There is joy in every moment, can you find it? Are you there? We can all find the reasons to be angry, sad, depressed. We’ve all found outrage, dismay, despair. But can you find the joy? We live each moment with a choice; a choice to live or die. Life is joy, death is not. Can you find the joy?
There is joy in every instant; go there, you will see. Is that where you are now? In every justification, every judgment, every so-called truth, the peace awaits right here. In every one of these we have left this moment and entered a nonexistent space; frightening, turbulent and stark.
The joy is in this moment, perfectly plain to see. The joy is in this moment, staring back at me. Am I in this moment? The only way I know is if I’ve found the joy, if I am at peace. For peace and joy are one, and every moment they are here, waiting but for me to become aware.
I am joy in this moment, alive and feeling free. I am joy in this moment, for there is nothing else to be. I am joyful that this moment is all that can exist, and in this very moment there is nothing to be missed. For this very moment I am joy, and nothing else can be.
to stop feeling anger toward (someone who has done something wrong) : to stop blaming (someone)
Since the recent events in Paris and the world’s reaction to them, I have found myself contemplating forgiveness, and its relationship with mindfulness.
Here’s what I notice: I cannot be mindful when I do not forgive. Notice it yourself; notice the steady stream of thoughts that come with an unforgiving mind; the dialogs, the finger-pointing, the justifications. Notice how they just don’t stop. Notice how, when you attempt to be mindful at a time like this, your inability to be mindful generates unforgiving thoughts towards yourself. Where is the peace?
No peace in Paris; no peace at home.
But what is forgiveness? For many of us, forgiveness is saying that we tolerate someone’s existence. We wouldn’t want to associate with them; we know what they did was wrong; there is probably no hope for them; and we are grateful we are better than that. But is that really forgiveness? Where is the forgiving taking place? They remain in the back of our mind as poor examples of human beings. They haunt our thoughts, they raise our blood pressure, and they keep returning in alternate forms that confront us again and again and again. Terrorists, politicians, talkback hosts, family, colleagues, tailgaters and serial killers. Over and over again we let our thoughts focus on the things that disturb our peace. Over and over again we let our stressful thoughts rule our emotions. Over and over and over again.
Mindfulness is simply being present. When I am not forgiving somebody, I enter their world. I am no longer here. The lights are on but nobody’s home, to coin a phrase. So, if forgiveness is related to mindfulness, it cannot simply be ‘letting them off.’
Forgiveness is seeing someone for who they truly are; it is going past who I see them as, beyond how they see themselves, and right to their very source. Forgiveness is understanding that given their perception of the situation and their set of beliefs about the world, they had absolutely no choice but to act in the way they did. Forgiveness is realizing that the only thing standing in the way of their perfection is my judgments.
Forgiveness comes from a deep, unwavering desire for peace above all else. If something is more important to you than peace, you’ll know, because peace will not be what you’re experiencing. And if peace is not what you’re experiencing then you’ll know, quite simply, that there is someone or something you’re not forgiving.
And that’s okay. Peace may not be your priority anyway, and even if it is, nobody ever found it by being upset with themselves for not being peaceful.
I’ve been doing an exercise with my students lately where we look closely at our judgments.
What is a judgment, anyway? What I’ve found is that a judgment is any thought based on a belief. So, what is a belief? Well, it turns out beliefs are everywhere. If it’s a thought that can change, it’s probably a belief. Think about it. Let’s look at something we can all agree on, say, the color green. If I told you that I was wearing a green sweater right now, you’d have an image of it in your head, right?
But there are many shades of green—we go to so much effort trying to name them all, but still fall short—apple green, artichoke, asparagus, avocado, bright green, Cal Poly green, chartreuse, cyan, dark green, dark olive green, dark spring green, Dartmouth green, emerald, fern green, forest green, green, green-yellow, harlequin, honeydew, hunter green, India green, Islamic green, jungle green, Kelly green, lawn green, lime, lime green, mantis, Malachite, mint, mint cream, office green, olive, olive drab, Pakistan green, Paris green, Persian green, phthalo green, pigment green, pine green, pistachio, sea green, shamrock green, spring bud, spring green, teal, viridian, yellow-green. Which shade of green is this sweater, or do we need to invent another one for it?
And who is to say that even if we can agree on a name for the shade, that we’re both seeing the same thing? Maybe my green looks a little like your red, who knows?
So ‘green’ is a belief. It’s an idea that we’ve all agreed on, but that doesn’t stop it from being an idea.
Here’s another one: my name is Jamie. I should know, people have been calling me that all my life, and I’ve even put it on my website. I’m pretty sure that my name is Jamie. But how do I really know? I’m also a father (another belief), and I remember it taking us two weeks to come up with our son’s name. But how did we know? We didn’t. We couldn’t. We just needed something to yell authoritatively when he was being naughty. And to say lovingly the rest of the time, but the yelling authoritatively thing is important—be sure to practice it before you go naming anyone! So if his name is a belief, I suppose mine must be too.
