Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Being Present

Breathing in, I dwell in the present moment.
Breathing out, I know it is a wonderful moment.

-Thich Naht Hanh, “The Blooming of a Lotus”

One of the most difficult things about this deployment (at least during my five weeks at Camp Kalsu) has been keeping a positive attitude and avoiding the pitfalls of despair, self-pity, and homesickness. It can be very challenging to stay upbeat when you spend most of your time alone, every day is just the same as all the others, and there are no weekends or holidays. Some days, it’s nearly impossible to smile.

On every one of my four previous deployments, I was a member of a unit with which I identified and had many comrades with whom I had many shared experiences. I interacted with many other people throughout the work day and off-duty, and my day-to-day routine was sufficiently varied so as not to become tedious. Plus there were these fabulous things called WEEKENDS! Weekends meant long bike trips exploring Okinawa, trips to the beach, cross-country flights to Korea, having fun at the club, and being able to sleep in.

The ultimate thing everyone looks forward to during a deployment, of course, is going home. This deployment is different from my previous ones in that I really don’t know when I’ll be leaving. I could be here for 2 more months or 5 more months, but there’s no way to tell right now. Even without a solid return date, I still spend hours imagining all the great things we have planned as a family next summer. I fondly remember how nice it is to have weekends and holidays for travel and relaxation. These visions are comforting and enjoyable, but there’s nothing better than having a “target” date for going home.

Having nothing concrete to look forward to (in the sense of counting down the days left or knowing I have a weekend coming), I try mightily to just live my life here, now, the way it is, and appreciate and enjoy it for what it is. I call this “being present.” As part of my effort to live life the way it is, rather than dwell on the future or the past, I have begun meditating. As a guide to help me establish this practice, I am using a wonderful book called “The Blooming of a Lotus,” by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Naht Hanh. As he puts it,

By dwelling in the present moment, we put an end to attachments to the past and
anxieties about the future. Life is only available in the present. We need to
return to this moment to be in touch with life as it really is. To know that we
are alive, that we can be in contact with all the wonders within us and around
us, this is truly a miracle. We need only to open our eyes and to listen
carefully to enjoy life’s richness.

The message of being present seems simple and obvious, but like many lessons that are truly important and valuable, it is much harder to put into practice than just to read or talk about. Over the past two weeks, I have had great difficulty finding joy in the present as I have suffered a stubborn chest cold that just goes on and on. My focus has become almost exclusively on getting every minute of sleep I can. I have done no exercise, which has taken away one of my most valuable stress outlets and morale boosters. This physical illness has taken a mental and spiritual toll, as I began to wonder if I would ever feel any better.

The practice of meditation seems to have helped – I suppose I’ve been getting high on mindfulness rather than endorphins. My health has begun improving, and today is the first day in a long time that I said to myself “hey, I don’t feel so crummy today.” I have begun to enjoy eating again. I once again take time to admire the stars in the cold night sky. Dwelling in the present moment, I breathe in. Enjoying the present moment, I breathe out. I live.


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