Saturday, March 17, 2012

Living Fully in the Present

I don't know what I expected exactly when I walked up to the door of the San Fernando Valley house where my lifelong friend Sister Rita McCormack and her friend Sister Anne, close since their youth in Ireland, are now living.

Sister Rita has been living with two deadly cancers -- melanoma, which affected one of her eyes and partially blinded her -- and mesothelioma. She turned 81 recently. And yet the woman who enthusiastically came to the door was vibrant, full of life and joy.

She was joined by Sister Anne, herself afflicted with cancer and, most recently with a broken hand suffered during a fall two weeks before. They talked about days filled with good works and excellent conversations -- especially morning visits over coffee and bagels with the rabbi at the neighborhood synagogue. They are as active as possible in parish projects and have been taken part in peace protests. And they revel in their new retirement life in a nice home with an allowance from their religious order. Despite the physical pain they've experienced and the uncertainty of the future, both Sisters Rita and Anne were filled with youthful energy and happiness.

I enjoyed watching these two dear friends preparing a lunch of salad and freshly baked Irish soda bread as they teased each other gently and laughed together about enduring personal traits.

And I told them that I was delighted to find them so filled with energy and joy.

Sister Anne smiled at me. "We were talking about that before you came, Kathleen, and I think it has to do with where we live in our lives," she said. "We live most happily in the present. Today is wonderful. The past is gone. And who knows about the future? But today -- today is just grand, isn't it?"

I was struck by the beauty and simplicity of her words and the wisdom of living mindfully and joyfully in the present.

So often we miss the full measure of today because we're looking ahead to new challenges -- either anticipated or dreaded -- or behind us to old regrets or to triumphs unlikely to happen again.

Pausing for a time in our rush from past to present, savoring the moment, can bring new joy and energy to our lives.

Just for now, take a deep breath, close your eyes and feel the sweetness of the air as your breathe.

Open your eyes and take in, with new appreciation, all you see around you: your pet's sweet, trusting face, the amber hues of the late afternoon, a flowering tree or early spring blossoms in your garden, a favorite painting or photo on the wall. Notice details you didn't take time to discover before.

Savor the taste of your food -- the sweetness of spring's first ripe strawberry, the freshness of some steamed vegetables, Give yourself the gift of time to appreciate texture and subtleties of taste.

Hear, with new delight, the voice of a loved one, the sounds of the night, or your favorite piece of music.

And tell yourself that right here, right now, you are at peace.

You may be facing illness, either your own or that of someone you love, but for this moment, all is well.

You may have had a major loss or terrible disappointment, but, in this instant, you can see, breathe, taste and hear sweetness.

There is so much joy in allowing yourself to live mindfully and fully in this moment. It is a resting place, a refuge from all that has come before and whatever lies in the ahead.

Embracing this enduring lesson from two very special Irish sisters has brought extraordinary peace to my own life in a month when health concerns have been all too present. Yes, there is that calendar filled with medical appointments for both Bob and me. Yes, I have concerns that health challenges may be on the horizon for both of us.

But right now, savoring a cup of green jasmine tea and delighting in its delicate flavor,  I'm watching a gentle breeze blowing through the flowering plants and sweet-smelling citrus blossoms in our back yard. Gus is purring at my feet and SweetPea is lying by the computer, resting her head on my right hand, purring softly. Bob, with Maggie on his lap, is doing his daily crossword a few feet away. We are all here together -- the whole family -- quietly enjoying each other on a breezy Arizona morning.

Today is, indeed, just grand.


  1. Thanks for reminding me of this. I sometimes let my worries get the better of me and forget to focus on me and the NOW. I am healthy and fit, my husband is good to me and I have much to be thankful for. I need to focus on that.
    I hope your medical exams go well and will be thinking of you!
    Hugs, from Betty

  2. Today IS grand. :-) This sort of thinking is the very reason I practice yoga: it reminds me to breathe, to live in the moment, if only one moment at a time.

    Another well-written and considerate post. Thank you.


