The church I was attending at the time, a big megachurch located about 20 minutes from Brandywine, held a cookout on the Potomac River one summer day. After pigging out on hot dogs and hamburgers, I took a stroll along the store. There I saw Kara standing at the edge of the river, the waves flowing over her feet. I slipped off my sandals and stood next to her. After a few minutes of just looking out at the Potomac River, I attempted to strike up a deep and meaningful conversation.
“You know,” I said, “at times like these, I often wonder, you know, if, like, all this beauty was created by a higher force, or if, like everything just came about accidentally, you know? It’s like, I don’t know, how can we be sure?” I’m pretty sure I sounded like a complete idiot.
“I don’t worry about that stuff,” Kara responded. “I just enjoy the moment and take in all the beauty. You know? Just be here now, in the moment.”
* * *
I never was very good at the whole “be in the moment” thing. I spend most of my time thinking about the future. I always had this idea in my head that the life was going to begin sometime in the future, and when that happened everything was going to be better. When I was elementary school, I thought high school was going to be this magical time of partying like a rock star and chasing women. That didn’t happen, so I then put all my trust in my twenties. I was going to be out of high school, out of Mom’s house, and doing whatever I wanted. That, also, did not happen.
My friends tell me that when you’re in your thirties you’re much more sure about yourself, so now I’m dreaming about the day I finally turn thirty. Given my history of being disappointed, though, I probably shouldn’t put all my hope into my thirties.
If I’m not planning out the future, I’m thinking about the past. No matter what might have happened in the past, I’m always convinced that it was always a hundred times better than the crap I’m currently going through. For example, despite all the bullying and cutting, sometimes I would love to be in high school again, because back then I didn’t have to worry about bills.
But the worst habit I have is I’m trying to find some meaning in every single moment in life. Years ago I read a book called Siddhartha about an Indian man looking for peace of mind. After dabbling in asceticism, Buddhism, and fornication, he finally finds peace after hearing the sacred syllable ohm by the river. Ever since I read that, I always thought that if I listened closely enough to nature, I would literally hear God’s voice answering all my questions. Instead, all I heard were the trees rustling in the wind, squirrels scampering around on the ground, and birds chirping their little hearts out. How am I supposed to hear God speak with all this nature distracting me?
* * *
I recently read a book by Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh called Living Buddha, Living Christ. In the book, Thay (which means “teacher”) says that both Christianity and Buddhism are all about mindfulness: being fully conscious of what you’re doing and feeling at all times. “The true miracle is not walking on water or walking in air,” he most famously said, “but simply walking on this earth.”
My overly analytical mind hates this idea. What’s so miraculous about walking on the same earth that every other schmuck walks on? In fact, what’s so miraculous about everyday life in general? Nevertheless, occasionally I try to practice mindfulness just to see what this whole “be in the moment” thing is all about. I first focus on how things feel in my hands. Are they rough, smooth, wet? Do I grip things tightly or loosely? Then I take note of how my arms move. Do I move them with ease, or with a bit of an effort? I also take a moment to be aware of how the ground feels under my feet, especially when I’m not wearing shoes. Am I walking on a soft carpet, or a dusty bare floor? I’m not exactly sure how any of these counts as a ‘miracle,’ but it does get my mind off of all the questions and worries inside my head for at least two minutes.
* * *
A few weekends ago Amy and I went to Ocean City. We stood on the shore and let the waves flow over our feet. While Amy looked for seashells, I gazed out at the ocean, trying not to think of anything more than that particular moment. I took notice of how the prickly sand felt under my feet, how the water felt rising up to my shins, and how the people around us were laughing and splashing around. The sun wasn’t too hot, the water wasn’t too cold, and the beach wasn’t too crowded. Perfect.
Whenever Mom and I would stand by the shore when I was a boy, I would always challenge the waves to crash harder. “Is that all you got?” I would say. The waves would eventually get bigger and make a bigger splash and get my entire body soaked, but I didn’t care. I would just scream out at the ocean, “You can’t get me!”
That bold, challenging feeling came back as I stood on the beach. I wanted to immerse myself into the water, just enough to get wet, but not enough to be carried away, since I can’t swim worth crap. Amy and I took a few steps closer towards the ocean; the water was up to our knees now. I stared out at the ocean and said, “Give it your best shot.” A wave immediately rose and crashed against my crotch, but I just laughed and said, “Is that all you got?” While the tide was still high I dipped my entire body (well at least everything below the neck) into the water and jumped back up again. “Baby, be careful,” Amy said. “Don’t want you drowning on me.” But I just laughed and kept dipping myself into the water.
I know this sounds horribly clichéd, but I felt like I was somehow becoming one with the ocean. I wasn’t just looking at the water and admiring its beauty; I was actually immersing myself in it, and getting to know it personally. I wished I could swim so I could explore the ocean more, but for the time being submerging my body into the water was good enough.
There was one time, however, when I felt the waves pulling me in. It took me a couple of tries before I finally got back up. After that I was done with the dipping.
As Amy and I packed up our stuff on the beach, I wondered if perhaps this is one of the ways God speaks to us. I don’t mean that in a pantheistic sense; I don’t believe that all of creation literally contains God (although I haven’t ruled out the possibility that God contains all of creation, but that’s another story). But I can’t help but think of the psalm that says, “This is the day that the Lord made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” It doesn’t say that yesterday was the only day the Lord made (although I’m pretty sure He made every past day that ever existed); neither does it say that God only made some day far into the future. This is the day. The past is gone, the future isn’t here yet, and so why not focus on what God has me to do today, at this moment?
In Alcoholics Anonymous, they always say, “One day at a time.” Addiction isn’t something you can overcome overnight; even after ten years of sobriety, there’s still that little voice in your head that’s constantly whispering, “Come on, one little drink won’t hurt.” So instead of focusing on Twenty Years of Sobriety, they focus on just staying sober today. And if they mess up, there’s always tomorrow.
Maybe this is why the real miracle is walking on the earth, or perhaps even splashing in the ocean.