Dani Shapiro
December 24, 2016

On Living in the Present

Whenever I’m in the yoga pose of Warrior II, I think about finding that elusive balance between the past and the future.  Lean back, and we find ourselves mired in what has already happened.  Regret, remorse, guilt, sorrow, grief — whatever the emotional residue may be, we go there.  We go there again and again, even though going there changes nothing.

Notice I say “we.”  I’m distancing myself even as I write, moving away from the “I” and from the welter of feelings that arise when I attempt to tell the truth of myself.

So then: I.  

When I lean forward, into the future, I am also off-balance, out of alignment.  Hope, fear, excitement, anxiety, grasping — I go there too.  I go there again and again, even though going there also changes nothing.  I cannot control the future any more than I can change the past.  All I can do is be present.  But I shy away from the present because the present is full of terrible ambiguity.  It changes from moment to moment to moment.  Breathe in, breathe out, and all is changing.  If I don’t know what’s going to happen next, and if I can’t make sense of what has already happened, then where is the ground of the present?  And if the present is groundless, what is there to hold onto?  What are these tears just behind my eyes?

It has been a hard year.  We’re all ready to see it go.  (There I go again!)  The world is a newly alien, terrifying place.  There is such a collective sense of grief and loss – and also of community and gathering.  Personally it has been a year of enormous challenges.  Many days I’ve felt overwhelmed to the point of numbness and despair.  And so when it came time to write this last post of the year, I’ve found myself starting and stopping, writing and deleting, thinking that most toxic of thoughts, at least for a writer: I have nothing to say.  The truth is that I am spilling over with so much to say that the words start dueling with each other.  This is a year in which I have learned more about shock, loss, grief, secrets, heritage, strength, kindness, courage, family, home, and above all, the ways the human heart can stretch and enlarge to accommodate new truths.  I’ve learned that I am surrounded by enormously loving people who will catch me if I fall, if only I am strong enough to let them.  This is counter intuitive, I know.  It takes strength to say: I’m hurting.  Strength to say: I’m vulnerable. I’m fragile. This is hard. This is too much to bear. But the moment I do, I find I am given just what I need.

And so, my friends, I wish every single one of you the gift of presence. To quote Mary Oliver:  “And that is just the point: how the world, moist and bountiful, calls to each of us to make a new and serious response. That’s the big question, the one the world throws at you every morning. ‘Here you are, alive. Would you like to make a comment?'”

Happy Hannukah, Merry Christmas, and a peaceful 2017 to us all.