Take a moment to think about the size of the universe into which we’ve had the privilege of being born.
Christopher Hitchens sums it up with super-elegant simplicity in the opening sentence of a speech he made in 2011, knowing full well he was approaching his death.
For a few milliseconds of cosmic time, our species has lived on one very very small rock, in a very small solar system that’s a part of a fantastically unimportant suburb in one of an uncountable number of galaxies.
– Christopher Hitchens
As we sail along through our own lives, we inevitably become diverted by the infinite number of distractions and pressures available; each of them tempting us to feed them with our attention. They hint of hidden wisdom and knowledge, but mostly, they serve only to remove us from our own present and we find ourselves in a state of confusion and worry. Sometimes, we come back to the now to find that we are completely unaware of who has actually been steering our ship.
I love the quote by Christopher Hitchens (the rest of the speech is very much worth a look*). For me, even this one sentence serves as a happy reminder of just how small I actually am, and how super-crazy-astronomically-lucky I am to be here in the first place. It reminds me to respectfully confront ego, fear and their partner in crime: anxiety. For without proper supervision, these 3 trouble-makers have a nasty habit of taking control of the ship.
To ego, fear & anxiety I say:
Thank you for your efforts, and for your concern, guys. I know you have my best interests at heart, and I’m grateful. I know you’ve been steering the ship as best you can, but you are not to do so any more. You are not permitted near this wheel. In fact, you are not permitted on this deck. You are a necessary part of this crew—you will have a voice—but that is all. You won’t have a say, and you will never steer. Creativity, gratitude and I will be navigating this voyage, from now on. **
I often think about the timeline of the universe, Big Bang through to now. I see an actual line—an enormously long line—that encompasses the entire history of time. At the end of this line is an astounding, beautiful fire—the most beautiful you’ve ever seen.
…so, if you picture a fire of a standard orange colour, but then for added effect, add in some swirling blue, green, purples, pinks and reds. It can be as big as your mind wishes to imagine. It is strong, powerful and truly awesome.
This fire is the now – the present moment. It’s been burning long before we got here, and it’ll be burning long after we’re gone. It never stops burning.
We have a brief glimmer of opportunity to see this exquisite fire in all its spectacular beauty. It is here—all around us. We are a part of this fire…we are the fire itself.
However unless we can become aware of that fact, then it doesn’t matter. The fire may as well not be there. We go through our lives consumed by the past and/or the future, and the rich, fulfilling lives we allow ourselves to dream never find their way to our present. Our lives are spent elsewhere.
You only live once, but if you do it right, once is enough.
– Mae West
This is where it’s happening. Right now – in this very moment. The past is a memory, and the future is completely unknown. There are no guarantees. For any of us, today could well be our last day.
This is not to say that we should not learn from our past present moments, or plan to make life better for our future selves; there is always a balance to be found between the present moment, and bettering our future present moments. But when it comes down to it, all we really have is now.
When I am immersed in the present moment, I feel rich and I feel wealthy. I feel like I see everything. I see exactly where I am, exactly where I’ve come from, and exactly where I’m going.
I’ve discovered a few tricks, and I’m discovering more every day. But I’m still learning, and I often forget to remind myself return to the now. Unsurprisingly, that’s when I start to feel like I’m drifting off course.
Of course, that’s a part of it – a very necessary one. Our minds will wander. We will drift off course. We’re not perfect, and we’re learning as we go. We’re all ‘winging it’ in some form or another.
One thing to do:
Foster awareness. Foster it, and practice it. If we take a few moments each day to quietly re-connect with our own now, exactly as it is—not attempting to judge, change or fix it, but to merely become aware of it—then we’re on the right track. It doesn’t take long – 10 seconds of mindful awareness will be effective. 10 minutes will be better, but in my experience, consistency is more important than the length of time invested.
Remember, this moment only happens once. Return to your now as often as you can.
‘Bliss’ by Ducky
…it’s in 4/4 the whole time…I think.
* My favorite video of Christopher Hitchens’ ‘The Conversation Worth Having’ speech.
** I must thank Elizabeth Gilbert for the idea of talking directly to your fear, which she shares in ‘Big Magic’.