Monday, March 17, 2014

Living fully in the present - it's not as simple as it seems

Spiritual practices and advocates of the discipline of meditation and contemplation share one main thing in common – they have as their aim to teach their disciples the great need to live fully in the present moment and also to show that most of life’s worries, pains and anxieties come from living either in the past or the future. 

We carry all sorts of baggage from our past, and joyful is the person who is able to, as the current song of the moment says, “Let it go”, especially to the particular stories of anger, hurt and resentment.  But there are so many who may be walking tall and straight in the physical realm, while deep inside them, they are limping and bent out of shape due to the heavy weight of a wounded past that for whatever reasons, is a great challenge to let go.  These walking-wounded may be in denial that they are carrying such burdens but deep inside each one of us, we know that there are things that we wish we could easily release so that we can really live liberated lives.  This is one of the sad things about those of us who constantly live in the past, even though those situations, which were the sources of our agony, may have happened several decades ago. 

Then there are those of us who find it so hard to find the present moment either fulfilling or giving us the kind of contentment that we think will satisfy us.  So we race ahead and plan for all sorts of contingencies, and while we are doing that, often miss the forest for the trees and forget to smell the roses.  Think of the father who is only too concerned with providing a great future of physical and material comfort for his family who works assiduously, perhaps even holding two jobs, and in the meantime, misses seeing and experiencing the joys of his family growing up around him.  I found myself in a similar challenge lately with my continued convalescence from the Stem Cell transplant that took place in July last year.  Some evidence of Graft-Versus-Host-Disease may have surfaced, and to put it in a nutshell, where I am at the present moment isn’t pretty.  At the dark moments of the day (usually at night), I find myself racing ahead to the day when my life gets back to some degree of normalcy, but at present, it seems to be such a long and dark tunnel toward any sign of full recovery.  When I catch myself with thoughts that concern too many ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’, the unhappiness that wells up inside of me comes only from one place – the unwillingness to live fully in the present moment. 

There’s just something that seems to be hardwired in our spiritual DNA to not be all that contented with the present.  It’s not altogether a bad thing.  Having positive thoughts about the future and having hope gives us a sense of purpose for our lives and sets our compass moving in the right general direction.  But when we are resentful and bitter about our present lot in life, and take this to the extreme, we can be the most painful people to work and live with because we refuse to be in touch with reality.  Even when things are going smoothly and life is beautiful, we can ruin the moment by hoping to either prolong or capture the moment for all its worth, something which we see Peter at Mount Tabor wanting to do when he asked if he should set up three tents for people who do not need tents.  It is indeed very sad when I see people in happy times and celebrations who cannot smile and be happy for the moment because they are not living in the present, but either the past or the future. 

This is why we need to practice contemplative prayer daily.  It reminds us to live (even though it may be difficult) as fully in the present as possible.  When things are going well, live in the present.  When things are dark and life is a struggle, live in the present.  Psychosomatic problems abound for people who have a hard time letting the past be things of the past.  It affects present relationships in so many ways.  Will we be able to be masters of living fully in the present?  Perhaps not in this our earthly lifetime.  That is why we are only practitioners of contemplation, and not masters of mindfulness.  I’ve been ‘practicing’ this for at least 18 years, for an hour each day, and still I find myself at times not living fully in the present.  The prayer of the present requires us to surrender our entire selves to God no matter what happens in our lives.  It takes faith and trust to do this, and it comes when a true and lasting relationship is built between the soul and God.

Something which renowned writer Nikos Kazantsakis wrote about the three kinds of prayers three souls pray bodes well with today’s reflection:

a)   I am a bow in your hands Lord, draw me, lest I rot.
b)   Do not overdraw me, Lord, lest I break.
c)   Overdraw me, Lord, who cares if I break.

I believe that we are at one of these stages at any one point in our lives, but blessed is the one who arrives daringly at the last stage.  He is indeed graced.


  1. Dear Fr. Luke,

    The first chapter of the first book I ever read by Arch. Fulton Sheen is entitled “Sanctifying the Moment.” It remains (to me) one of the most memorable chapters of his I’ve ever read. I do agree, living in the present moment is sometimes awfully hard to do: especially for someone as impatient/impetuous as me.

    Mind you, over the years I have learned to “let it go” a little but am nowhere near where I ought to be. I guess to be able to completely live in the moment requires an absolute trust in God – (presumably) something only the most saintly of us is capable of.

    While we’re on this subject, I’d like to share with you a few lines from the song, “Miracle of the Moment” by SSChapman:

    It's time for letting go
    All of our "if only’s"
    Cause we don't have a time machine

    And even if we did
    Would we really want to use it
    Would we really want to go change everything…

    There's only One who knows
    What's really out there waiting
    And all the moments yet to be
    And all we need to know
    Is He's out there waiting
    To Him the future's history

    And He has given us a treasure called right now
    And this is the only moment we can do anything about

    So breathe it in and breathe it out
    And listen to your heartbeat
    There's a wonder in the here and now
    It's right there in front of you
    And I don't want you to miss the miracle of the moment..

