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Coming to Terms

To exist is to “stand out” (Latin existere) as an individual ego or “I,” centered in yourself and tracking on your own timeline. Of course, this timeline is not interminable, meaning that it will not continue forever. One day you will die and pass into extinction. Nothing in time is permanent; nothing is everlasting.

Now, I hear you thinking: What do you mean, nothing is everlasting? What about god? What about my soul? What about … me?!

Self-conscious human beings have suffered psychological torment for many thousands of years by the awareness of mortality, that “I” will not be around indefinitely. Most of us have lost loved ones and cherished pets along the way, and it shouldn’t come as a shock to realize that your time is also running out.

As a kind of therapeutic response to this existential realization, our species has invented many cultural variations of what we can call a “departure narrative” – stories about leave-taking, about getting out of this mortal condition, and securing your continued existence on the other side of death.

This is probably not where “god stories” got their start, since the idea of a personified intention behind the arrangement and events of our lives is historically much older than a belief in our own immortality.

In earliest religion, known as animism, humans related to their natural environment in a kind of ritual dialogue whereby nature was acknowledged and petitioned for its provident support of what they needed to live and prosper. These rituals coordinated human concerns with the seasons, cycles, and natural forces they relied on.

Even the gods at this stage were not immortal. They were not everlasting beings regarded as separate from the temporal realm of life, death, and rebirth. The purpose of religion was not departure but participation in the Great Round. Gods served the essential function of personifying the intention humans perceived (and imagined) behind the natural events impinging on their existence.

Eventually these invisible agencies were conceived as separate from the phenomena and realms they supervised.

Heaven, not just the starry firmament above Earth but the place where these superintendents resided, where they waited around and occasionally descended to take in the worship and earnest prayers of their devotees down below, was given a place in the emerging imaginarium of a new type (and stage) of religion, known as theism.

If these invisible (and now independent) personalities exist apart from the physical fields they oversee and control, then why not us? Actually it was more likely that the further development of ego formation in humans prompted this new idea of the gods as existing separate from their “body of work” (i.e., the realm of material existence).

Maybe “I” am also separate from this body. Perhaps “I” am not subject to mortality after all. When the body dies, “I” will go on to live elsewhere …

Thus was the departure narrative invented, to comfort you by dismissing death as not really happening to (“the real”) you – to this separate, independent, and immortal “I.” Since then, religions have been redirecting the focus of devotees away from time and towards eternity, away from physical reality and towards metaphysical ideals, away from this life to an imagined life-to-come.

It was all supposedly for the therapeutic benefit of dis-identifying yourself with what is impermanent and passing away. Very soon, however, it became a way of enforcing morality upon insiders as well. If you behave yourself, follow the rules, and obey those in authority, it will go well for you on the “other side.” If you don’t – well, there’s something else in store, and it’s not pleasant.

And to think how much of this was originally inspired out of human anxiety over the prospect of extinction. An independent and detachable personality that will survive death and be with god in a heaven far above and away from here – all designed to save you from the body, time, and a final extinction.

Religion’s departure narrative may bring some consolation and reassurance, but it does so by stripping away the profound (even sacred) value of your life in time and distracting you from the present mystery of being alive.

So far, we have been meditating on the axis of Time, and on your life in time. As a reminder, one day you will die and pass into extinction. But as you contemplate this fact, rather than resolving the anxiety that naturally arises by reaching for some departure narrative, there is an invitation here for you to shift awareness to a second axis, that of Being.

An experience far more exquisite and transformative than your departure for heaven is available right here and now, in this passing moment of your life. This experience is “post-ego,” meaning that it is possible only by virtue of the fact that you have already formed a separate and self-conscious “I,” and are at least capable now of dropping beneath or leaping beyond its hard-won and well-defended identity.

While the departure narrative promises a way out of Now and away from Here, this “fulfillment narrative” invites you into the fullness of life here-and-now.

Begin by taking a few slow, deep breaths: let your body relax into being. There’s nothing here that needs to be clung to or pushed away. All of the identity contracts that identify you with this tribe or that party; this rank or that role; this, that, or another label of distinction defining who you are and where you belong – drop it all, at least for now.

