Expanding The Moment


Tick-tock, tick-tock.

This moment is all you have.


Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Enjoy this moment, because you cannot have the past nor can you hold the future. This moment — this space you are in right now — is all you have. Make it count. Live it to the fullest. Choose well. Create memories. Transform and be transformed.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Is anyone else besides me panicking that we’re not making the most of every single second of our lives? Does anyone else feel so pressured to be free in the present to live that anxiety eats up what’s supposed to be a supposed powerful, liberating life?

Perhaps not. Perhaps it could just be me.

It’s true our pasts can weigh us down. But journeying back to lived experiences and refreshing ourselves with the lessons we’ve gained from them is not a bad thing. The past is informative, even fluid. As we gain new perspectives in our lives, we are often gifted with abilities to see our pasts in ways clouded to us before.

And it’s always amused me a little bit to hear the mantras of living only in the present (for by doing so we will find happiness). Yet we’re told let go of our pasts. While some strains of spiritual traditions teach that all attachments lead to unnecessary suffering, I would disagree. We are created to attach, be attached, to break apart, and to reattach.

We are created to be re-membered. Jesus lived that life in his attachment with the Father, with his friends and disciples, and with his resurrection — Creator engaging creation over and over and over again.

If the present moment is dedicated to be grateful here and now, to learning all we can, and to liberation, how can we simply let the present go when it officially becomes the past? Am I missing something? We’re to no longer dwell on the happier or more memorable moments of our lives? What am I not understanding in this discipline that it frustrates me to the point of irritation?

I digress.

This post is more of giving of permission: the present is not defined by a clock. It is not defined by a great teacher or a monk or a tradition. We are free to expand the present in order to live as much of it as we need to.

What do I mean?

Last July I took my Introduction to Arts Therapy course. It was structured like a holistic retreat: a lot of circle time, a lot of reflection, a lot of journaling, and and lot of art studio time. I came away with some excellent techniques to incorporate into my own life personally and professionally, and I learned a thing or two about myself along the way.

I’ve known for many years that I’m a long processor. That is, I need time to absorb what is being presented before me, to explore what I’m experiencing “in the moment”, to dig into what others say to me, and to chew on new insights and truths that rock my world.

I need time.

Our professor was diligent in making sure we knew that the studio was open to us as students before and after class if we needed to finish a project, or if we needed time to explore work we had already completed. However, even with that freedom, I felt pushed… forced… hustled through a full week… without a lot of time to ingest. It felt like I had perpetual heartburn all week.

Tick-tock, tick-tock.

Sometimes teachings around being fully present in the moment becomes so intense in and of themselves that they leave by the wayside people who struggle with anxiety, long-processors, or even people grounded in mindfulness who simply are being moved too fast. When this happens, we can hear the clock ticking.

There goes that moment. 

Oops, there goes another moment.

I just got into a rhythm of deep breathing and — DANG IT! — it’s time to pack up and go. Another moment gone.

During circle time, I felt many things bubbling underneath the surface but they weren’t ready to see the light of day just yet. But by the end of the week, I could only share a few select thoughts. The moment had ended. We were all going home.

Now of course I was able to take all of what I’d learned, heard, and created home with me and expand the moment that way. However, the opportunity to interact with my classmates as I’d wanted to was gone. The irony that the whole week was focused on remaining in the present while I struggled to speak within that present moment was not lost on me.

Mindfulness, as a discipline, is in part supposed to be able to reduce stress and anxiety so that the present can be experienced more fully. However, teachers and practitioners often forget that “the moment” means different things for different people. Sometimes stressing the present moment in the extreme, in an effort to create keen awareness, creates more disturbance and tension than it does relaxation and openness.

A tangible example would be in a therapist’s office: the client is given a therapeutic hour to be with the therapist who is genuinely facilitating an atmosphere of relaxation. However, with the tick-tock of the clock counting down those 50 minutes, some people simply cannot move into the groove of the moment. There are excellent reasons why the time boundary is in place, however mindfulness cannot always be nurtured within such a boundary.

Another example would be the proliferation of mindfulness services in corporate society. Employees are given X-amount of time to access wellness services, but it is on company time in order to promote the company. Again, these reasons are not necessarily inherently evil. But I hope people can understand how some folks simply would not be able to move into a rhythm of being present with themselves or others while trying to balance it with corporate time.

My own example of trying to live in the moment during my course but being unable to is a prime example: the teachings and examples were there. But the clock simply said “Tick-tock, tick-tock”, and it worked against my need to have more time to be comfortable and to open up.

This post isn’t intended to steer people away from being mindful in the present moment. Not at all! It’s more to make us aware that with so many different kinds of people in the world, generalizing that the only moment we have is ‘the present’ can induce more pain than it does healing.

Instead of returning to ruminating on the past or trying to control or worry over the future (also futile practices), it would be good to speak permission over ourselves. We are fully able to give ourselves permission to:

  • return to the past to enjoy fond memories and times
  • return to the past to remind ourselves of our choices, our transformations, and our pathways
  • create lifeplans that we can journey towards in order to bring some clarity to where we’re headed
  • be afraid of what life holds because let’s face it: it’s a scary world, and sometimes we need space to shout “I’m scared!”

And most of all, we are able to give ourselves permission to:

  • extend the moment; if we are unable to be mindful in the present as set out by teachers, counselors, friends, co-workers, or family, we are free to extend the moment we’re in beyond the clock. Our present could last a second, a minute, an hour, a day, a week, a month, a season. Our perceptions of the present don’t necessarily need to line up with stopwatch timekeeping or with how its measured in our spiritual traditions

When we reframe what it means to be in the present moment for us, it’s an act of awareness and exploration in and of itself. By identifying triggers and stressors within our mindfulness practices, we can start to tailor our disciplines rather than forcing a prescription on ourselves that might be doing more harm than good.

For me, the time to share with classmates is past. It was disappointing but by extending the moment of art studio time into my home, I am able to sit with that disappointment and perhaps observe how I react to others in groups…what it is I really what to do or who I want to be in those groups…and how to nurture better experiences in such groups when they come around again.

But to expect myself to function between 9am-noon and 1pm-5pm in a prescribed spiritual sharing formation isn’t going to fly. I dare say I’m not alone in this. Learning some courage and flexibility within the confines of classes, offices and workplaces is a good thing.

But full permission is granted to extend my moments to become the present for as long as I need them to be.



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