One of the most notable times I was introduced to the aliveness of the present moment was in graduate school by my group dynamics professor. He was an older (gentle)man with silky white skin, big blue eyes that looked up at you, thin white hair and a big smile that took you in as if he understood your insecurities and strengths all at once. He wore white khaki and occasionally you would see him in more casual settings with a brown leather brimmed hat on, the kind with the string that hangs around your chin secured by a bead. Whenever I saw him casually outfitted I imagined him on a safari. His group dynamics class expanded our purview of compassion for and acceptance of ourselves and others as we engaged in group process work and as we faced real or perceived judgement from our classmates. People in groups tend to have strong reactions about the other members and these reactions can be very informative. If group members are willing and able to sit in the tension that is being evoked, and receive the knowledge garnered from their internal experience as well as the feedback being offered by the other members, their understanding of themselves and others can transform exponentially. Group process work is an incredibly effective modality to support significant life shifts as we see in the recovery community for example.
As I experienced deeper levels of understanding about myself and others in the group, I found myself struggling to apply this growing sense of clarity and compassion to my personal history. So I sent my professor an email requesting a meeting. He agreed and one afternoon we met after class in the school's cafe.
I began, "How does one let go?" I was referring to a cloud of grief and disappointment that was following me around like a baby duckling eliciting fear and interfering with my ability to be present in my life. I was disappointed by past relationships and events and hoping to hear something consoling from this wise grandfatherly figure.
My professor looked at me and leaned in with his big eyes and smile and lifted his hand in the air. "You say goodbye and hello" he said waving. He waited patiently and quietly for me to digest his direction. I was surprised by his response. He didn't ask what had disappointed me or what it was I couldn't let go of.
"I'm not sure I understand. Can you explain what you mean?" I asked.
"You say goodbye to the past with gratitude. No matter what has transpired, you say thank you because it has brought you to this moment. And then you take in the present and the fullness of it and greet and say hello to the moment before you and all that is unknown about it." He leaned in a little more "The key is to be curious. Be curious."
Our relationship with the present moment can shape our life satisfaction. Through awareness and curiosity we can traverse the contours and textures of the present moment and this leads us to our own aliveness. When we hold on tightly to the past, wanting for things to have been different and cling to feelings of disappointment and resentment we are diluting our own aliveness. Through strengthening our relationship to the present moment, through practices like mindfulness meditation for example, we are bettered positioned to make peace with the past and acquire trust within ourselves alleviating anxieties about the uncertainties of the future.
Saying goodbye to the past with gratitude and hello to the present moment with curiosity is a meditation within itself. It is not something that you acquire one day, but rather something you practice over time through which you gain greater experiences of your being. Much like the group process, there is so much expansive wisdom and knowledge to acquire in the present moment if we stay open and curious.
My professor passed away within the last year. I am confident that he bid his farewell with gratitude and was filled with curiosity as he entered the unknown - very much alive even in his death.