Imagine all of those things as tie-lines anchoring you to your place in society, and now you are unhooking from them one at a time.

As you do this, it will gradually become easier to quietly drop into your body. Here, deeper below all those crisscrossing tie-lines at the surface of who you are, your awareness opens to the feeling of being alive. Down through the nervous system and beneath the biorhythms of breathing, thrumming, pulsing, and resting, you at last come to a place that is no place, a “where” that is nowhere – the Nowhere, or here-and-now as we like to call it.

Each deeper layer in the architecture of your inner life requires a letting-go of what is above.

Each successive intentional release further empties your consciousness of content – first beliefs and the “I” who believes; then thoughts and the emotions attached to thoughts – until nothing is left to think about or even to name. I call this descending-inward path to an ineffable Emptiness the “kenotic” path, from the Greek word (kenosis) for “an emptying.”

The inward descent of Being and the letting-go or self-emptying it entails is also a highly effective practice in preparing you for a second path, of outward ascent into the greater reality that includes so many others and much else besides you. I call this ascending path “ecstatic,” also from the Greek, meaning “to stand out.”

But whereas “to exist” means to stand out as an individual ego, the ecstatic path is about stepping out or going beyond your individual ego in transpersonal communion with others – and ultimately with Everything, with the All-that-is-One.

In this same timeless moment, therefore, a profound and ineffable Emptiness invites you within and beneath who you think you are, as an expansive and manifold Communion invites you out and beyond yourself. Your awakening to this present mystery is at once the fullness of time and the fulfillment of your human nature.

There’s no need to leave.

 

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Narratives of Terror and the Courage to Be

fear-chainThere are a lot of highly concerned and rational people today who are being held back from stepping out, speaking up, and taking the lead into a better future for our planet. It’s not exactly that someone else is holding them back, even though that’s how many would try to rationalize their current situation. We’d like to think there is someone over there who is keeping us in our frozen state, and that if only they will leave us alone we will be happy.

This turns out to be little more than an excuse, however, because the real cause of our paralysis is internal to ourselves, not out there somewhere else.

I propose the existence of something I’ll call “the fear chain,” which gets forged especially during those critical years of our early conditioning. Parents, teachers, coaches, and other handlers conspired in teaching us that certain things (and people) are dangerous – or potentially so. When we were very young we were cautioned against talking with strangers – along with playing in the street, running with scissors, and touching hot stoves. Such things were “dangerous,” and engaging with them would likely put us at significant risk.

Whether or not they consciously realized it, these influential adults were servo-mechanisms in our socialization, whereby the animal nature of our body was trained to behave according to the rules and rhythms of cultural life. Already programmed by millions of years of evolution, our body came equipped with some basic instincts, the most persistent of which is our drive for self-preservation.

In some form or fashion, all the other instincts – for attachment, food, shelter, sex, and reproductive success – are variations of our primal commitment to staying alive.

This drive to stay alive might also be characterized as an innate fear of death, of avoiding or seeking escape from anything that threatens survival – particularly predators, venom, toxins and tainted food; along with genuinely high-risk situations of exposure, violence, or unstable and precarious environments. While not as primal, perhaps, anything that represented the possibility of injury was linked to our fear of death, since, if serious enough, an injury might very well result in our loss of life.

In this linking fashion, numerous secondary associations were forged and anchored to our compulsive need to live – and not die.

Such association-by-linking should make you think of links in a chain, and this is exactly how I am proposing that the fear chain comes into existence. A primal (and mostly unconscious) fear of death got linked out to situations, objects, and other people who presented a risk of injury to us. And just like that, the primitive energy dedicated to staying alive was channeled into attitudes and behaviors of avoidance, suspicion, and self-defense. From that point on, the possibility of injury started to drive what we did, where we went, and with whom.

