Present Company Included

Good morning! This week I wrote a series of posts on balancing the past and future. Today’s post is all about the present.

For me, staying present seems to be the hardest thing! My mind wanders to future plans, to do lists, groceries, dinner, etc. I find it especially hard to be present at work. Sometimes, it’s even difficult to stay present during enjoyable moments such as spending time with friends, cooking, or taking a long walk.

I’m hoping acupuncture and meditation will help me develop a deeper presence in the moment which I can use in my day to day life. I must admit, however, I’m often distracted during those practices too. Mantras are help bring my mind back when I get distracted. I heard or read somewhere that meditation is like teaching a dog to stay, when he moves you gently bring him back every time.

Reading poetry, like meditating, helps me train my mind to be more present. Similarly, it is a way to reap the benefits of presence, both mine and a stranger’s. At it’s best, poems are windows into another person’s meditations and prayers. Fine poems (as one of my former professors might say) are all about balance.

Thinking about this post, I thought of one book in particular: former Poet Laureate W.S. Merwin’s Present Company. The book is a series of unpunctuated odes to abstract concepts, real people and concrete objects. Some of the titles include “To the Dust of the Road,” “To the Sound of the Gate,” “To the Light of September.”

One of my favorite poems in the book summarizes (better than I could) what I’ve been getting at this week. It balances the past, present, and future. I’ve included it below for your enjoyment. (If you’re not a frequent reader of poetry, may I suggest reading it aloud a couple times to yourself? Pay less attention to the line breaks and more to the words and the way they flow naturally like sentences in a monologue.)

To Impatience
by W.S. Merwin

Don’t wish your life away
my mother said and I saw
past her words that same day
suddenly not there
nor the days after
even the ones I remember

and though hands held back the hounds
on the way to the hunt
now the fleet deer are gone
that bounded before them
all too soon overtaken
as she knew they would be

and well as she warned me
always calling me home
to the moment around me
that was taking its good time
and willingly though I
heeded her words to me
once again waking me
to the breath that was there

you too kept whispering
up close to my ear
the secrets of hunger
for some prize not yet there
sight of face touch of skin
light in another valley
labor triumphant or
last word of a story
without which you insisted

the world would not be complete
soon soon you repeated
it cannot be too soon

yet you know it can
and you know it would be
the end of you too only
if ever it arrives
you find something else missing
and I know I must thank you
for your faithful discontent
and what it has led me to
yes yes you have guided me
but what is hard to see
is the mortal hurry

What helps you be present in good moments and harder ones? How do you practice? Where is your favorite place to be present (or what are you doing)? 

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