Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Living in the Here and Now

On the advice of my friend Karen, I am trying to live in the here and now. She tells me that it will stop me from worrying and help with my chronic insomnia. That it will bring me bliss and happiness. To tell you the truth, I didn’t think I had a choice. Short of being dead or not yet born, don’t we all live in the here and now?

I am being facetious of course. Living in the here and now refers to the mind, not the body. Although it would be quite a trip to move to the past, body and soul. I could shake hands with Benjamin Franklin and Lincoln. I could kick Hitler in the you know what and give my grandmother a big hug and thank her for all the beautiful books she has written and translated. Still, aside from these brief and novel events, living in the past wouldn’t be all that exciting. I would always know what would happen before it happened.

So, here I am, in the here and now, waiting for bliss and happiness to hit me. I am doing my deep breathing exercises, eyes closed, hands on knees, humming and waiting, waiting and humming… My lower back tightens up. My mind tries to focus on my Mantra, but my brain says ‘You need a drink’. The bliss and happiness is in no hurry to arrive.

And where does it travel from? Is it already in the present or does it live in the future? Instead of waiting for it to arrive, I could move to the future for a while and save it some traveling time. The problem is, the future being so immensely vast, I would have to know whose future to move to. Nothing would prevent me from moving to someone else’s future, let’s say some enlightened Guru, who couldn’t claim that future as his, since it hasn’t happened yet. I could grab his bliss and happiness and drag it to MY here and now.

I hear you say: ‘what about the arrow of time?’ You cannot just travel back from the future to the past! That violates the second law of thermodynamics, which says that entropy will always increase in an isolated system (meaning me). You can make an omelet out of whole eggs, but you cannot make whole eggs out of an omelet. Back to square one.

According to the experts, the solution is not to wait for bliss and happiness to arrive at all. Pretend you don’t care. But I find that a bit hypocritical, don’t you? Saying you don’t care and all the while sitting and breathing and getting a sore back. I try not to care, but I always end up peeking out from the corner of my eye, to see if the darn thing has arrived. After an hour or so, I give up and crawl in bed, vengefully dreaming of the past and the future.

The next morning my friend Karen texts me: ‘Did you do the ‘here and now’ exercises I gave you?’ She checks up on me, you see. I should never have promised her to try to find bliss and happiness. Now I am stuck.

Then it hits me. The here and now doesn’t exist, since it has no duration. It immediately morphs into the past. The future has even less of a chance of survival, since it hasn’t happened yet and when it does, it becomes the here and now, which doesn’t exist. So, does time exist at all? Are we just making it up?

A famous physicist once said that the only reason for time to exist, is so that everything doesn't happen at once. But the thing that is irrevocably in time’s corner, and maybe that is why it is so hard to live in the here and now, is that things change. That’s good and bad. It’s bad for me, since I am old and change only means that I will grow even older. But what about for a prisoner? For people in intensive care units? For hurricane victims? Would they rather live in the here and now or hope for better times?

With a large cup of steaming coffee, I go outside to savor the quiet autumn air. The grass is covered with a thick multi-colored blanket of leaves. My cat Emmy is sitting on a log inside her outdoor enclosure, watching me with her amber green eyes. A bright red cardinal, precariously balanced on a slender twig, patiently waits its turn at the bird feeder. As the sun rises above the trees, the entire backyard is slowly bathed in an orange glow.

Then, for a brief moment, time stops. There is no here and now, no past and no future. It’s just me and my backyard. The moment I least expect it, bliss and happiness finally deigns to appear. I am humbled. I watch Emmy, but she is oblivious to my intense experience. It wouldn’t surprise me if being in the here and now is a feline’s normal state of mind. They do have that calm and serene air about them.

But the moment passes, of course and lands in the past. How do I get another taste of the forbidden fruit? Now I start to worry about that and my back starts to hurt. But where is the fun in living in the here and now when it requires a constant search for bliss and happiness? Why sit still for hours, eyes closed, waiting for the ultimate dessert, while the entire menu gets gobbled up by less ambitious dinner guests?

It was Aristotle, I believe, who wrote about ‘telic and atelic’ living. Telic living refers to the pursuit of goals and achievements, getting a degree, training to compete in the Olympics. Atelic living means enjoying activities for their own sake, listening to music, gardening or shooting the breeze with a friend. Both can be satisfying. Without goals (like trying to finish this damned article), I would sit around all day in my housecoat, un-showered and uncombed and without the small daily pleasures of going for a long walk in the woods, tending to my garden or watching the majestic buck standing at our deer feeder, I would probably slide in a deep depression, considering the current political crises.

But in the end, it is the balance that matters. I am no longer pursuing a career, raising children, or competing for a mate. I just AM. The joy of sharing my passion for the mysteries of life with my grandson or looking at this beautiful wolf pine tree in front of my window, is what gives meaning to my life. Unlike goals, these experiences do not have a finite life. My mother, who died at the age of 103, showed me that Atelic living can go on until the lights dim forever. I think that is a gift far greater than the pursuit of a sporadic bliss and happiness. leave comment here