clock showing the time: nowMaybe “embrace” is not the right word for what I want to do with each moment. The first part of embrace works fine. Opening my arms (and heart and mind) wide to the moment is exactly what I want to do with my life. Closing my arms around the moment and holding it tight is not.

A couple weeks ago a friend asked me how my health is. I told her about my weakening arms and hands, the fatigue that is becoming a bigger part of each day, the disturbances to and adjustments of members of my family. The women gathered are my friends and it was a relief – in that moment – to speak honestly. I regretted it almost instantly.

The mood in the room darkened and I felt like a whiner. That is not who I want to be.

[Psychological riff:]

As far back as Aristotle, folks have believed that catharsis – emotional release – helped moderate passions and restored balance. In the 20th century, psychology used a “hydraulic model” of emotions, imagining that emotions were like fluid flowing through the system which, if not expressed, created pressure that would – for better or worse – have to be released.

More recently, the therapeutic value of “venting” has been questioned. Most well-controlled studies indicate that …emotional expression is either harmful or has no effect (eg, Berkowitz, 1982)

[End psychological riff.]

As soon as I start talking about this moment, I start making judgments and telling stories. As soon as I start calling the sensations in my right leg “pain” I am defining, rather than experiencing, them..

In science, they call this the “observer effect.” The act of observation can make changes to the phenomenon being observed. For example, a standard mercury-in-glass thermometer must absorb or give up some thermal energy to record a temperature, therefore changing the temperature of the body which it is measuring.

If I describe what’s happening to me, the words I choose build a cage around the experience. As a writer, I find this helpful. While choosing words, I choose my experience. Those choices become more obvious when I read what I’ve written.

My verbal abilities help me understand my world and connect with other beings. They also limit my perception. Words simultaneously make my world larger and smaller.

As each moment arrives, I want to open to it and experience it without telling myself a story about it. Storytelling animal that I am, words may arise in a nanosecond. As soon as I am labeling my experience, I am no longer experiencing it. I need to return to the eternal now and understand that it exists outside of expectations, judgments and regrets.

The Tao that can be spoken is not the eternal Tao
The name that can be named is not the eternal name
(Tao Te Ching, translation Derek Lin)

I have a friend coming over for lunch today. If he asks me about my health, I wonder what I will say…