By Ashley Miller ’13
I imagine that anyone who has participated in a La Vida Adirondack trip still thinks of the phrase “be here now” from time to time. Participants hear this phrase as a response to many questions, “What time is it? How long is our hike? Where are we going tomorrow?” It can be a frustrating response when you just want to be able to envision what the day might look like. At La Vida, we focus a lot on being in the present moment and trusting that we will be prepared for whatever comes next. We talk about how we miss out on what is in front of us if we are constantly wondering about the future. The importance of being present is certainly one of the biggest lessons I took away from La Vida; striving to be present to the people and moments in my life is something I continue to prioritize.
As I’ve been reflecting on presence however, I’m struck by the fact that as Sherpas for La Vida we were constantly saying “be here now” while also having a broader vision of what the trip looked like. We said “be here now” and knew that the hike would not last forever, because we knew exactly where we were going that day, and the next day, and the day after that. We said “be here now” and then probably checked our own watch to see just how long this hike was taking. We said “be here now” and then wondered if we would get to camp before dark. Of course we tried our best to be present too, but as I’m reflecting on leading trips, I’m now wondering if perhaps we practice presence the best when we can remember the bigger picture. Maybe we can only be truly present to the moment right in front of us, by acknowledging that it will not last forever. In fact, maybe by saying “be here now” we are reminding ourselves that what is in this moment is temporary. We are holding in tension the idea that this moment is what counts because it is here now, while also acknowledging that this moment will slip by into the next moments, and it will do so without us noticing if we are not careful.
I think that perhaps zooming out and remembering that the present moment will change, makes the challenges less arduous and the joys even sweeter. It does not mean that knowing what time it is or how long the hike is going to be is necessary, it means that our general perspective of seeing this current moment as a small part of a bigger story is what is crucial. It means trusting that this current challenge will not last forever.
I remember hiking to Loch Bonnie on a particularly treacherous, tree-fallen trail one summer. The hike had more incline than the previous days and the group was growing tired. At some point on the trail, one of the participants started proclaiming “blessing!” every time the trail took even the slightest dip, counting any relief from climbing a gift. Something strikes me about acknowledging that little dip in the trail, even though you know you have to keep hiking, and that the trail will surely bend into a hill again soon. Perhaps being present to that passing “blessing” encourages us to carry on, trusting that though the blessings may change, they will continue even as the challenges do. Perhaps we can be present to the dips in the trail, while also knowing more unknown terrain lies ahead.
I think about this as I’m rocking my 7-month-old to sleep. Unlike being a Sherpa, I don’t have the itinerary for my son’s life. I don’t know where his journey will take him, how his own trail will dip and climb, but I do know how to be present with him even as he constantly changes. I know how to pay attention and say “blessing!” when he giggles for the first time, or recognizes me and starts beaming when he wakes up from a nap. I think about “be here now” and how I think perhaps I can only be here now in this moment with my son because I know that this moment too will change. I can be present with him in the middle of the night because I can zoom out and see that this exhausting climb in the trail will eventually turn into a more restful dip. I don’t know when that dip will come, or how long it will last, but I know this moment is part of a bigger story, and my job is to pay attention, to call out “blessing!” at every good gift, and trust that the challenging moments will not last forever.
Ashley Miller served as a Sherpa in the La Vida Adirondack Program 2012 and 2013. She currently resides in Columbia, PA with her husband Nathan and their son Ansel.