by Berenice Boxler.
Some time ago I was on a retreat in Northern Germany. On a retreat, usually lasting several days, people come together to practice mindfulness (or some other contemplative practice) and meditation under the guidance of an experienced teacher. Under special conditions – delicious food, outer silence, no mobile phones or books – the participant can focus on the journey inside and practice being and meditating free of external expectations and outer impulses.
“When … then…” – living for the future
At the beginning of this very retreat, the teacher said that we should “be with the echoes of life”. For as much as one wishes that the mind would come to rest or the body would finally relax, it often takes quite a while before the everyday stress and tension start to dissolve. We are so calibrated to live for the future: one more week until the holidays, a few more days until the weekend, only two more days of rain, then things will finally get better. The mind is constantly fantasizing about being away from the “here and now” into a supposedly better future. “When… then” – this attitude is well known. And it is notorious, because it is an illusion that the future will be better. Anyway, the future is only in the mind – as soon as it has arrived, it is the present, and – as we all know by experience – the present will never be good enough.
For a few days now, I have been dealing with my body, which has decided to tell me particularly loudly and painfully that it has been neglected. And because it has taken a particularly deep breath, it is still crying out after 10 days… “Being with the echoes of my life” means that I don’t perceive my present state of being as punishment, disturbance or difficulty. It means nothing more and nothing less than acknowledging that everything we do (or don’t do) has an effect. Life is made up of countless moments, and if we don’t care about the individual moments, life will slip through our fingers. Then we miss the chance to stop working in time. Then we miss the chance to go to bed early after an exhausting day (instead of “rewarding” the brain with often mindless TV-zapping) to get the needed rest. Then we miss the chance to tell the raging child what it usually really needs in a difficulty: “I am here.”
“Not now, later” – but when is “later”?
This clichéd “not now, later” quickly becomes the standard. And as soon as we are on vacation, as we start the retreat, as we lay down our heads for sleeping or finally take time to eat, we expect that the body or the head may now please use this short time window. Calm down, switch off, relax. Right now, come on! But the organism just doesn’t work like that. You can imagine it as if you were racing non-stop at 130 km/h over the motorway and expect that the car can come to a direct stop elegantly and without damage to the vehicle and its occupants at any time you wish. But “being with the echoes of life” means that we first take our foot off the gas pedal and only brake gradually, everything else just doesn’t work without causing damage.
It doesn’t matter how long one has been practicing mindfulness, it’s never done. Well, this is normal, because life is not done yet. Who knows what tomorrow will bring? Who knows what kind of body sensations I will wake up with tomorrow? Yes, I can prepare and make plans. But much more important than looking into the future is listening to the present. As Jon Kabat-Zinn says: “We take care of the future best by taking care of the present now.” And if I consciously take care of my present, then I will also be better able to deal with the echo which my present actions throw at my life tomorrow. Therefore, “not now, later” is a fallacy that cannot work at all. Now is important, just now. Because it is now that life is unfolding.
P.S. On March 13-15, 2020 I will organize a weekend retreat with a friend (also an experienced MBSR and mindfulness teacher), near Hamburg (Germany). In German. Registration is open! More information here as download..