Joseph Anderson

Soul Cartography: The Present Moment

I’ll be offering Soul Cartography again soon, every other Tuesday night starting July 12 at the Phinney Neighborhood Center. More information, including registration details, available here.

Various helping spirits (this time in the form of family members and friends) have been offering insight into how to proceed with the class. The first thing I’m learning is to bring more focus to the present moment (thanks to my father, who with his recent memory loss is teaching me a lot about this).

Dad turns 93 on April 28, and retains all of his charm and general good cheer – but is steadily losing his memory.

At his birthday celebration on Friday he kept asking about the verse in the Psalms (90:10) that reads “The days of our years are threescore years and ten; and if by reason of strength they be fourscore years.” I think he is marveling and a little puzzled that he is still around. I suggested a counterbalancing verse from the Sermon on the Mount: “Take no thought for the morrow,” (Matthew 6:34) and followed that up with a little sermonette about the phrase “eternal life” meaning not so much a place like “heaven” but rather an expression of the infinite possibilities of the present moment. (After our decades of tussling over religious matters, I find it easier to talk with him about this stuff, knowing that he won’t remember tomorrow, or fifteen minutes from now, that we had the conversation!) As his memory declines, he increasingly has little choice but to remain the present moment; thankfully he is accepting this shift with good grace and patience. So once again I am learning unexpectedly rich and deep lessons from observing his life.

Which brings me to the Soul Cartography class. By design we spend a lot of time looking at the past: inventorying, mapping, reflecting, finding patterns and meanings. This kind of work can easily feed a sense of nostalgia, which is fine as a form of entertainment but has minimal transformative potential – perhaps quite the opposite, in that it ties us to the vividness of past experiences. Since my aim is to assist in transformation, though, I want to more explicitly position the exercises as being in service to the present moment.

What I am after is helping my students use the past to feed a deeper and more alive experience of life in the present. So we are not seeking to relive the past. Rather the aim is to become more fully alive, energized, and flexible in the now. Being awake in the now enables us to hold honestly and with integrity the textures and grooves that life has imparted to us through our past experiences.

I want to make this present-moment focus more clear in the class, and so I am making a significant change, moving the mandala exercise (with which we ended the class last time) to the beginning. The mandala is very much focused on what gives you power in the now, and starting with that should give us time to deepen our relationship with our creations in the following weeks, and provide a continual now-oriented point of reference for the historical digging that will come later in the class.

Of course, the future is another convenient point of escape from the present moment. Last time around we didn’t talk much about the future, but I want to change that next time. More about that in an upcoming post.