We humans often reach back into our memories for special moments that made us feel fully alive or happy or loved, or were very exciting and thrilling, or all of these. Similarly, we “look forward” with eager anticipation to planned events or experiences that are still in the future. Some of the appeal or specialness of these past and future moments for us lies in the novelty associated with the experiences we had or will have. But, consider that each new moment is special even when we are immersed in mundane every day activities.
Consciousness itself is a wonder and a mystery. Life is also wondrous and mysterious even when it is terrible and not joyful. Each moment of life and consciousness can be savored in its immediacy if we focus the mind on the present moment. By consciously connecting with the present, by being fully present in the present moment, we are more fully alive, and to a certain degree more free. The zen practitioners work to train the mind such that it becomes more natural (and easier) for them to be fully present in the present moment. A person can be less of a witness and more a part of the present experience. Perhaps the satori they seek is direct, interpretation free experience – the state of “no-mind”? (Or, for those who read Carlos Castaneda, the state achieved when one successfully turns off the internal mental dialogue within one’s head, when rational thought is suspended.)
An instructor in graduate school told us students one evening that time is the scarcest resource because it cannot be replaced. There is an important lesson here. We need be careful not to be prisoners of our past, prisoners of our own errors and regrets, and/or the hurts others have laid on us. As well, we need to be wary of being too focused on the future, too anxious or worried over outcomes or results. If we allow ourselves to be prisoners of the past or future, we lose, in a sense, the only thing we truly have which is the present moment. You do not have to live for the present moment, but remember to live in the present moment.
The journey is in many ways more important and meaningful than the destination. Focus on the process as life is a process.
We recall a short story that we as a class read way back in grade or elementary school. It was a story of 3 male travelers who were driven by automobile across the length of the US. Along the way, three very different personalities were on display. One of the men was fixated on the schedule and making good progress to reach the final destination quickly. Another of the men (the legalist) was obsessed with following the law and was always worried about the driver possibly exceeding the speed limit (even in the empty wastes of the desert Southwest). The third man realized that he was in a car with 2 other neurotic persons but he still wanted to enjoy the experience. So, he opened the window while they were travelling through the corn or wheat belt and savored the smell of the ripening grain in the fields. He even remarked on the simple pleasures of the trip along the way, but the other men were not receptive to his perspective. He recognized and appreciated the simple beauty and joy to be found in each moment.
In the early to mid 1990s, when I was going through a very difficult stretch in my life and suffered from serious depression, I wrote down some of my thoughts. One aphorism (really a dictum) that I arrived at, which many people also arrive at sooner or later, was this: learn from the past, plan for the future, but remember to live in the present.
The present moment is all that we have. The past is a memory and the future is an expectation.
We cannot control outcomes as much as we would like to think that we can. (Through our efforts, we can increase the probability of attaining a successful or preferred outcome or result, but we fool ourselves if we think we have total control of things.) Yet, we can choose how we will interact with life regardless of what outcomes there are.
And, let us not forget to strive to live a constructive and loving life and help others along the way. A loving life is a more meaningful life.
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