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.

  • How my heart needed to read this today. Blessings to you, my brave, wise friend.

    • Danishapiro

      It always makes me happy to know my words land with you, Elissa. Much love to you.

  • katiejdevine

    If ever there were a hand reaching out to say, me, too…this is it. Thank you for these much needed words. Thank you for harnessing the strength to articulate and share them. Wishing you all the best today and always. xx

    • Danishapiro

      Sending you a big hug, Katie. xo

  • George Blair

    My personally directed research these days is all about the SeLF. What we know about ourselves, and the story we tell, is who we are. The pages turn, and I am learning about what we know about how we feel. We, generally, are bumping through the dark in a fog. We are guessing about ourselves. A lot. That is quite normal. This is why it is so important to take a breath… calm ourselves (like with YOGA!), and to be patient. “Right here. Right now.” I was in prison, losing it quietly when I practiced telling myself just this. Life is hard. I love deeply the ones that know that and share this burden. And NOW that includes you, Dani Shapiro! That’s kind of cool. Don’t you think?

    • Danishapiro

      Thank you for these words, George:))

  • linda

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. As you articulate the language of the heart the world becomes less lonely.

    • Danishapiro

      Beautiful words. Thank you.

  • Janice Giampaoli

    Dani, thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings. I can relate to much of what you have said, and desperately need to focus on the present. Happy Hannukah and Merry Christmas to you also, and a Very Happy New year.

    • Danishapiro

      Happy New Year to you too, Janice:)

  • I absolutely agree that the world is calling us to make a new and serious response, and there is no dancing around it. I ended the year with a few blogs about healthcare and recently working a job that had my husband and I dealing in waste management, it you want to call trash pick-up by a fancier name. It was a humbling and eye opening day of work in comparison to Cabinet appointments for the year ahead, and as I try to figure out how to present myself as a writer in the new year it is those stories I will keep in mind. My 1st trip of the New Year is booked. I’m flying to DC on Inauguration Day for the Women’s March the following day and there will be stories to share. When historians write the book of 2016 and the days after, I want to be one of the people who stood up for what was right. My mantra for 2017 is #bebrave #speakup #nowmorethanever. Happy New Year and wishes for much success with the book, Dani. Looking forward to reading it.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Sheila! Happy New Year too! I couldn’t agree more about the new and serious response.

  • It has been a year of loss and grief for me, too–trying to find the words to shape and contain it all. Wishing you continued healing. Be the Warrior.

    • Danishapiro

      Thanks, Evelyn. And to you too.

  • Claire Olsen

    I always enjoy checking in to read your blog and see what you are thinking about as we reckon with these transitioning times. Thank you.
    As an aside, in your writing you have sometimes referred to your admiration for the wisdom of Sylvia Boorstein, and yesterday I listened to her podcast from a 1/4/17 dharma talk at Spirit Rock. In the talk she reminded her audience and listeners to remember a Buddhist idea that “when your mind is relaxed and clear, your heart is open and generous.” I’ve decided to try on this “new and serious response” over the next few weeks (and years). Perhaps it is helpful for you too.

    • Danishapiro

      Lovely, Claire. Thank you. Sylvia’s wisdom always lands.