  3. What satisfying lives these two dear ladies lead! Those are the people who have truly discovered the richness of life. Squeeze everything out of this moment, for it's absolutely all we have guarantee of. You are one of those, too, Kathy, I can tell.

    Thank you for this timely reminder. I am praying all your appointments go well.

  4. I always wondered if nuns got to retire and just where they went. These two seem to have it all. That they can live so positively with cancer says so very much.
    I do hope you exams put your concerns to rest or at least give you a positive course of action. Let us know.

  5. We have family who were nuns and they are special group of ladies. I know when the kids were little and we would go for a visit, we would tell them they had to be quiet, but they would tell us to let them enjoy looking around. They enjoyed watching them. We would get to see the new projects that they were working on. It was a wonderful feeling. I will pray for you and me both that all of the doctor appointments go well that is coming up. We enjoy every day we are given because we don't know what tomorrow will bring. I really appreciate your visits. Take care Your Missouri Friend.

  6. Did you write this just for me? I think you must have. Well, maybe not, but know that you spoke to me. I am learning even more deeply to live moment to moment and to dwell in the moment.

    Today, I spent the day with my dear girl friends from high school days. I have never known a more supportive group. We laugh like crazy when we are together, and we hold each other so close to the heart. I took it all in like a refreshing drink of cool water that soothed my soul and lifted my spirit.

  7. I have stopped looking back and remembering "the good ole days" and now each day I think to myself. This is as good as it gets right now in the moment.

  8. Sounds like the prefect way to enjoy a beautiful Arizona morning.
    I feel terrible that I have not been by sooner to check on you. I did come by last night but was unable to leave a comment. I've been worried about you and wondering how in the world you were doing after the accident.
    The whole time I was reading this article I felt it was written just for me. Your post always help me and I appreciate you so much. Your friends sound like such lovely ladies. I am sorry their going through so much in their lives but what an inspiration they are to all of us.
    Take care of yourself honey and thanks for writing this
    My son Clint has an appointment tomorrow with his doctor to find out how far along this kidney disease is. I knew you would want to know.

  9. A beautiful, lyrical post, Kathy, full of deep truth. A lot of my favourite spiritual writers emphasis the importance of living in the present and interestingly I find blogging helps me to do this, by centring me in today.

    I do hope your medical appointments go well and that the findings are good for you both.

  10. "We live most happily in the present." Sounds simple, huh?

  11. I have been keeping a one-line gratitude journal for about a year now. Most often I find myself recalling the same kinds of things, over and over - a good day health-wise or feeling better than a previous day (for me or my loved ones), a call, visit or email from loved ones, the gift of humour, a nice day for a walk, a blustery day to take time to rest. Writing them down has made me more aware of them. Even on a bad day, I realize I can be thankful for things like kind medical caregivers, good humour of total strangers, or someone who has volunteered to help with a task. There hasn't been a day yet when I didn't find something to be grateful for, and it's made me so aware of that fact. I think the next step is for me to become more aware of those things as they are happening, not just at day's end.

    A wonderful reminder - thank you.

  12. So very true. You would think that in it's simplicity that we would all do that naturally. I find that if I remind myself of this when I am stressed that I can calm myself down. I am especially happy at the end of the day, despite what I know is ahead of me, I can say, today was a pretty good day :)
    I love your posts, thanks!

  13. Dear Kathy, This is a lovely posting and brought to me great peace. I have for some time been living in the future. Wanting to move back to Minnesota and fearful that financially I won't be able to. And so, by living in the future, I have missed, I'm sure, the joy of so many days--the sights and sounds and tastes that you mention.

    So today, I will try again to live in the moment and to be aware of where and when and how I am.

    Thank you for reminding me to this. Thank you.


  14. Dear Kathy, . . . just want you to know that a day has passed and I thought of your posting several times as I've paid attention to the taste of the food I'm eating and felt my body against the bed sheets and smelled the porridge on the stove this morning. Thank you. Peace.

  15. This subject, of feeling joyful for every day, has concerned me for a long time. Every time, under different circumstances, when life is not easy, I think of all those people who are in even worse circumstances, but they are so strong in spirit that all those who surround them have the impression that they can overcome any difficulty.