Present Tense

It is incredibly hard for me to remain present. I am constantly tempted by distractions, worrying about the future, trying to balance attention to all the many pieces of me–a woman, mother, sister, daughter, colleague, friend, and more. I desperately want to be in the moment and am constantly disappointed as my mind wanders to other places. 

I have found there are two times when I am able to remain fully present. I am able to be blissfully in the moment when I am surrounded by natural beauty, like in a vast desert, swimming in the ocean, or standing on a mountaintop. And, I am excruciatingly in the moment when I am doing something really challenging–like playing an intense game of cards with my kids or following a complicated new recipe.

I have decided many times in the last few years that I was going to work on my mindfulness. I want to show my gratitude for all that I have to be thankful for by really focusing on being in the here and now. And, I want to feel the pain that comes with so much of normal life right now so that unresolved feelings don’t continue to weigh me down for years to come, as they sometimes can.

A few weeks ago, as the monotony of the pandemic started to get shaken up a bit, I began to try meditation with a hope that it would bring some of the welcome quiet that comes with a lack of routine into the ever-changing new normal of back to school. Every day I tried to sit for at least 10 minutes. People told me it would get easier, that I would start to like it. It didn’t. I didn’t.

Determined to continue to grow in some tangible way, I finally decided that a) I needed more ways to express myself during such a lonely time as we find ourselves in and b) I needed to challenge myself in some new way in order to ground myself in the present. I recalled many (at least 5!) years of my kids working hard to learn musical instruments and decided to call the best guitar teacher I know to help me dig into this new endeavor. 

During my first lesson, I immediately regretted my decision. It was so hard–my fingers hurt, the sound was not good, and it was so frustratingly uncomfortable. But, I decided that I would give it a chance, the same way that I did for meditation. For me, nothing could be more painful than trying to relax into quiet reflection, even for 10 minutes. I do not sit and quietly reflect–I need to express myself. Through writing, talking, sharing music–I connect to others and also to myself through expression and communication. 

But, I am nothing if not stubbornly attached to my sometimes impulsive decisions, and I am committed to finding new ways to express myself, so I’m digging in. There is something about the intensely frustrating nature of painstaking growth that forces you to be present. As I am trying to focus on how to get my fingers to move in ways they don’t seem to be meant to do, I am not anxious about what is to come or replaying past events. I am fully in the moment, and finally–for a brief time–present. 

The beauty of this new tool is that though I may eventually be able to play something that sounds like music (still unclear to me at this stage!), there will constantly be new things to dive into and learn when I want to ground myself in the present. As some who often finds myself anxious about what’s to come or even just daydreaming about the future or rehashing the past, it is such a helpful method, and one that will hopefully have outsized rewards some day from all of the practice. 

So much has happened in the last many months for me, and I imagine for all of us–joyous discoveries, painful losses, and so much fear and unknown. Sometimes it helps to just sit in it–in the present–and feel it without wandering too far or inviting distraction. I try to appreciate the overwhelming good, mourn the things I no longer have, and just focus on making my two hands my work in ways they never have before I jump to the next pressing issue.

About the Author
Cheryl Rosenberg lives in Englewood, NJ where she is a councilmember representing Ward 1 and a member of Kehilat Kesher Synagogue. Cheryl is the senior director of marketing and communications for Prizmah: Center for Jewish day Schools and is the immediate past president of Ben Porat Yosef in Paramus. She is an executive board member of Teach NJS, a leadership councilmember of the Jewish New Teach Project, a recent graduate of the Berrie Fellows Leadership Program, and a long-time activist in the areas of civil liberties, equality, and women’s rights.
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