03/17/2014 02:48 pm ET Updated May 17, 2014

Mindfully Remembering That the Present Moment Is All We Have

Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life. -- Eckhart Tolle, The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment

Last December, a member of my husband's networking group suffered a massive heart attack. John was at the group's morning meeting and had just given a "spotlight" talk -- wherein members talk about themselves so other members get to know them and their business.

He finished his talk, left the room and crashed to the floor.

Two members of the group rushed to his side to administer CPR and mouth-to-mouth resuscitation. EMTs took over, put him in the ambulance and rushed him to the hospital.

A few hours later he died.

This is hard to write because the sudden death of a 59-year-old man with a wife, three children, family and friends is not about me. Because I didn't know John that well, I don't even have the right to grieve. My sympathy for his family isn't about my loss and, when I make it personal by veering into empathy, I find myself backing away. Imagining myself as the wife, losing my husband, consoling my children is just too painful to bear.

What I am sitting with is the fact that, just a day before John died, my husband spoke with him on the phone.

The subject was the group's holiday party. When my husband asked John if he would be there, he replied, "Absolutely, my wife and I are looking forward to it."

Every day, I make plans, assumptions and predictions about the rest of my days. I "absolutely" believe them, too, despite the fact that I should know better by now. Sure, it's pleasant to look forward to happy things (which may or may not happen,) but the flip side is the fear and dread that comes from worrying about the future.

Having cancer made me an Olympic-level worrier. At some point after I had my mastectomy, I discovered Eckhart Tolle and realized I needed something I thought he could teach me. That something was peace of mind.

It turns out that creating peace of mind is simple, but far from easy. In a nutshell, all you have to do is practice mindfulness by making "the NOW the primary focus of your life."

For the past four years, I've been trying to do that, but I struggle and I think John's death has helped me understand why. Simply put, I forget. I forget that life is short. I forget that we don't necessarily have many more decades together. I forget that children grow up and move out. I forget that people die. Why do I forget? Because it's just too painful to remember. This is not our first inexplicable, sudden death. It's not that I don't know, it's that I don't want to know.

When Tolle tells me I must "realize deeply that the present moment is all you have," he's telling me flatly to remember that my days (and those of my loved ones) are numbered.

Someday, for each of us, there will be no tomorrow. At that moment, we will have proved, completely and without any doubt, that all we have is the present moment. The trick is getting to that realization well before we take our final breath.

Originally published on WhereWeGoNow