Life is now!

9 minute read

“Which day is it?” said Winnie. “It is today”, said Piglet. “That is my favourite day” said Winnie.

– Winnie-the-Pooh

Today I woke up an hour before my alarm, feeling tired but unable to sleep more. I went to the kitchen to get myself a sandwich, but there was no bread left. I wanted to do a meditation in peace and quiet, but the neighbours decided at that moment to start making a lot of noise. I wanted to have a relaxing bike trip to my work, but I had a heavy headwind and an unattentive chauffeur almost drove into me. And so the day went past…

Sounds like a pretty sucky day all in all, right? 

Let’s try that again. And try paying attention to how you feel while reading this.

Today I woke up and it’s an hour before my alarm. I witness a feeling of tiredness in my mind. Outside some birds are celebrating the opening of the day. I observed a feeling of hunger in my body, and feel drawn to look for food. I feel the cold floor under my feet as I walk there and notice the mental form of a sandwich among other thoughts. In the kitchen I find no bread. I let go of the idea of a sandwich and eat a banana instead. I feel a peacefulness in my body, and want to honor this with the caring attention of a meditation. I observed loud sounds from inside the building, and I feel a resistance to these sounds. I mentally sit down with this feeling of resistance and observe the sounds as they come and go. The sounds stress the stillness in between like nothing else. After the meditation I get up with the intention to bike to my work. I observed how the strong headwind cools down my face and I feel the resistance to the movement of my now-warm muscles. The sound of the wind past my ears fills my surroundings. I notice how a chauffeur crosses my path, so I slow down and steer clear of the car. And so the day continues to be…

Did that feel different? It sure does to me. 

“You should try to be in there here and now” is a cliché that you probably don’t want to hear me talk about. And I won’t give you this advice today. I won’t give you this advice, because the phrase implies that there is any other place to be than here. Any other time than the now. Yes, there are moments when we are absorbed by thoughts about the past, in different places. Or we worry where we might be in some future moment. However, we cannot be there and then. We cannot be in this other time and place, because the past and the future do not exist. We are already in the present moment, so how could this other time and place exist simultaneously?

Yes, the past and the future do not exist. That’s what I just said. They are nothing more than illusions. I know this sounds like a grandiose and somewhat misguided claim, but please think about it for a minute.

Have you thought about it? Allright, yes, you are right to think that the past is real in the sense that it has happened. However, does it also happen now? After all, can anything ever happen outside of the now? The only sense in which the past has happened, is in the now. And the Now is a very narrow road to walk indeed.

Memories of the past are not the same as the moment that the now once inhabited. At most, memories are an impression of what the now has once been. An impression in the mind, devoid of the richness of direct, conscious, sensuous experience. Devoid of your bodily experience. And then we haven’t even started about how we often remember things that have not even happened. How we often remember a past that does not actually represent any moment the now once inhabited. We remember a ‘fake’ past. And the same goes for the future! The future doesn’t exist, in the same sense that the past doesn’t exist. Maybe it exists even less than the past. The future is completely made up, after all. It’s an imagined moment that will possibly (or probably) never come to pass. A pure fabrication of the mind that has never even seen the bright light of the now. 

The only sense in which the past and future have any credence, any meaning at all, is in their relation to the now. They borrow their meaning from their weak relation to the current moment. But because they borrow their meaning from the now, they lose the little meaning that they carry if we are too occupied with the past and future to enjoy the now. After all, who is to say that we will spend this future moment any different than we are spending the current moment: distracted by imaginary moments in another time and place?

For whatever reason, many of us learn much about how important the past and the future are from a young age. Many of us will even regard them as more important than the present moment. Yet, who does ever learn about the present moment in school? Who talks about the present moment when meeting with friends and family? The question “how are you now” is a formality, often unanswered. We quickly move on to asking each other “how was your meeting yesterday?” or “what are your plans tomorrow?”. 

And why would we care about that present moment? Why would we care about the present moment while we think about our life situation as something to improve. As filled with “problems” to solve. Now let me ask you: what is a problem, but a mental judgement about the way your recent past has been developing? What is a problem, but a fear about a made-up moment of now projected into the future, that might never come to pass? And who is to say you will even be bothered by that moment if it ever does come to pass? You can never get close to imagining the richness of all possible future situations. No matter how much you try. So all the incessant worrying we do about our future is mostly pointless.

“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

Of course, we need to take some action to ensure we can meet our basic needs of food, human contact and shelter. And what about the past? Of course, we can take useful lessons from the past in some limited cases. However, taking these measures need be no more than different moments of now that we can choose to deeply experience and enjoy. After all, the only place in which we can think about the past and plan for the future, is the now.

Many people experience their lives in a very compartmentalised way. In some moments we work or study, and there are other moments of ‘free time’. We do our work or study, and once we are done we allow ourselves to enjoy the rest of the day ‘off’. And there are many more moments in the day. Moments to sleep, moments to eat, moments to do chores… But in compartmentalising our lives this way, we forget about the basic underlying truth. All these moments are made up of the exact same substance. All these moments are made up of now. We can choose to deeply enjoy every moment. To deeply allow ourselves to experience what we are doing as we are doing it. Why wait for this imagined future moment where ‘free time’ arrives? Or even worse, why wait for your pension to arrive? Surely, this fictive future cannot compete with the very real current moment. You might not even life to see the light of this imaginary future day. So why don’t you choose to enjoy the whole day through, every moment of it? Because often that’s all it is. A choice. 

If you feel resistance when you hear me say that, I would invite you to try it anyway. Make the choice to enjoy the current moment. Right now. No excuses. And see if anything changes in your experience, in what you feel right now.

In Buddhism it is said that all of our suffering comes forth from an inability to accept that what is, in this moment. To experience deep joy and bliss, all we need to do is to let go of fear and worry. It is simply being with that what is. Sounds pretty straight forward right? And I believe it is just that. But only as long as we manage to take some wind out of the sail that is our mind.

The mind wants nothing else but to tell us how much better the future can be, if only we do this and that. There is some “problem” right now. A problem constructed by the past and projected on the future. And happiness is available in a future moment. Right around the corner. The future promises us grand rewards. The only problem with this is that we can never harvest the fruits of this promise the mind is making us. We can never harvest them, because once we arrive in the future, it has become the present moment, and the mind will project the reward further away from us in the future in turn. It’s like the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow we will never be able to reach. We keep telling ourselves that we just have one more problem to solve. One more hill to climb. And then we can be happy. Then we will have our pot of gold. Maybe if we have a bigger house, a better car, more money on the bank or a better sex life. But whatever we do, the pot of gold always remains behind the next hill. Your mind will always find something new to worry about. That’s simply how the mind works.

Don’t get me wrong. Our minds are pretty amazing. We can think about the most complex, funniest or most important things with it. However, the domain of the mind is the past and the future. It does not care for the present moment, because it has no use for it. The mind is there to keep our basic needs met. But we should not let it try to orchestrate our future in ever increasing detail, because we will end up selling every present moment for a future that does not exist and might not come to exist. If you were to get hit by a comet falling from the sky tomorrow and die, you want to be able to look back upon your life and say: “I didn’t expect it to be over already, but I enjoyed every bit of it. I have no regrets.”

Let us make a point out of nurturing ourselves in the healing experience of the present moment. And we do so by practicing a deep connection with our physical body. By being ‘grounded’. The present moment is the domain of the bodily, sensuous experience, and this will be the topic for our next blog. 

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