This concept of a fear chain suggests that the paralysis many people feel today is a complication of how we have been socialized – not just when we were children but even now under the tutelage of the politicians, preachers, journalists, and jihadists who spin our collective perceptions of reality. In this case, those deeper fears of injury and death get linked to the more normal experiences of loss.

Almost as much as we fear losing our lives or losing our minds, we dread the loss of wealth and opportunity, of time and freedom, of the way we were, or what we thought we could accomplish and become.

Socialization is largely dedicated to the project of constructing our identity – not what we are as human beings, but who we are as members of cultures, nations, classes, and tribes. This project is carried out through a process of forming attachments to the people, places, things, and beliefs that define us and form our horizon of meaning. Identity and attachment, then, are simply two sides of the same coin, with one (identity) the product of the other (attachment).

If we return to our natural and socially conditioned fear of injury, we can see how threats to our attachments amount to a kind of assault on our person. This is how the fear chain is forged with still another link: the (threatened or real) loss of an attachment is experienced as an injury to our identity, which anchors still farther down into our instinctual fear of death.

The stronger the attachment – that is, the more central it is to who (we think) we are – the more we fear losing it.

I wonder if the fragile construct of our identity – so many attachments, so much dependency – is what makes us so afraid of failure these days; of not being ‘successful’ or ‘good enough’. If we should try but fail, we run the risk of losing some aspect of who (we think) we are, suffering injury to our personal identity and (we irrationally believe) putting ourselves in peril of death itself. When a desired outcome isn’t achieved or we can’t get something perfect the first (or fiftieth) time, who we are and our place in the world is called into question. It’s best not to try, which allows us to keep the fantasy of identity safely above and ahead of us without the risk of being proven wrong.

Those who seek to generate an anxious urgency in us will typically use a narrative of terror to motivate us in the direction they want us to go. Such rhetoric is common from fundamentalist pulpits and during political campaigns, not to mention from those extremist wack jobs who seek to panic, disrupt, and destroy the life routines of innocent citizens. They are all united in their determination to unsettle us, tapping our amygdalas with messages of panic, outrage, and paralysis – the flight, fight and freeze responses hardwired into our brain circuitry.

For the relatively disengaged citizenry of liberal democracies, freezing is the majority option: we stop, stare, hold our breath and shake our heads, waiting for the stupor to pass before crawling back into our rut of life-as-usual.

My theory is that these narratives of terror are the sociocultural counterpart of the fear chain, one shaping the environment of our collective life and the other priming our nervous system for survival in ‘dangerous’ times. Even though a drive to survive and the fear of death may be instinctual, our chronic anxiety over losing ourselves – of losing who (we think) we are, along with the illusion of security and control that holds us together – is entirely conditioned and not natural at all.

Indeed, the intentional release of this bundle of nerves and dogmatic convictions is the Path of Liberation as taught in the wisdom traditions of higher culture.

The question remains as to how we might effectively transform our Age of Anxiety into a Kindom (sic) of Peace, where we love and honor the whole community of life on Earth. Years ago Paul Tillich coined “the courage to be” as the high calling of our human adventure. In defiance of the narratives of terror and breaking free of the fear chain, we can step out and speak up, investing our creative authority in the New Reality we want to see.

It will take more than just a few brave souls. And it will require that we move out of complacency, through protest, into a very different narrative.

 

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Live Like You Are Dying

Let me start out by saying that I have a friend who is struggling with mortality. I have several friends, actually. One thing we all have in common is that we are getting older, and as we get older we are growing more aware of the Dark Gate just over the horizon. Once you realize that your sand won’t ever go back up the hour glass, some serious reckoning is in order. This happens to be terrifying my friend at the moment.

If I can’t make new friends as I go along, my present company will slide intractably down the gradient of entropy and eventually there will be none of us left. Perhaps some day in the still more distant future someone will stroll by my gravestone, or a descendant might stumble across my name while researching our family tree. Where will I be at that time?

Long, long ago an answer to this question was that I somehow carry on in a shadowland of departed souls. Importantly, “soul” back then didn’t refer to a resident ghost that inhabited a body for a time but afterward continued to live apart from it. Soul was more like an animating force – fluid, dynamic, breath-like – than a nonphysical entity.

