Right Here, Right Now

I am, at best, an inconsistent meditator.  My relentlessly practical Judeo-Christian, Midwestern/Alaskan upbringing is antithetical to the Buddhist concepts of no-self and detachment.  I like clear-cut yeses and no’s and rights and wrongs: What do you mean, this is all an illusion?  I’m right here!

Despite my resistance to some Buddhist ideology, I have long appreciated Buddhism’s emphasis on living in the present moment.  As anyone who’s even dabbled in meditation can tell you, being here now is a lot trickier than it sounds.  I try to cultivate the experience of present-moment awareness as much as possible, but I’ll be honest, there are many times when I’d rather be doing something other than, for example, airline travel, shopping at Trader Joe’s at noon on a Saturday, or waiting for the subway to arrive.

There are, though, some moments in which our senses are heightened and we perceive the world in sharp focus: colors are brighter, sounds are more pronounced, and we are, perhaps in spite of ourselves, completely engaged with what’s happening right now. We feel uniquely, fully alive. The Reverb 10 prompt for December 3 is an invitation to: Pick one moment during which you felt most alive this year. Describe it in vivid detail (texture, smells, voices, noises, colors). (Author: Ali Edwards)

The Broadway opening of Come Fly Away was one of the most hyper-attuned, electrically “alive” experiences of my life thus far. The murmur of the near-capacity crowd drifted backstage, where dancers did last-minute stretches and whispered “Merde!” to one another. My black velvet Lanvin dress was tight across my hips, so my stride was shorter and more careful than usual. The headband holding my hair ornament in place pressed firmly against my scalp.

As the curtain opened and the show began, I was conscious of my rapid heartbeat and the brightness of the lights. I felt a little bit lightheaded and oddly calm; as the opening strains of my first song began, I was aware of the floor beneath my feet, the cool metal of the microphone in my hand, and the sensation of my voice traveling from my throat into the theatre.

For the duration of the performance, I experienced every breath, sound, and movement as “Now.” “Now.” “Now.” Moment to moment. I was wonder-struck for two solid hours, which brings me to the Reverb 10 prompt for December 4, in which author Jeffrey Davis asks, How did you cultivate a sense of wonder in your life this year?

Photo: Michael Nagle/Getty Images, NY Times

Well, it was easy to access a sense of wonder during the excitement of a Broadway opening and the ensuing six-month run. Every day brought with it a heightened sense of gratitude and engagement with what was happening rightthisverysecond. The thing is, though, most days are not Broadway openings. The challenge, then, becomes cultivating present-moment awareness and a sense of wonder as we navigate the hassles of everyday life: the airport, the endless check-out line at Trader Joe’s, and even the subway.

Looking ahead at 2011, I wish I could say that my meditation practice will be rock-solid. I’d like to believe that one day I will finally make my peace with the Catholicism that has seeped into the very molecules of my being and reconcile it with the elusive equanimity of Buddhism. I can’t. I feel sure, though, that I can cultivate a sense of wonder in moments both magnificent and mundane by simply choosing to be right here, right now.

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