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Tue June 8, 2004
Present and Engaged
How to stay in tune with the moment without becoming distraught.
By Catherine McCall
Wilmington NC – [Click the Listen button to hear Catherine's commentary.]
Mindfulness is a buzzword of the new millennium. Mindfulness, as I understand it, means focusing our attention on the present moment, which in turn expands our awareness of ourselves, our world?everything. This mindfulness connects us to the living universe to which we all belong.
I believe in the value of mindfulness. I certainly experience my thoughts running way ahead of the rest of me?planning, worrying, speculating?only to be drawn into the present moment by a breathtaking cloud formation or the urgent laugh of a gull. I don?t see or hear these happenings when I?m not paying attention. When I listen exclusively to the chatter in my head I miss out on my own life experience.
Physical sensations often pull me into the moment. The lift from a honeysuckle bush, the laughter of a small boy, the proud tail wag of my dogs as they explore the new smells on the street. These and a thousand other experiences focus my mind; they lead me to a greater feeling of being present and alive.
Except?these are dark, troubling times for our country. The seriousness of our government?s actions, the weight of the burden on our soldiers and their families occupies my mind, just as our tanks occupy Iraq. From my admiration for their devotion, to my concern for their safety, I wonder about them and their loved ones often. I wonder too about why they are there, how we as a nation have chosen such a hasty, bull-headed and dangerous path. My bewilderment lingers, it mixes with so many other emotions that make my heart heavy.
And yet, in the course of an ordinary day, if I focus on my own experience here in this moment, does it require that I forget these young soldiers, at least temporarily? Am I guilty of neglecting them if I enjoy a morning in the surf, if I give my heavy heart a rest?
I struggle with this dilemma, with living fully in the present while simultaneously feeling angst for our nation and for our troops.
How does a wife or father of an American soldier or civilian worker make it through each day? Most of these loved ones live, not with a death but with a deadly possibility, with the fear and threat of loss, of debilitation, of their son or daughter returning one day changed beyond understanding.
But we each live with the unpredictable every day. We risk injury and death every time we do anything?drive a car, swim in the ocean, walk our dogs down the street. These so-called risks are the stepping stones of being alive; they are the gateways to experience, to living as passionately as we possibly can each moment that we breathe.
Which brings me full circle to mindfulness and a bit of clarity I hadn?t foreseen. Engaging as fully as possible in the moment, heavy heart and all, connects me with these soldiers whom I will never personally know. Though distance separates us, they and I are part of this same moment. Therefore, as an ordinary citizen I am called, on behalf of them and myself, to engage as fully as possible in the happenings of the day, in our democratic process, embattled as it is.
Disagreement with current policy is not an unpatriotic stance, nor does it indicate that I am not in full support of those young men and women whose jeeps I watched convoy down Military Cutoff so long ago.
Apathy and complacency are the greatest threats to our nation and to us as individuals. Awareness brings discomfort and struggle sometimes but that?s the difference between real life and Hollywood, right?
Catherine McCall is a psychiatrist who lives and works in Wilmington.