I thought I had a full Saturday morning schedule. Then, dashing down the block en route to the farmers’ market, it was disrupted in an instant by a carpet of tiny purple blossoms fallen from a crepe myrtle tree, strewn across the sidewalk.
Living in the moment is harder than it sounds. We program our brains for plan making and problem solving, not standing silent. They are generally full of unfinished conversations, anxiety about things we don’t control, and inner videos of people who drive us crazy. The more frazzled the brain, the more resistant to the very idea of a pause in the action. Paradoxically, a moment of quiet can invite fresh insight, if we are willing.
The carpet of fragile purple blossoms would not survive a hot June day in south Louisiana, and so I paused to take in the experience while I could. How many opportunities for a brief, irreplaceable moment go unnoticed? It is tempting to hold tightly to our morning schedules, as if our self-image as orderly, productive, reasonable people depended upon it.
We are creatures of habit. Do you not sit in the same seat in staff meetings, in class or in church, week after week? Every counseling client claims a particular chair on her first visit to my office, and keeps it ever after. Different clients pick different chairs. How we respond to accumulating stress follows patterns too. Some people reflexively eat, or smoke, or make a snarky comment. If interrupted and asked why, they have no response, but can imagine no inviting alternative. The respite from stress is, in any case, brief. People live in a cloud of ambient anxiety, not really about any one thing; sometimes we even have difficulty picking out what we are anxious about. The cloud, undeterred, follows us around.
One gift of experiencing temporary things is that we are sometimes distracted by their sheer beauty and fragility, and briefly disconnect from our schedule, our cloud of distress, our expectations and our habits of thought. Sensing the mere possibility that our lives exist without those structures, if only for a moment, can itself be enlightening. We are free to resume the action just exactly as it was poised to unfold, and we may notice a small hint of freedom to do something differently.
Living fully in the moment has other benefits as well. When not preoccupied by our stress, churning our problem over and over, seasoned with the same data, we are potentially more awake to something fresh and unexpected. Creative intuition seems to live in a part of the brain that is hard to access on demand. Ever had the experience of struggling to remember something vaguely important, without success, until you give up and make coffee, and the memory magically appears? Odd. We don’t will it, but we can become more willing.
The poignance of temporary things comes from knowledge that we cannot keep them. We crave stability in our stressful lives, and stray unexpected moments do not offer it. Instead, they offer us tiny glimpses into the world beyond our programming, and into our undiscovered selves.
There is some small danger that, if we take note of them, our hearts might be transformed.