Some years ago my son Andy asked “Is it now everywhere?” What an extraordinary question from a 6-year-old! 30 years later, I still don’t have any answer for him.
The notions of living in the now, focusing on the present moment, being mindful are all fashionable concepts these days. But they are nothing new. The Buddhists have been talking about mindfulness and the present moment for centuries. AA has encouraged us to live life one day at a time and minimize worry about tomorrow and regret about yesterday.
Living in the now is nonetheless an elusive concept. Awareness of living in the now or being mindful by its very nature precludes being aware. In other words, the nature of living in the now is such that I cannot have the thought “Oh. I’m living in the now!” or “Hurrah for me! I’m being mindful!”
What then can that experience look like? Certainly I live in the now when I experience wonder. In those moments, I am not analyzing. I am not distracted. I am totally absorbed. Thus, when I stood before Edward Hopper’s painting “Nighthawks”, I was aware of nothing but the colors, the shading, the texture of that painting as well as the emotion I felt. Nothing else existed in that moment.
Being lost in immediate sensual experience is also living in the now. Nothing detracts from good sex like being distracted! Nor can I enjoy a good meal if I am thinking about what I need to do after I eat. How can I relish a good rendition of Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” if I am checking my watch?
We also live in the now when we are truly listening. Sadly, as helper, I have come up short in this area, allowing my mind to wander. When I listen well, that mind-wandering has been minimized. What fills my awareness are the words and emotions of the person across from me.
In the final analysis, living in the now is an impossibility. The narrator from a wonderful, largely unknown film titled Off the Map expresses it best: “It has struck me to view the ocean as the past, the sky as the future, and the present by that thin precarious line where both meet — precarious because, as we stand there, it curves underfoot, ever-changing.” Perhaps the best I can do is to pay attention as the line of the here and now ebbs away from me. Perhaps the best that I can do to answer Andy’s questions is to say no. For even as I ponder the question, now becomes then.
Reflections: In looking back, have you had any moments of living in the now?
Further Viewing: Off the Map is a wonderful film with a strong cast including Joan Allen and Sam Elliott. I relate strongly to several of its characters.
“Off The Map” was a priceless movie and highly under-rated. As I ponder “living in the now,” I am aware that it is one of my spiritual practices alongside preparing for the future. Both are real, and both are necessary. Once again, I go back to the reality of a Neutral Witness in my psyche that can stand back and notice when I’m not being present to now or when I am operating from the ego which is most of the time. Richard Rohr defines suffering as “whenever the ego is not in control.” Ego is all about ruminating over the past and also making those famous plans which we know are so amusing to God. So every day for me is a constant struggle with ego and the sacred Self which is always in the now, always present. I’m grateful, however, for the Neutral Witness that notices, ever-more frequently when I’m not living in the now and when I’m living from ego. Whenever the Neutral Witness kicks in, I am living in the moment, and that is the best I can do right NOW.
I am almost never in the present moment but I know how to get there when I want to or need to. I simply find one of my animal friends (bird, cat, horse, etc.). Then I see things their way and I am in the moment. Have you ever noticed how animals don’t resent you? It’s because they live in the moment.
Quite interesting, esoteric and philosophical…Cornelia P
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