Avoiding the Present Moment

Avoiding the Present Moment

Discussion date: Thu, Oct 08, 2020 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Silver Spring, Maryland Community Online on Thursday Evening
October 8, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
October 9, 7:00 to 8:45 pm

 Dear Still Water Friends,

For twenty-five years, I worked as an applied anthropologist studying social problems in the United States. One project in the early 1990s for The National Institute on Drug Abuse was directing a six-city ethnographic study of sex-for-crack exchange. As part of the study I went to a Los Angeles jail to interview people who had been arrested for possession of crack cocaine. The most memorable exchange went something like this:

Me: Can you tell me why you were you smoking crack?

Interviewee in his mid-thirties, with a long history of drug use: I won’t lie to you. I was smoking crack because I like the high. I like what it does to me. But, if I didn’t have crack, I would be ok as long as I had beer. I like drinking beer. And if I didn’t have beer, I would be ok as long as I had television. But if I didn’t have television, I don’t know what I would do with my life.

At first I was surprised by his grouping together of crack, beer, and television. But in the course of the interview I learned how unstable and difficult his life was. Crack, beer, and television each allowed him to mentally and emotionally be somewhere else than in the actuality of his own life.

That interview came to mind this week as I read two paragraphs from Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentary on the Fifth Mindfulness Training in The Mindfulness Survival Kit:

The Fifth Mindfulness Training is about happiness. We consume because we want to be happy. But consumption is not true happiness. People consume in order to cover up their suffering. Many people pour themselves a glass of alcohol or open the refrigerator to take something to eat or drink in order to help them forget their suffering, their difficulties, their loneliness, or their weariness with life. This is something peculiar to our modern society.

Happiness is not something that we have to look for and find somewhere else. Returning to the present moment, we are in touch with the wonders of life inside and around us. With the help of our mindful breathing and mindful steps, we can produce happiness straightaway. When we have mindfulness, concentration, and insight we become very rich people who are able to produce much happiness for ourselves and others; we don’t need to run after anything anymore.

We all have ways of diverting attention from what is alive in the present moment. For example, when I feel frustrated because of my inability to write sentences that are pleasing to me, the lure of internet updates becomes very strong. What would it matter if I just checked the news sites to see what has happened in the past hour or two? And like an addiction, once the door is open, the consumption increases. The very short break turns into a much longer break.

Sometimes the diversion from the present moment is unintentional and habitual, as when our minds are filled with with regrets or reminders of past suffering. In his commentary on the Fifth Mindfulness training, Thich Nhat Hanh writes:

There are animals that are ruminants, like water buffalo and cows. After chewing and swallowing, they bring up the food again and they chew and swallow it again. There are people who continue to consume the suffering of the past in that way. They spend their time during the day ruminating over their own suffering from the past.

The practice of mindfulness can help us get out of that prison and begin to learn how to live our lives in the present moment. If we are aware that we’re replaying the past, we can make a concentrated effort to notice something that is healthy and wonderful right in front of us at that very moment. It might be a part of our body that is working well and not aching; it may be the blue sky or the softness of a pillow under our head. If we breathe and pay attention to this wonderful thing that is present with us right now, then the movie will recede and lose some of its power, as if it no longer is being fed the electricity it needs to keep going.

You can even take the hand of the wounded child within you and invite her to come with you into the present moment. This can be very nourishing and healing. It will make you stronger so that later on when you want to look into the past you can do so with more perspective, while remaining firmly grounded in the present moment. This way you don’t lose yourself in the sorrows of the past.

This week, on Thursday and Friday evenings, we will recite together the Five Mindfulness Trainings and focus on the Fifth Training, Nourishment and Healing. We will begin our Dharma sharing with these questions:

  • Are there ways you habitually avoid the present moment?
  • What lessons have you learned, or are you learning, about your unmindful consumption?
  • In what ways has mindfulness practice helped you recognize, understand, or transform your unmindful consumption?

You are invited to join us.

The text of the Fifth Mindfulness Training is below.

Also, Thay’s health: latest news from Plum Village.

Many blessings,
Mitchell Ratner

The Fifth Mindfulness Training
Nourishment and Healing

Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming.

I will practice looking deeply into how I take in edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to use alcohol, drugs, gambling, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will make every effort to consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and consciousness, and in the collective body and consciousness of my family, my society and our Earth.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Oct 08, 2020