Hymns to the Moment (written 2014)

30/10/2014 09:43

Gathas are short “hymns”, verses or poems that bring us to the moment, applying mindfulness practice where it is fruitful in our lives. Mostly I know them through the wonderful writing of the late Zen master and poet, Robert Aitken, whose book The Dragon Who Never Sleeps contains many such verses. Inspired years ago upon reading this book, I began the practice of composing gathas of my own. Most often I took pen in hand when faced with moments that brought me up hard against what I might not wish to acknowledge, but sometimes, like any poetry, they were simply inspired by moments that were suddenly crystal clear.


The gift inherent in these hymns to the moment is that they apply continuously in the round of living, day by day and year by year. One I recite and remember often though it was written nearly a decade ago goes like this:


Looking up now into the faces of my sons

Their bodies dwarfing mine

I breathe and remember

To be here with this passing of time

Things are as they are and should be.


It has a flavor of melancholy perhaps, but the reassurance that things are not out of whack. We can feel betrayed by changes – losses or illness or just the inevitable passing of time. But the truth, when we see clearly, is that this is simply the way of things. In the company of my adult children these days I am reminded that while memories are dear, the living is in this moment which will not come again.


This is true too of the fantasies that carry us into the future as an escape from today's pain.


When the hands of imagination

Weave some sunnier, better time

I breathe and remember

To choose this ragged day

With its ever-changing weather.


Thumbing through these verses, many written years ago, I find now that while the specific incident that provoked them may be gone from memory, I still know in my bones the feelings they express. This is why mindfulness is an ongoing practice. We do not simply learn to be present and never again fall into the enchantment, the trance of living in an automatic and self-isolated way. Instead we take on the task of coming to the present again and again. Noting how we create our own pain in clinging to what could never be held on to.


When my eye strays again and again

To the racing hands of the clock

I breathe and remember

To let go - nothing is slipping away.