Embracing The Moment When We Don’t Want To

It’s no secret that life happens in the present moment. Many of us are aware that our growth, fulfillment, and effectiveness happens when we can be present with what is in the present, not ruminating about the past or imagining the future. Meditation is a primary and powerful practice for training the mind to pay attention to the present when it’s usual habit is to jump between what is in front of us and concepts and pictures that represent another time and place.

No matter how much we train the mind to stay present with our current moment to moment experience, we are not able to pay attention if we don’t want to. Sometimes life is so uncomfortable or painful that we don’t want to pay attention to the present, we want to escape. Sometimes our pain is connected to sadness and loss, either personally or globally. Sometimes, we may have anxiety about a relationship or a negative imagined outcome. And we may also find ourselves in a situation where consciously or unconsciously, we are sitting with a negative belief we hold about ourselves that is painful. We may know intellectually that the Divine is present in all of life, including the uncomfortable parts. We may know that by being with what is is the way to walk through our life and experience in a way that will bring more growth and understanding, but even so, sometimes we resist.

There is a beautiful teaching from Rabbi Menachem Nahum of Chernobyl, in his Torah commentary entitled Me’or Aynayim (The Light of the Eyes) in which he places the sacred Temple service of the priests in the context of the Israelites journey up until that time. In the Torah, after God revealed God’s self to the Israelites at Mount Sinai and they built a Golden calf, demonstrating that they couldn’t hold on to that Divine awareness, God instructed the Israelites to build a mishkan – a portable tabernacle in the wilderness. And through that tabernacle and all of the sacred service conducted within it, the Divine awareness and presence would be within them.

Most of the book of Leviticus is about the details of that sacred service in the mishkan. Much rabbinic and mystical teaching about the work of serving God in the tabernacle is seen as a metaphor for serving God in our lives. A specific location, like a synagogue, church, or beautiful natural setting is not the only place to meet the Divine Presence. Instead, our interactions with each other, the work that we envision and execute, the time we take to rest and reflect – all are opportunities to serve God by interacting in the world with an awareness of connection and care.

The Me’or Aynaim teaches:

It’s like a person who has always dwelt in a place of darkness, never having seen light. If you brought him right out into daylight, he would not be able to stand the brightness. You have to expose it to him gradually. First you make a narrow opening, so that he can see just a bit of light. Then you broaden it until it becomes a window. Only then can you take him out into the open air and show him the light.

So it was with Israel. In Egypt they were immersed in the fifty measures of defilement. Had God shown them the brilliance of His presence immediately, they would not have been able to bear it. They needed all these steps along the way. But the whole purpose was “Let them make Me a Tabernacle that I might dwell within them.”

According to this teaching, the Israelites would not have been able to make a Tabernacle or serve in it if they had not been slaves in Egypt or had the revelation at Sinai or built the Golden Calf. All of those events were essential to bring them to the apex of the Torah – the ability to serve God in the way that God wants to be served.

So it is with us. Every event and experience that has come before us, both painful and challenging, inspiring and exalted, have made us exactly who we are today and given us the opportunity to bring awareness of Divine Presence into our lives and through that awareness, serve God in all that we do. While we have made mistakes, seemingly wasted time, we would not have learned and grown in the way that we did if we didn’t make those choices or had those experiences. We are exactly right where we need to be and everything that has happened has brought us here.

When we resist bringing our attention to the present moment and instead, our intention is distracted, it may be helpful to reflect on the reality that being where we find ourselves is no accident. Every step we’ve taken, every choice we’ve made, every way we have grown has positioned ourselves to meet the current moment and seek the Divine Presence here and now, no matter how uncomfortable or painful. And, our decision to do so, especially when part of us doesn’t want to, is what will allow even more light and Presence into our lives.

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