We can only imagine what went through the minds of primal human beings (perhaps our hominid ancestors) as they gathered around the corpse of a friend or family member. What had just hours before been breathing and talking and living like the rest of us, is now ashen and rigid. Where did that center of affect and agency – that unique personality we knew and loved – go?

paleolithic grave

The primitive practice of burial was probably motivated out of concern for sanitation, odor control, and hiding remains from scavenging animals, but there may have been an element of reverence as well. The mystery surrounding this once-living personality was not to be casually dismissed. Some kind of subterranean extension of the burial hole was envisioned, where all deceased members of the community somehow “live on.” As far as the archaeological record suggests, this seems to have been an acceptable (and widespread) belief, sufficient to allow the folks above ground to carry on with the demands of daily life.

Fast-forward many centuries, and now the postmortem status of the departed personality might be one of three possibilities depending on how important, virtuous, or depraved a person was during earthly life. Good people were taken up into heaven for their reward, bad people were condemned and thrown into hell, while the average and “undecided” cases persisted in something like the old shadowland, but understood as a transitory waiting room, not a final destination. Of course, to be “taken up,” “thrown down,” or tabled for later discussion presumes the existence of someone who executes this action, which is what we eventually find in the pantheon of deities throughout the higher cultures.

We really need to explore what could be called the “archaeology of human psychology” to understand the mechanism responsible for this rather dramatic shift in theories of postmortem existence. What we see over the intervening centuries (10,000-1,500 BCE) is the gradual but steady rise of ego consciousness – the ascent out of tribal sympathies of a separate sense of oneself as an individual. This important separation of the individual ego from the group continued on an earlier separation of the group from the earth, as the maintenance of society began to require more human energy and attention. Specifically what it did with respect to the topic at hand is encourage a notion that I (ego) am separate from my body.

Death of the body, at this later stage of development, didn’t pull a personality into the shadowland (as in primitive thought), but was increasingly regarded as a “disencumbrance” of mortality – getting rid of or being set free from the bag of meat that snags us in time and would otherwise drag us to a dreadful end.

heavenAs religion began to reconstruct itself around the death anxiety of the ego, traditional commitments of keeping communal life in rhythm with the cycles of nature were given up in favor of a program for saving the soul from the ravages of time – safe forever with god and other believers in heaven. This program not surprisingly included strong sanctions against “carnal” desire and the pursuit of pleasure for pleasure’s sake; such was the way of woman and the devil. The soul – which by now had become essentially synonymous with the ego personality – must be kept pure or “cleansed” of its attachment to the body through repression and ascetic practices.

Consequently we have inherited these two horns of my friend’s dilemma: Either we blink, wake up in heaven and are happy ever after, or we rot in the ground with the worms. Which one do you want? Religion is betting on (and abetting) your fantasy of living forever.

But this dilemma does not exhaust our choices. In actuality there is no choice. I will die, and so will you. All evidence strongly suggests that your last day on earth is your last day, period. So is this a vote for the worms? When my body starts to lose its peripheral functions, the decline has begun; when its rudimentary functions fizzle out, I’m done. Is accepting this an act of existential resignation? If my death is the end of me, does it mean that nothing matters and there’s no point in caring about anything?

My admittedly over-simplified tour through ten thousand years of religion’s changing opinion on this question of mortality and the afterlife was for the purpose of showing that the escalating anxiety around death is actually a product (or more precisely a by-product) of religion’s steady hijacking by the neurotically insecure (separate, exposed, estranged, trapped and “fallen”) ego. The seduction was slow, but over time ego became the orthodox impostor of the soul, now immortalized and destined for disembodied bliss (or perdition unless you get your act together) somewhere else.

Because it is so obvious that ego consciousness came about and was not there in the opening millenniums of our evolutionary history as a species should encourage a healthy skepticism regarding the glorious fantasies of meaning, identity, salvation and immortality that have since been spun like a web around its nervous and wonderfully conceited existence. You just have to give the assignment of creating their own religion to a group of self-conscious and inwardly tormented adolescents, and soon enough you’ll have something that looks strikingly similar to a number of world religions today.

