Spring is around the corner. In most cultures, spring is synonymous with beginnings. At a certain stage of life, “beginning” may seem like a thing of the past. But I would argue that beginnings are as much the domain of a 90 year-old as that of a 90-second old. And well they should be.
Think of an arrow flying through the air. It would seem to be the epitome of movement. And yet, at this very second, were we to freeze time, it would be still. In this frozen second, there is no past and no future for the arrow. Only now. And that is true for all of us. We have a tendency to merge what has happened and what will happen with what is happening now. But we are not guaranteed a split-second more of this life and, as a wise woman once told me, “the past is gone–give up all hopes of changing it.”
In this light, every second of our lives is a beginning. Every second is a chance to change direction, let go of the illusion that we can rearrange the past, and focus on all that we can truly influence: this moment. This is not to say that we are not accountable for the past; but we can change our perspective of it. Make amends. And it’s not to say that we cannot shift our trajectory as a means of influencing future moments. But make no mistake: influencing the future is not the same as controlling it.
There is a Buddhist concept called, “Beginner’s Mind.” It tells us that every moment is an opportunity to experience the wonder and awe of a child who is experiencing the world as new. That is because every moment is new–as much for anyone else as for a child. One major difference is that the child has less “past” to project onto the future. What if we experienced this moment without judgment, without assumptions, and with openness to having our hearts and minds experience the world from a fresh perspective?
Carl Jung says the symbol of the spiral suggests that we do come back around again, but not exactly to the same place. Therefore, while we can see the past when we pass a familiar spot on an inner ring, and while our remembrance of that past moment informs our thinking, we are not in the past. The rings of the spiral expand into infinity with every new second.
This year, when the beginning that is spring comes, remember that it might as well be the first spring of your life. The first tulip you see is the first time you have ever seen that very tulip as the person you are right now. The first baby bird, a wonder. And yourself, a mystery unfolding.
But how do we do this? How can we adopt beginner’s mind? Mindfulness is the key. Jon Kabit-Zinn says “…mindfulness means paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally.” This type of awareness can be honed through a meditation practice. And it is a practice–awareness grows through the practice of meditation just like muscles grow by being challenged through resistance training.
There are many ways to build a mindfulness meditation practice. Perhaps the simplest way is to download an app to your smartphone or google “meditation” and choose a YouTube video to guide you.
If you would prefer to learn in a class setting, there are many opportunities for that in Atlanta. The Atlanta Mindfulness Institute and The Shambhala Center are two excellent options in the Atlanta area, but there are many, many more to be found.
One of my favorite mindful awareness practices is called the “Three-Minute Breathing Space.” There are three steps:
- Become aware of what is happening in your experience of this moment. Observe it, but if you find yourself making judgements (too big, too cold, not ____ enough), notice it and let that go. Come back to just observing your experience.
- Turn your attention to your breath. Your focus was initially broad, but narrow it now to just noticing your breath. Again, do this with curiosity, not judgment.
- Finally, let your focus expand again to include your whole body, noting any sensations that are present. If you find yourself commenting on the goodness or badness of anything (too tight, too tingly, the wrong size, etc.) come back to just noticing the sensations without judgment.
You can take three minutes to do this practice at points in the day when you feel overwhelmed, stressed, or detached. This practice will help you find your way back to a more vivid experience of this very moment. The only moment there is.