    God Bless,

  2. thank you frLuke. Hmmm praying this "Overdraw me, Lord, who cares if I break." sets me free :)


  3. This morning as we celebrated the Solemnity of St Joseph, the homilist seemed to be using the usual routine description for this blessed Saint as ............ “ man of great faith and trust in God....” till he made this interesting remark, “ he must be a man of deep prayer too.....for how else could he have heard what the Lord is telling him.....” and with this insight, we were encouraged to model our lives on this great Saint.

    So when I read the following in your blog........... “The prayer of the present requires us to surrender our entire selves to God no matter what happens in our lives. It takes faith and trust to do this...................” I thought about how St Joseph must have been a man very in touch with the present moment – very in touch with himself and with God - for him to take Mary home as his spouse, despite his initial (human) misgivings. He became very ‘real’ for me for apart from faith and trust - it must have taken great courage and humility to put aside his own self(ego) and willingly accept and allow God to work His plan in his life. He had surrendered his entire self to God! I believe he has arrived at the last stage of Kazantsakis three kinds of prayer.

    So, though unlike you “ I find myself at times not living in the present moment’’.................I am most times not in the present moment, still I am encouraged now to soldier on in the prayer of quiet/present moment for perhaps a graced time may overtake one unknowingly and it is then - the Overdraw stage ?

    Thank you for a very interesting post. God bless you Fr


  4. Fr Luke, if it is of any comfort to you, maybe the Singapore life is almost always in a rush. Would it be easier to live in the present moment if one is in a countryside? If so, one has to practise the virtue of patience and humility even more. Tough call but God is ever patient so take heart. Theresa

  5. Dear Father Luke,

    Our current society is a dual-income earners to keep the family going. Like everyone else, we embody the themes of values of family courage, compassion and a sense of right and wrong, good and bad and justice. With tolerance, courage and the knowledge of our own vulnerability by making things certain and definite, black and white, good and bad, there exists this inability to lean into the discomfort of vulnerability limited to the fullness of those important experiences that are wrought with so much of uncertainty: Love, belonging, trust, joy and creativity, just to name a few.

    When people make mistakes, they incur disapproval. Others look at them askance - and they give themselves a hard time too. This global 'intolerance of error' results in a culture of fear and silliness. We become so scared of 'getting it wrong' that we never allow ourselves to take a risk - or we develop a shell of arrogance which lets us deny that we have ever got anything wrong. What's needed in our emotional life is growth, the kind that can only come through the willingness to learn lessons. It requires us to be softer and wiser.

    In a normal circumstances, we tend to be a very spiritually oriented person, but today we might find metaphysical concepts of all kinds rather baffling. Whether these are ideas we've embraced for a long time or new ones we've just discovered, we may find nagging little doubts creeping in, temporarily causing our faith to waver. This is a healthy development, however. A little doubt now and then can weed out concepts that don't work for us and reaffirm our belief in others, and most importantly in Christ. We are all sinners right from the beginning.

    To let go of our old selves or our baggage from the past is like welcoming it with open arms. That's easy advice to give but it's difficult to take when we are not sure that we like the changes that are taking place. There's something we would like to hang on to. We don't feel ready to make a clean break with the past. We feel that we can still fix a problem if only we try a little harder. Move up, move on, move over this uncertain period. What's new is neither a threat nor a second-rate substitute. It's a gift that can yet help everything make sense.

    A little quiet contemplation can be especially fruitful, too. Combine them both and share what’s going on in our mind and in our heart with our Father.

    As this butterfly struggles to free itself from the chrysalis He sees me as someone who is daily overcoming, making extinct and deadening the evil deeds that are being thrown up from my body – someone who is becoming freer in life by the very power of His Spirit at work within me. (Roman, verse 13)

    We're God's children yesterday, now and tomorrow. In a hundred years from now, it will not matter what our bank account was, the sort of house we lived in, or the kind of car we drove. But the world is different because each one of us was important as the child in the eyes of God.

    An awesome piece of writing. Thank you.

    May God Bless You

    T. Dior

  6. Fr Luke - Pretty good article u have written. The CRUX of the PROBLEM is changing our Physical/Spiritual DNA by SURRENDERING our FREE WILL to GOD and to depend on HIS PROVIDENCE. Most of us are struggling with LIFE because we have ALWAYS been told since YOUNG, that GOD helps those who help themselves as such we depend on our own human strength not relying on our God to help us. Even though if we do believe, it is half-heartedly - NO FAITH!
    May this PRAYER - GIFT of FREE WILL to GOD help us:

    "My Dearest Jesus, hear this PRAYER from me, a most unworthy soul, and help me to love You more. By my FREE WILL, I offer You this Gift back, dear Jesus, so that I can become Your humble servant and remain obedient to the Will of God.
    My WILL is Your Will. Your Command means that I am OBEDIENT to Your every desire.
    My FREE WILL is Yours to do with it what it is that is needed to save all peoplle, all over the world, who are separated from You. I grant this GIFT, which was given to me at Birth, to Your Most Holy Service. Amen!

    FAITH :))