was quiet. It was very noticeable. I also noticed that in that one moment of quiet, I experienced pure joy bubbling up from my belly into my heart. I learned years later that in that moment I had tapped into my soul.
As the weeks progressed, I began to experience more and more seconds of peace and joy strung together. I was beginning to experience pure being; even moments of “peaceful nothingness” while I was walking through one of our most beautiful parks in Austin, Pease Park. By the fall, I was having moments of calmness and pure bliss while I was waiting tables, playing music, and chatting with friends. My mind was beginning to enjoy our daily “down time” and was even allowing it to flow over into my daily life.
I started to realize that I had been absent for most of the moments of my life. I had developed pretty good social skills which allowed me to be present enough to get by. But slowly it started to dawn on me that I had not had the ability or tools to bring myself fully present for any moment even if I wanted to. Over that year, I found myself physically stopping to truly listen to, look at, and feel the things around me and inside of me more and more often.
By becoming more fully present in each moment, I was discovering my soul’s joy at simply being alive. Throughout my life, I have become increasingly able to be fully present to all of the love in my life. I have been able to be fully present to the pain and suffering in the world, including mine and others’. I have also learned that through being present my soul has the ability to come forth and help heal, ease the pain, and provide comfort for myself and others at our very deepest human levels.
I am quite sure that I would have missed a lot of what my life had to offer me if I had been afraid to step out of my own internal drama into my real life. Many blessings to all of you on your journey to become more present in the moment and more fully alive.
Kathryn Keeton is a healer and spiritual teacher. She lives in Bellingham half the year
and Northern California half of the year. Check out her work at www.glshealing.com