Monday, October 31, 2011

You Are Here

I love maps. I especially love maps that have a little red arrow pointing to a spot that says “You are here.” You can see maps like that in the mall, on a hiking trail, on a college campus, or even on the back of your hotel room door.

If you look at a map of your life, you will see a little red arrow pointing to the present moment. You are here. Right now. There is no place else you can possibly be. And yet how much effort and energy do we spend trying to be somewhere else? (If you are like me, a lot.) We spend time in the past, longing for better times or imagining endless do-overs of our regrets. However, as A Course in Miracles reminds us, the “only wholly true thought one can hold about the past is that it is not here.”

I took my mother out to dinner when she visited me years ago when I was living in Paris. I invited some friends whose company I thought she would enjoy, and we went to a very chichi restaurant with a huge window framing the nearby Eiffel Tower. Through the entire meal, as we dined on pigeon (which sounds much fancier in french – I couldn’t help wondering if the chef had snatched a few off the windowsill), my mother regaled everyone with tales of my childhood. And while it was an entertaining story (my friends would say hilarious), I kept staring out the window at the dazzlingly illuminated landmark and all I could think was, “Whose childhood was that?!” Certainly not the childhood I remembered, but I could see that she believed every word she was saying. I realized that there was not an objective past, but rather two pasts, hers and mine, each vividly real to the one remembering. Let it go. It is not here.

If we are not drifting in the past, we are often anxiously rehearsing the future. Have you ever gotten mad at someone in anticipation of something that you think that person might do or say? I have written in earlier posts about my habit of casting into the future with my “what if” lure. I can spin out scenarios faster than the speed of light. My brain races from one to the next, churning up emotions in reaction to events that have not happened and may never happen. It’s exhausting!

I am reading a book right now timely titled You Are Here by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk from Vietnam. In it, he describes a practice called “stopping and deep looking.” He suggests that we can use a stop sign as a reminder – very practical! We can stop anytime and anywhere, and bring our attention back to the present moment, the only time that is real, the only time we can be truly alive. We can take a deep belly breath and simply be aware of where we are. At least for a nanosecond. I am lucky that I live in a neighborhood with so many stop signs.


  1. Timely advice! I was just sitting here building up a head of steam over something that hasn't happened yet - and might not ever! I'm good at leaving the past in the past, but I've only just realized I need to wind in my "what if" lure.

  2. You are so right Galen....we only have the NOW.....the past is the past.....and the future has not yet happened.



  3. I love this "You are here." We run from place to place, literally and figuratively, and I, for one, often don't take time to relish in where I am in a given moment. Thanks for the reminder. Sandra

  4. Kara--I was the queen of what if! I've gotten better about it in recent years, thank goodness. I'm so glad the post was timely. Thanks for commenting.

    Jo--Yes indeed. Thanks for your comment.

    Sandra--You're welcome! Thanks for commenting.

  5. I am right here, right now. With a long to-do list. I should set it aside and be right here, right now, really.

  6. Linda--Ha! Me, too! Thanks for commenting.

  7. I like the way you look at the many stop signs in your neighborhood as a signal for you to pause and look deep inside. From now, I'll do that too whenever something signals me to stop. Reminders are everywhere for us, if only we are aware, isn't it?

    Thanks for sharing, Galen.

  8. I am writing about this idea - in a story form - right now and just needed to take a break...what better place than your spot here Galen...Thank you

    I already use STOP signs for my kegel exercises - I have done that since I was in high school and it has served me well.


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