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Here. Now.



On my home altar, I keep framed photographs of my guru Neem Karoli Baba along with photos of some of my most beloved and inspirational teachers. One of them is Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. I have recommended his book called “Peace is Every Step: The Miracle of Mindfulness in Everyday Life” to countless people, I quote from it frequently, and I even developed and taught an 8-week course in mindfulness based upon it. It’s a book that quite literally changed my life, especially when I began to apply seriously to my life the wisdom and practices it holds. When I read it the first time, it was as if a lightbulb had been switched on illuminating a secret path “Ahhhh…,” I thought. “HERE is what I have been looking for!”

 

Just some of what I learned from “Peace is Every Step" is that mindfulness really IS a miracle; that the only moment we truly have is the one we are in — the past is gone and the future is not yet here; and that we are all truly and completely interdependent (“interbeing" is the term Thich That Hanh uses). This book first revealed to me that the breath is the bridge between the body and the mind. I learned that the best way to take care of the future is to take care of the present moment, as well as the importance of “making friends” with our emotions. I learned a mantra that I have repeated often over the years. It is especially helpful for keeping myself present during both emotionally and physically challenging times when I really want to resist leaning into my present moment experience, and I am wishing things were different than they are:

 

Breathing in, I calm my body.

Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment.

I know this is a wonderful moment.

 

It can be shortened to:

 

Calming (inhale)

Smiling (exhale)

Present moment (inhale)

Wonderful moment (exhale)

 

In the early 1990s, a friend, knowing of my interest in Buddhism and Eastern philosophy, gave me a copy of the Ram Dass book “Be Here Now.” Here was another book that changed my life, a brilliant lantern illuminating another path of wisdom and insight. (“Be Here Now” was also my introduction to Neem Karoli Baba—Maharaji, who I would eventually come to recognize as my Guru.) One of the things Ram Dass helps us to see is that when we find ourselves spinning out, caught up in the whirling of the contents of our minds, reliving the past, imagining the future, stuck on thoughts of ourselves and our own problems, we are missing the immediacy of our experience of the present moment. When we are in that state, he recommends that we ask ourselves, “Where am I?” And “What time is it?” The answers are “Here” and “Now.”

 

It’s such a simple concept — be here now. Be present in each moment. But it is NOT an easy one to put into practice. It’s worth the effort though. What both Thich That Hanh and Ram Dass teach us is that by making a practice of staying present as best we can during the whole of our lives, of living fully in the present moment, and of “being here now,” we begin not only to recognize just how often we are NOT being present, but we also begin to strengthen our compassion muscle. We begin to see that, as Maharaji taught, it (meaning everything) is truly All One; we begin to see that we are Truly all interbeing, interdependent, and interconnected. We begin to see that each of our thoughts, words, and actions has a ripple effect in the world, and that what we do (or don’t do) to another being, we do to the whole—to all beings, ourselves included.

Beloved Buddhist teachers Pema Chodron and Tara Brach both also have shared wise and insightful teachings through their books and lectures on the importance of being present and leaning into our experiences, especially the ones we would rather resist or avoid. Mindfulness practice helps us to overcome the illusion of separation ( or “maya” in Sanskrit) in order to see the Oneness of Being. Thanks to this practice, when challenges happen in our lives, we may begin to ask, “Why not me?” instead of “Why me?” The more we begin to lean into our own uncomfortable, scary, and hard situations, the more we begin to want to relieve the suffering of others.

 

Maharaji’s instructions to devotees who wanted to know how to get enlightened or who wanted to know God were, “Love everyone, serve everyone, remember God, and tell the Truth.” He encouraged selfless service, particularly in the form of feeding the hungry, as a way to realization of the One. Sharon Gannon, co-founder of Jivamukti Yoga, teaches that the best thing we can do to uplift our own lives is to do all we can to uplift the lives of others. By living more selflessly and less selfishly, Sharon-ji says, we move closer to realization of the One. The wise teachers I trust advocate for: putting others first, caring for others, serving others from a place of unconditional love and compassion, and offering up our efforts to the Divine—to the One— however we conceive of It. It is in such service that we find our freedom.

 

Blessings & love,

Sharada Devi

 



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