Staying and Straying: The Tension of Two

KMHunerImage; McCord Park; Tallahassee

The fear of letting go makes staying hard and straying easy. As Mark Nepo says, it is “so hard to feel the stone and not the ripple.” It is the tension of trying to be in two places at once, resisting what is for what might be.

“The moment we stray from where we are…we [block] the sensation of being fully alive because being split in our attention prevents us from being authentic” (Mark Nepo).

When we stray to a past moment that gives us pain or joy or both–how we label it really doesn’t matter–the memory provides us with what it has always provided us, a moment that was reality but no longer exists. Yet, that memory appears in the present moment.


In staying with what each moment offers, memories bubble up—memory is the context of our mind–it is one thing to witness our memories and another to engage them. When we stray to them, we divide our attention and are no longer authentic but somewhere in between.

We can’t help but remember, yet if we allow our memories to stay as bubbles, floating up and through us, we let them go as they are, untouched and whole. As Pema Chödrön teaches, it is the energy beneath memory that is worth our attention for it is the source of the bubbles.

For each moment that we practice being present—neither running from nor holding onto—we feel the stone and not the ripple for we are not attaching or resisting. There is no tension of straying or staying. These moments seem few.

The difficult and the joyous moments we always revisit for those are bubbles we want to forget or we want to remember always. Regardless, we stray. In remembering, sometimes we try to change the outcome by daydreaming new scenarios or we just simply want to relive the moment, maybe embellishing it just a bit. Once we stray, there are no limitations.

Regardless, the memory bubbles will return and keep returning until we practice staying in each moment we have. Our practice begins with our inner resources, the “four limitless qualities [of] loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity” (Pema Chödrön). We begin with whatever quantity there is of each, no matter how shallow the pool.

We go to what we are because it is what we genuinely and completely feel. We may aspire but we begin right where we are. A well can fill, a pool can become a lake but always, there is the first drop.  For us, always there is the present.

KMHuberImage; McCord Park; Tallahassee; Florida

What we actually are–a limitless pool of inner resources–spills into our actions in everyday life. It is a pool to which we may return again and again, staying with what is genuine rather than straying into what was or might be. There is no resistance, just the feel of the stone.

“That we stray from the moment is not surprising. The more crucial thing is that we return” (Nepo).