- Dawn at the Desert Retreat House -
I just read an article in the New York Times about a man who taught meditation techniques for many years who was involved in a tragic plane crash which almost killed him a few years ago - the crash left him seriously disabled with burns over much of his body. In the article I read, I was quite struck by something this teacher said about what he ultimately learned from the tragedy he had endured:
When I got home from the hospital I found that in my healing and recovery, I was having a difficult time meditating - mostly because I was dealing with me wanting my old life back. So I had to relinquish this desire to get my old life back and when I was able to do this I was finally able to experience my new life, which while somewhat different, has proved to be quite wonderful.
I find that I can't stop thinking about this one little observation - it rings so clear to my own life experiences.
There are many times when I find myself dusting off memories about the "good old days," those wonderful experiences of times gone by - vacations with my family when our boys were children, or that cruise my wife and I took sailing through the Greek Islands for our wedding anniversary. I also fondly recall those times when we sat around the dinner table in our home with good friends or sometimes with students talking well into the night, or those many thin-place experiences while I was a parish priest presiding at a service or leading a spiritual retreat.
Oftentimes, when I drift back into those vivid memories of days gone by, I find myself falling into the trap of wanting my old life back again - yearning to go back in time to repeat again those exciting, tender and rejuvenating experiences.
This morning as I read that article, I had a sudden flash of insight about those "wonderful times" of bygone days. Ironically the very thing that made these past times so wonderful was that in every instance I am able to recall, I was always fully alive and engaged in the present moment when those events occurred. I was fully engaged with friends around a table, fully engaged with my spouse or children on a vacation or sailing on the seas, fully present in those thin-space moments of life.
I guess this is the great paradox of it all: While you obviously can never repeat the past, in a sense you can repeat the "wonderful moments" you experienced in the past by living fully engaged in wherever you find yourself in the present moment.
I am reminded of something Buddhist Nun, Pema Chodron, once said:
To be fully alive, fully human, and completely awake is to be
continually thrown out of the nest.
Every single day I am thrown out of the comfortable nest of my old life, and each new moment is alive with possibility.
Every day my new life always proves to be "quite wonderful."