I dreamed I was being carried along by life like a leaf on a stream. In the dream I was wearing the royal blue dress I wore at my daughter’s wedding in England last November, which seemed strange because moments before I was holding my daughter’s tiny hand as we walked down steep brownstone steps in Brooklyn. As I floated by someone standing on the shore told me my hair looked good and that was nice but hardly enough to make a life.
Here’s the kicker: I woke up realizing that I hadn’t been dreaming and that I actually am—that we are—being swept along by life, being lived rather than living, helplessly reacting to circumstances and conditions vast and microscopic, outside and inside. Interconnected and impermanent we may be, subject to ceaseless change, but I wanted to add my conscious “yes” to life. I wanted to live deliberately, to actually read and sign the contract that bound me instead of travelling blind. I wanted to feel it before it passed by.
It turns out that being present is a courageous act. It involves discerning what we cannot change and changing what we can. We cannot change other people or the forces that act on us—we cannot change the relentless force of change. But we can change the quality of our presence here and now. We can turn away from the old thoughts, pull ourselves out of the deep groove of habit, and be here now.
We have a special potential the Buddhists call “bodhicitta.” This isn’t a very graceful metaphor but think of it as an inflatable life raft or vest implanted in our hearts and minds (heart/mind). “Bodhi” means awakening and “citta” derives from the Sanskrit root “cit,” which means “that which is conscious”—consciousness or mind. Bodhicitta means “awakening or awakened mind” or “mind of enlightenment. Bodhicitta is an expansive capacity of awareness and compassion, allowing us to be with change, connecting rather than being swept away.