Although our culture implies that we should be able to control everything, the truth is that we cannot. We cannot predict illness or disasters. As a result, our lives are not always going to be easy, but we can stay in tune with what is happening and who we are. With practice, we can learn to trust in ourselves and honor who we are and who others are, all while appreciating this present moment.
In No Time Like the Present, Jack Kornfield shows us how to find this type of freedom at all times in our lives. Regardless of our circumstances, we always have the choice about our attitude and how we will respond. Through lovingkindness and compassion, we can build authentic connections with the world around us.
Freedom of spirit
Mindfulness is about staying connected to what is happening right now.When we learn to live in the moment, we will have a sense of freedom. A big part of staying in the present is becoming aware and knowing that we can always choose our responses to difficult situations. With practice, we learn to honor our experiences – both good and bad – because the only thing any of us has for sure is the present moment.
And mindfulness doesn’t have to be a complicated practice. Staying connected can be as simple as just taking a breath. As we become more aware, we also begin to increase our resilience, compassion, emotional stability, and learn to live more freely.
Obstacles to freedom
Sometimes an obstacle to freedom is ourselves – but this is not said with judgment. Those who have experienced trauma, for example, experience longterm effects after the event is over and resolving the trauma does take time, but freedom is still possible.
Another obstacle to freedom can be our sense of unworthiness. If we don’t feel that we’re worthy of something, that can stop us from experiencing it. We may wonder if we deserve to be free.
Moving past this unworthiness requires some self-compassion. As we increase our compassion, awareness, and appreciation for our own humanity, we will find that we become less critical of others as well.
Lack of forgiveness is another potential block to achieving freedom. In the wake of trauma, it can be hard to forgive and not have that trauma define who we are. The key is to honor our past without letting it define our future.
Forgiving both ourselves and other people helps to bring healing. When we don’t forgive, we are essentially chaining ourselves to the past. We can move on with forgiveness, because in forgiving we choose to let go of negative thoughts that we once obsessed over.
Our lives are never going to be perfect, and seeking perfection puts us in conflict with the rest of the world. Spiritual leaders such as Jesus or Mother Teresa experienced conflict in their lives, yet continued moving forward towards their purpose.
We are also free to be creative. We all have a canvas of our own, upon which we live out our dreams and explore our visions for the type of life we want to live. Realizing these freedoms helps us see how much is available to us in the present.
We all have a contribution to make in this lifetime. But before we can contribute, we need to know who we are, and we find out who we are through moments of stillness and quiet. When we explore and identify who we are at our most authentic selves, we inspire others to do the same.
We can also become thankful for what life throws at us – perhaps even in the challenging times. We step out of the box of stereotypes that we may have been put in. We recognize that what we’ve been called to do in the past doesn’t necessarily mean that it continues to be a calling for our future. Through compassion and love, we can find our place in the world.
Admittedly, I was perhaps not the right audience for this particular book. Kornfield writes from a Buddhist worldview and my faith is Christian. There are some practices in the book that would take me outside of my comfort zone because they had a “new age” feel to me. I especially had trouble relating to some of the content in part one.
However, there were other sections I could appreciate that talk about our imperfect humanity and the value of being ourselves rather than striving towards an identity molded by external circumstances and pressures. I also appreciate Kornfield’s comments on love for other people. Whether it’s Christianity, Buddhism, or another worldview, I think – or at least hope – we can appreciate the need to love others and the ability to recognize that everyone makes mistakes, regardless of race or religion.
To demonstrate compassion towards others, we have to first understand, value and show compassion for ourselves. If we experience self-hatred, then it becomes harder to love other people or show any compassion for them. The theme of mindfulness and being in the present is a concept I appreciate. And I agree wholeheartedly with Kornfield about the need for us to find freedom and joy exactly where we are.
No Time Like the Present: Finding Freedom, Love, and Joy Right Where You Are
Atria Books, May 2017
Paperback, 320 page