The truth is that we are human beings, evolving creatures of this magnificent and possibly exceptional planet, outwardly oriented in the turning complexity of our physical universe and (at least potentially) oriented inwardly to the creative source of our own spiritual life. The ground of your being is provident and gracious and deeply mysterious, beyond words and much deeper than who you think you are (ego). This inward path and resting place in the present mystery of reality is named soul, and what your soul wants more than anything is to relax into being – surrender, loosen up, and unwind completely into Oneness.

Death will be our last chance to fully relax and let it all go. Now is the time to practice …

 

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What Death Leaves Behind

My father is trying to find his balance now, after 56 years of leaning into his best friend and life partner. It’s not easy. The reality of my mother’s recent passing – or I should rather say, the hole she left behind – catches him unexpectedly and pulls him into convulsing grief, yearning to have her back. It strikes me, as it hasn’t before, that the real pain of death is not in what it takes from us, but in the absence it leaves behind.EmptyChair

When we lose the warm presence of someone we have loved for so long, memories call to us from the fading edge of awareness.

It’s tempting to remember, to go back to a time when she was here with me, tilting her head and smiling, or slapping her knee with a round tumbling laugh. I vividly recall my last conversation with my mother – what she said, how she looked, what she was wearing. It feels good to stay there, in that gauzy space in my memory.

I don’t want to leave.

But then. Why can’t the world just stand still long enough for me to collect myself, to mourn my loss and cherish what I had? How can those millions of people rush by so insensitively, so carelessly? Don’t they know? Can’t they see this absence, this hole that I keep falling into?

The Buddha said that we suffer because we attach ourselves to things and people that are by nature impermanent and passing away. We hold on to what we love and it becomes part of us. As time goes on we hopefully learn how to adapt and accept things as they change. My love for my mother evolved over the years I knew her, getting deeper and stronger and more complicated as we shared life together.

My clutch as an infant gave way to an apron-string dependency in early childhood. Then I tethered my adolescent identity to her (and to my father), orbiting in tightening circles or flying farther out according to how supported or misunderstood I felt. In my adult years, we both were wrapped into our separate adventures, touching base from time to time by phone and sharing the occasional holiday as a family. Even though I didn’t get to touch and kiss her very often, the presence of my mother at least somewhere in my world provided me with an ineffable sense of security.

Her death has left behind this vacancy. My father is overcome with emotion as he vacuums over the spot where her hospice bed had been. An empty chair across the kitchen table has him weeping over his morning oatmeal. You know how a wall that once held a painting keeps a shadow in its absence? It’s like that – a reminder of something that isn’t there anymore. His vacancy is different from mine, even though they were once occupied by the same living person.

One of my daughters has a favorite book of my mother’s. In the margins are faint pencil checks marking passages that had caught her attention; here and there a crumb from her morning toast is lodged in the seam. Young fingers slowly sweep the pages – imagining, remembering, wondering, longing. Something so ordinary is suddenly the only one of its kind.

I find myself getting frustrated over an inability to focus on things that held my fascination but a couple of weeks ago. Certainly she knew I loved her. Did I tell her often enough? What does that even mean: enough?

The world still wobbles out of balance. Sorrow rises and rolls like a black ocean, lapping over the rim of my fragile composure. So love leads to suffering? I hurt more the harder I hold on? Sounds right. But I’m not quite ready to let go. I need to live with this absence for just a while longer.

Why don’t you pull up a chair and tell me your story?

 
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Posted by on April 25, 2014 in Timely and Random

 

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Metaphors of Life

Metaphors operate at a level where experience first breaks over the threshold into expression, the real presence of mystery into representations of meaning. At a very deep level – just short of the very deepest – human beings orient themselves according to a guiding metaphor of life itself.

What is life, and what is your place in it?

