This One Time
© 2011 Joyce Leonard
I recently attended a memorial service for a woman I only met a few times, but who my husband and his family knew well. I’m always struck by how people are remembered. It’s usually their love of life, their kind and open heart, and the contributions they made to their community and society.
These services often get me thinking of how I am showing up in the world—the “so what” that I was on the earth for the better part of a century. Oh yes, people will tell you of my vivaciousness, the way I make people feel heard and seen, all the cats and kittens I’ve cared for, my sitting with the dying, and my passions for teaching, coaching, and helping others live life deeply and joyfully. I have no doubt about the indelible footprint I leave on the people I know and love.
What this gets me thinking about is how I am experiencing my own life. Do I recognize and feel my own zest for life in the moment? Or is it only upon reflection or storytelling that I remember this joy and passion? Am I fully present—in mind, body, and spirit— during the day or is most of what I experience so familiar to me, like breathing and the pumping of my heart, that I don’t actually notice? Certainly I would notice if my zest weren’t there, but because it is so commonplace, I often don’t appreciate it in each moment.
How does one keep the commonplace, the familiar, fresh in each moment? I pondered the idea of appreciating every moment with the mindset of it being the last time I experience something…like talking with my beloved, playing with my cat, or taking my morning walk. But the thought of death felt ever-present, and my inclination would be to grasp at the experiences in hungry, needy ways. I would remember all the other times and want to make this time better, or the best, which would only serve to denigrate the actual moment. I would make more of the situation than was actually there.
Then I played with approaching the familiar as if it were the first time I experienced it. How does that morning cup of perfectly prepared latte taste, each sip being brand new? What does it feel like to brush my teeth for the first time? In this scenario, I can still think about the next time I have that latte and the improvements I can make to it, or how I need to remember to spend more time on those problem areas of my mouth the next time I brush.
The ultimate mindset for me, I believe, is that whatever I am doing or experiencing is the only time. My focus would be on fully experiencing what is right here in this precise moment. No previous experience; no next time. Just right now—this one time. What are all my senses experiencing when I eat my salad? How is my body responding during exercise? What beauty resides in the bird’s song?
This particular look at life also helps me to fully understand the impermanence in all things. If this is the only time I will see or experience this one thing, then I will soak in its beauty in the moment, and then let it go. Holding on to the moment will cause me to miss the beauty in the next moment, and the moment after that. There is much beauty to behold and experience. If I get lost in the past (how I have experienced this before), or get tied to some projection of the future (how I want it to be next time), then I lose the beauty of this very moment.
I have heard these notions a hundred times— for today only…in this moment…be here now— from Eckhart Tolle to Wayne Dyer to Thich Nhat Hanh. I understood it intellectually, but today, I have an experiential understanding. I can feel the present moment in my body and in my spirit.
This is how I will know how I am experiencing my life and, therefore, how I am showing up in the world. I will feel my vivaciousness fully in each moment. When I’m with the animals and people in my life, I will naturally be fully present with them, being curious about who they are and what they want in life. This will enable me to be of service to all. Not relying on past or future times, but seeing what is to be both celebrated and given right this moment.