And it goes on; say I’m looking at a wall. It’s a wall, right? That’s pretty straightforward. Maybe. Am I looking at the wall or the paint? Does the wall have texture? Am I looking at that? If I’m looking at the texture, am I looking at the wall or the gaps that make the texture? Is there a crack in it? Again, is it a crack or is it air? Am I looking at darkness? And am I looking at brick, cement, wood? Mortar? The more I look, the more it breaks down, and every breakdown is another belief, and another, and another.
The truth is, everything I see is what I think it is. My whole perception of the world is constructed entirely of beliefs; of judgments.
That’s what perception is, after all: my five senses receive raw data and transport that information to my brain; the brain—depending entirely on how it already sees the world—dismisses the bulk of this data as irrelevant, and processes the rest through a lens that already knows what it wants to see. My beliefs define what I experience. My whole experience of the world is one big judgment!
What would life be like without judgment? Would it even be possible? Surely we need to judge that we’re hungry or that we shouldn’t step over that cliff. How could you drive if your judgment didn’t tell you that is a stop sign and that is a pedestrian?
The short answer is, how would I know? Like you, I live in judgment all the time. However, I have occasionally been able to still my mind enough to be able to notice that small space between sensation and perception. It is a wide open space of awareness that is beyond perception. It is a state of wonder. We all have that space: if you have sensation and if you have perception, you have the space between.
Allow yourself to be still. Really still. Focus just on one thing, maybe the breath since it’s sitting with you right now. Just focus on that place at the tip of the nostrils where you can feel it coming in cool and going out warm. Just that. When you notice a thought has come—and many will—thank it kindly for its existence and let it go on its way, knowing it is just another belief, another judgment; knowing that if you really need that thought, it’s bound to return sometime. Come back to the breath. Don’t force it, just breathe normally. When you notice a sensation—an itch, a pain, whatever—just let it be; recognize that in calling it an itch or a pain that you’ve entered once again into belief, into judgment. If you find that sensation too distracting, spend a few moments exploring it without naming it. What is this feeling? Where does it go? What does it do? Then return, as ever, to the breath. The tip of the nostrils. In. Out. In. Out. Cool. Warm. Cool. Warm. Just notice. Just notice.
And who knows? You may, at some point, find yourself in that small, yet infinite, space between sensation and perception. It’s a nice place to be.
Today I’ve been pondering this thought: “This instant is the only time there is.”
Have you ever tried to find an instant? Have you ever dropped into the space between the past and the future? Have you ever known the only time there is?
For me, it’s hard to pinpoint. I keep finding myself preparing for it with thoughts of what should come next, and as those thoughts arise, I miss it. I experience an approximation of it; I experience what my mind tells me it thinks it is.
But when I get very still, interesting things begin to happen. Things become less solid. The body I inhabit begins to evaporate. My schedule disappears. It doesn’t last long, though. A thought comes, I attach to it, and I’m back here in memory-land.
The instant is the holy grail of mindfulness. Living only in the moment—the space between the present and the past—is the only way to experience reality as it truly is.
Most of us think we know what reality is, but what we call reality is actually our perception of reality. That’s why my ‘reality’ is different from your ‘reality’. Think about it: how could one person’s reality actually be different from someone else’s? Reality is reality. There is nothing else.
So when our experience of ‘reality’ is variable—which is most of the time for most of us—what we are actually experiencing is our perception of reality, guided entirely by our experience of the past, which dictates what we think reality should look like. When we get upset by things in our lives, it is because we think things should be different than they are. Here’s a newsflash: they aren’t.
When we are truly mindful, we do not dictate to reality how things should be. When we are truly mindful, we experience reality as it is. When we are truly mindful, we find ourselves existing solely in this moment. And when we are existing solely in this moment, everything is experienced as being perfect. Our judgments—our perceptions—are the only thing that could tell us otherwise.
So I invite you to join me in trying to drop into the instant. It’s been said that the instant is the closest approximation to eternity we can hope to experience in the physical form. So let’s find out what forever feels like!
In the mornings I go out to a little cabin in the woods to contemplate and experience a little mindfulness the easy way: by sitting, noticing my breathing, and trying to find a little stillness.
And when I say ‘the easy way’, it’s really not always that easy. Some mornings my mind is like an amusement park; I sit there for 20 or 30 or 40 minutes without a single space between my thoughts. They just roll on, a nonsensically random action-thriller-romance-comedy movie without a pause button. In fact, it’s a rare event that my thoughts leave me for long enough for me to claim I spent more time in stillness than in mental acrobatics.
That’s why they call it a practice, I suppose. We have to keep practicing, because stillness—that serene space between thoughts—is often hard to come by. We have to keep practicing, because we were born with brains that like to keep busy, and minds that love being still.
After a particularly long sit this morning, I opened my eyes to find a meditative face in a tree looking back at me. I sit in this same spot almost every morning, and this morning was the first time I noticed this face, this reflection of the sitter in the cabin, grounded, still, silent. Solid.
I stared back at my new friend, thinking of the symbolism it represented, and noticed a flicker just above it. A squirrel was darting about, jumping from branch to branch in its frantic preparation for winter. And then I saw another! Two jumpy squirrels, another perfect reflection of my mind.
I am that face in the tree. I am those squirrels. And the scene outside my window is incomplete without them both.