Western culture is organized around a guiding metaphor of life that we could name circling the drain. With its accent on the individual, everything tends to be oriented according to the individual’s perspective, more specifically to the perspective of that separate identity called ego. drain

This is who I am. This is my tribe. These are the things that belong to me. Such are the ambitions I have for myself. I have a limited amount of time to realize my dreams, and finite resources to exploit before my time is done.

I do my best to hold and protect my own, to get what I need and have enough of what I want, but it’s very apparent that life is leaking away from me all the while.

This drain metaphor of life spawns other secondary metaphors, which are more enmeshed in language and hence more meaning-full. The farther out and dependent our minds become on this web of meaning, the more dogmatic we get in our beliefs, the more convicted of our certainties, and the more vulnerable we become to anxiety and depression. We worry over many things, sink into fatigue and discouragement, and get just enough rest to rush out and try it again.

Western religion has compensated for this inherent bipolarity in egoism with its invention of an afterlife fantasy where the ego will live on forever once the body expires. Physically my body is trickling down the drain with each passing minute, but I (ego) will not die. Instead I will pop out on the other side, fully intact and without the drag of a mortal frame. Over there, I will be reunited with my loved ones who went down the drain before me, and I will be everlastingly happy.

The metaphor of circling the drain, therefore, is what inspired our familiar and highly defended notion of salvation as a rescue project. What we’re looking for cannot be here, for the obvious reason that everything is going down the drain. Our only hope is to find the way out – out of this world, out of our bodies. Not really out of time, exactly, since heaven is supposed to be everlasting, but at least in time without a drain to worry about.

Outside of religion, the metaphor of life as circling the drain has stimulated a view of the individual as consumer – needing, demanding, taking, devouring, using, spending, wasting and casting aside the leftover junk. We have been brainwashed to regard ourselves as chronically empty – of what exactly, no one knows for sure. But there are countless fillers on display in the marketplace that we are encouraged to try out. Keep your credit card handy.

So we oblige by filling ourselves up with all manner of “stuff” and in the process have become discontent and possessive, malnourished and overweight, popular and lonely, renting storage and buying insurance policies to keep it all safe as we inwardly waste away.

                                                                                  

There is another metaphor of life, one that predates our Western notion of the drain by thousands of years. Its roots are in the organic intelligence of the body – the very problem from which the ego seeks escape. It is central to a grounded and mystical spirituality. Instead of circling the drain, this metaphor invites you to join the stream.

riverLife is a flowing river, and you are part of the mystery. There’s no need to throw yourself into a tightening spiral of anxiety, craving, attachment, frustration, disappointment, desperation and depression.

True enough, since the larger culture has been constructed around the drain metaphor, you will be tempted to regard this idea as something else you need to take and make your own. But that’s just ego again. 

By its nature, a stream cannot be possessed. If you should try to dam it up and turn it into a reservoir, you might achieve the illusion of ownership and control, but your entire perspective will have shifted to a vertical axis centered on leakage and loss prevention – the drain again.

Joining the stream promotes a very different outlook on reality, a different way of orienting oneself in the world. As a metaphor, it counteracts the ego’s tendency towards nervous consumption and the grip-down on me and mine. Rather than closing focus down into a spiraling anxiety around the drain hole of mortality, the stream metaphor opens our focus up to the larger reality to which we belong.

Our separation from reality and antagonism to life is only a delusion of ego consciousness. I (ego) am not really separate from everything else, but my insecurities and defenses make it seem so. And yet, this mistaken sense of separateness is what alienates me from my body and hence also from life itself.

The metaphor of life as a stream is also a gentle reminder that it’s not about me. Admittedly it can be a considerable – perhaps even traumatic – change in perspective that’s required, and one that isn’t supported by the general culture we live in. To some extent this has always been the case.

Even though their teachings were later turned into programs of escape from mortality and its complications, Siddhartha and Jesus were really speaking about the opportunity afforded in each moment of life to release the neurotic compulsions of “me” and “mine” for the sake of a larger and more participative experience. The Buddhist “no-self” (anatta) and the Christian “new mind” (metanoia) are early concepts that get at this idea of joining the stream.chart

The above chart sets in contrast these two different images, identifying the points where each guiding metaphor works its way into our worldview, our fundamental attitudes toward life and the values we uphold, as well as our approach to the mysteries of death and dying.

