10 I know the heavy burdens that God has laid on us. 11 He has set the right time for everything. He has given us a desire to know the future, but never gives us the satisfaction of fully understanding what he does. 12 So I realized that all we can do is be happy and do the best we can while we are still alive. 13 All of us should eat and drink and enjoy what we have worked for. It is God's gift.
These words are from Solomon, the son of David, and reputed to be one of the wealthiest and wisest men of his time. Despite his great power, great wealth, and the great pleasures of 700 wives and 300 concubines, he felt great emptiness and a deep sense of meaninglessness. He was aware that God put within our souls a restlessness to know Him and a curiosity for what was possible, yet we are to remain unsatisfied and unfulfilled in the workings of God. There was something within us that pointed to the ‘more’ of life, Solomon concluded that the best we can do is be content with what we have, do the best we can, and enjoy the life God has provided.
But that inner desire for more is constantly tantalizing us. It is as if God were telling us to enjoy what we had right now, yet always be alert; be ready for more.
Indeed, this is one of the lessons Christ came to teach – be ready. Stay alert. The peace we want and need is available to us in this very moment. Although we are curious about the future and the possibilities of peace it may hold, that is not where we find it. This message is seen in what Jesus taught.
Every moment of his life was dedicated to being present with people in their pain, their suffering, and their joy. He often berated his disciples for not being present with people. Instead, they would whine about how much time Jesus spent with people or they wished to send people away when they became annoying.
They had to be taught and trained to be in the moment, to not let their minds wander to their own agenda. We need that same lesson, and he expressed those teachings in his parables.
We may not have been taught this meaning, but it is there in the Parable of the Sower. Jesus tells about seeds being sown — some land on rocky ground, others among thorns and still others on good soil. Those sown on rocky ground hear the word but fall away at the first sign of persecution and trouble because they do not have strong roots. Seeds that fall among thorns yield nothing because they get caught up in the cares of the world and forget the word. The seeds that fall on good soil will bear fruit — because they hear the word and understand.
This is the perfect metaphor for being in the moment. Those who live in the future live on rocky ground — they have no roots. They are always thinking “Someday I’ll be happy. One day my ship will come in. Someday I’ll find my perfect partner in life.” Still others find themselves among the thorns of the past. They are entrapped by the “remember whens” of their lives and are overwhelmed by the pains and disappointments of prior situations.
Then there are those who fall on good soil and realize that the “word” is in the present moment. The Word of God gives us life here and now, speaking to our innermost being, enabling us to sprout strong roots and bear good fruit. It is in this moment that we find God’s good, God’s joy and love.
Christ teaches us this and it is up to us to learn the lesson and become aware of its meaning and value. The truth is that we have all been planted in good soil. We are asked to awaken to this fact and sprout strong roots and bare good fruit through the power of the present moment. If we do what is right in this moment, the future becomes right. We don’t have to worry or fret.
When times seem to indicate that we are planted in bad soil, we are not bound by that. We simply claim the power of the present moment and flourish. When we are aware that we are not in the moment, we are immediately thrust into this moment. We cannot be aware without being here and now.
Another parable is interpreted as Jesus’s second coming and the heralding of the end of the world. But I think it has a more pertinent lesson: to stay alert to the movement of Spirit in our lives. In Matthew 24:42-44, Jesus tells us to: “…keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”
If we are not awake and alert, we will miss Spirit moving through our lives. God comes to us when we are not expecting it – through a friend, a book, the smiles of a stranger, the lyrics of a song. If we are not alert in this moment, we miss some of God’s greatest gifts.
Many of us hear the phrase ‘in the moment’ and we dismiss it as unusable rhetoric. We fear it because it is difficult. It demands that we see, hear, and understand the world moving around us at this moment. It’s hard to focus on now, when there is so much alluring drama in the past and in the future.
The world plays its part. As working people, we are told to plan ahead, dream, look toward the goal. We interpret that as spending much of our time looking into the future. But being present is thinking about what is happening now, not 5 minutes or 5 years from now, not 20 years ago or this morning. It is difficult and requires practice and awareness. Being aware that we are thinking of the future or past brings us back to the present moment.
Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn says we can turn mundane things into spiritual practice. We can create ‘bells of mindfulness” to help us return to the present. Instead of having a red light be thought of as a deterrent to where we want to go, use it to bring us back to the present. He suggested that the next time we are stopped at a red light think quietly or say aloud, “Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile.” In this way our irritation, which is the ego looking forward to the time we are losing while stopped, is replaced by the now, where we are blessed, alive, and filled with joy and love. Smiling when someone cuts us off and saying, I wish you joy,” brings us to the present moment and is enough to diffuse anger and irritation.
The present moment does not know aggravation, dis-ease or discouragement; it only knows the love and the peace of being alive. Philosopher Erich Tolle suggests that in each moment we ask ourselves, “Is there joy, ease and lightness in what I’m doing?” He says that when we honor the present moment, “All unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out of present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care and love — even the most simple action.”
Not all present moments are filled with joy, love, and peace. There are times when we are angry, disappointed, frustrated, and struggling. Yet within each moment, we have a choice - anger or peace. We choose to be lonely instead of content with ourselves. When the guy cuts us off, in the moment we can choose to express anger or love. It is a choice. No one is forcing us to feel anger.
We choose how we think and feel, and yes, sometimes we just choose wrongly; we want to feel angry. But know that it does not control us; we control it. We keep saying we want peace and happiness, but we keep choosing anger and fear. Choosing peace and happiness is not a denial of our anger or fear — it is the transformation of those emotions! Romans 12:2 teaches: Be ye transformed through the renewing of your mind. Wayne Dyers says that when we choose to bring that peaceful thought on to whatever problem we were experiencing, we discover an even greater truth. Our problems, all of them, are only be experienced in our mind, and when we bring peace to our mind, we put ourself in a mode of taking whatever action is appropriate.
So, choosing peace over anger, love over hate, tolerance over condemnation is not a denial of the situation, or inaction in the face of reality. It is a transformation of our emotions — a conscious choice that puts us in the middle of the present moment where we can take appropriate action to deal with whatever the world offers. This is the true power of the present moment!
We can also remember that our entire life is filled with moments and choices within those moments. When do I show my spouse and tell my family that I love them? At what point do I share my gratitude with God? When should I dance with delight and sing with joy? When should I laugh at the foolishness of the world? At what time is it best to show appreciation, approval, and acceptance to all people? When may I open my heart to the lessons of Christ? When is the best time to pray, and become aware of Spirit’s movement through me and the effect I can have on others through love?
How about now, because this moment is all we have.