Everything changes as you learn to give in to the greater reality, rather than stubbornly insist that reality deliver on your demands. You are wonderfully free of convictions and the need to be right. You begin to understand that nothing belongs to you, that there is only One Thing going on here and you are part of it.

In life and death, you can be fully present and trust the process. This is the essence of faith.

 
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Posted by on March 1, 2014 in Timely and Random

 

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A Grateful Life

As my mother receives guests into her home and says goodbye to old friends, some deep questions poke to the surface of my conscious thought. What is this life that I so easily take for granted, this stretch of 80 years (if I’m lucky) from cradle to grave?

Just now the morning sun glows in the curtains, dappling the floor in a play of shadows and light. In five minutes it will be different – but that’s only because my attention chunks time into snapshots for measurement and comparison. Actually, each moment opens a unique touch-point on reality, where the fluttering pattern of light and shade is continuous with yet utterly different from what it was just a moment before.morning

How wide is a moment of time? Just a flash, a dissolving threshold? Am I not always in it – however wide or impossibly narrow it may be?

This, right now, is the present because at this very moment reality presents itself to my awareness. As present, it is a gift that I can open or set aside for later.

But if I should set it aside – out of intentional avoidance, preoccupation, laziness or on the promise that I’ll get back to it, it’s no longer there when I do.

The past isn’t where the present goes. It’s only how I remember or try to recall what happened, a fixed snapshot in my album.

I also spend a lot of time looking ahead, into the future, which is not the present coming to me but merely my mind again, chasing out the trendlines, flopping assumptions from over my shoulder and onto the path ahead.

So whether I’m reaching back to recover the past or looking forward to predict the future, I’m doing all of it in the present. This won’t be here again. Yesterday I was hoping for something else, and tomorrow I’ll be wishing I could have it back.

How many presents go unopened?

What if the sun comes up tomorrow morning and plays in the curtains again – but I’m no longer here to witness it? It won’t be chunked and framed, and it won’t be around for me to remember later. What if I’m not around tomorrow? What if this day is my last? What if this moment is the final present I have a chance to open?

Truthfully we can never know, can we? And that realization will either drive you insane with anxiety or call you to present-minded wonder and appreciation. If all there is is right now, then right here is where we need to start digging. Or maybe that’s already too willful and aggressive. Close your eyes and just relax into being.

The opening of reality to me in this moment coincides with the opening of my attention to the present mystery – or perhaps they are really the same. This moment is for me in the sense that the mystery presenting itself is made present as I give my attention to it.

But what am I supposed to do with it – this precious gift of time? I can’t simply gush all over it with sentimental acknowledgment of its fleeting character, grabbing up as much as I can before it slips through my fingers. Life can’t be lived perpetually in a stoned haze, gazing in stupefied amazement as it vanishes in wispy rings above our heads.

Maybe it’s the “harsh realities” of daily life – all the deadlines, appointments, and concerns – that push me to an opposite stance, where I’m perfectly willing to squander the moment in distraction or worry.

This could be what’s behind the worldwide tendency in religion to postpone what really matters to a later time, a distant paradise, on the other side. While the soul longs for authentic life now, mystical communion here, and deep peace in this moment, my ego-in-charge is too busy trying to hold its own and make progress against the steady drain of time. Having the assurance that I’m all set for life everlasting excuses me from fully investing in life here and now.

What if this is all I have, my only “at bat,” my exclusive opportunity to open up to the Real Presence of mystery. Do you pity me?

Please (and respectfully) save it for someone else.

Today I will begin receiving guests into my life and saying goodbye to old friends, knowing that this may be our last or only chance to touch the divinity in each other.

Tomorrow morning, if I am offered a gift of the sun dancing in curtains, I will notice, open the present, and give thanks.

 
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Posted by on February 21, 2014 in Timely and Random

 

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