What’s Now Like?

Enough for me the mystery of the eternity of life, and the inkling of the marvellous structure of reality, together with the single hearted endeavour to comprehend a portion, be it never so tiny, of the reason that manifests itself in nature. Albert Einstein, The World As I See It.

If the present moment is all there is, why is it so difficult to be in it? It’s so crystal clear and perfect in its real, absolute stillness, but we get lost, we lose it… how can we lose something that is so directly at hand?

The past, the future – we are constantly dancing, or running, between one or the other, and the present moment doesn’t get a look in. Naked reality. If you stop for a minute and look at any inanimate object around you right now, just freeze and look at it without naming or judging it… What’s it doing? Just being present. It’s just there. Reality just sits quietly all around us.

Every morning I take my son to school and on the way we seen the moon, fading away as daylight creeps into the world. It gives me enormous solace to see the moon in the sky every day. The other day I realised, “It just sits there, in total peace, so solid,”  – ‘sailing in the sky of utmost emptiness…’ If you want to know what the present moment is like, you just have to look (really look!) at the peaceful stillness of the moon – or the branches of a tree described against the sky – the art of nature.

Or follow your breath… It took me years to realise how nice it is to follow your breath at moments in every day life. All the books I’d read and all the meditation retreats I’d been on, all telling me to follow my breath, and it worked pretty well there, but back in real life? Impossible… until recently, when I see how useful it is, always there, in and out, the perfect anchor, clearing the mind, bringing me back to my body… back to the present.

“Someone recently showed me the annual prospectus of a large spiritual organisation. When I looked through it, I was impressed by the wide choice of interesting seminars and workshops. It reminded me of a smorgasbord, one of those Scandinavian buffets where you can take your pick from a huge variety of enticing dishes. The person asked me whether I could recommend one or two courses. “I don’t know,” I said. “They all look so interesting. But I do know this,” I added. “Be aware of your breathing as often as you are able, whenever your remember. Do that for one year, and it will be more powerfully transformative than attending all of these courses. And it’s free.” Eckhart Tolle, A New Earth

And what has the present moment got for us anyway? What is raw reality all about? I don’t know the answer to that! But by looking I get an inkling… a sense of wonder that can’t be described in thought. And peace. Above all I get a sense of peace. When I stop running, stop thinking about what to do next, what I did last, what happened in the past, what might happen in the future… all of those things are important – how else do we get anywhere or learn anything? – but we can’t be there all the time … it’s just exhausting.

Last summer in Plum Village on a meditation retreat, after two weeks of slowly slowing down, I was lying beneath a deep blue sky, by a big lake full of lotus flowers, when I read the following passage….

 “Our true home is in the here and the now. The past is already gone and the future is not yet here. “I have arrived, I am home, in the here, in the now.” This is our practice. […] Whether you are sitting, whether you are walking, whether you are watering the vegetables in the garden, or whether you are feeding your child, it is always possible to practice “I have arrived, I am home.” I am not running anymore; I have run all my life; now I am determined to stop and to really live my life.” Thich Nhat Hanh. No death, No fear

…and it was like a tidal wave washing over me… I realised that I had hardly ever, ever stopped in my entire life, and yet there was nothing I wanted to do more… just to stop running. Not to stop working, or growing, or learning, just to stop running, striving, searching, just to live in peace, just to live a little more in the now.

And as soon as I got home to Madrid, and the school run/work routine started, I was running again! I couldn’t believe it… but now, 6 months later, perhaps I am starting to slow down, sometimes. To go for more meditative walks in the park… to follow my breath every now and again… to take my tea away from the computer screen so I actually get to notice it… to learn something from the intense, wonderful, real presence of the moon every morning, and the tress so beautifully drawn in the park sky. They remind me: it’s OK to stop, it’s OK to slow down. It’s OK to live in the present. This is what it’s like – just peaceful, solid, wonderous, and free.

“Breathing In,
I have become space
without boundaries.
I have no plans left.
I have no luggage.

Breathing out,
I am the moon
that is sailing through the sky of utmost emptiness.
I am freedom.”

Thich Nhat Hanh, Call Me By My True Names (from the poem, Breathing)

5 thoughts on “What’s Now Like?”

  1. Wow! That was amazing writing,Ben, I was spellbound. How great that you know now what it took me 60 years to learn!

  2. Right now I am sitting in the teacher’s lounge. It is quiet, but I can hear others working in other spaces. I am full from lunch. My breath slows as I watch it. Machinery is humming behind the wall. Those thoughts, gnats flitting about, cannot begin to fill this vast empty peace.

  3. Thanks for such a thought provoking post.

    I was recently encouraged to watch this TED talk:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeSVMG4GkeQ

    As an English, French (and hopefully soon to be Spanish!) speaker, it helped me to realise just how closely my vision of the world, and my reaction to it, is tied up in the grammatical systems of the languages through which I live my life. This week, I’ve been more mindful about living in the indicative (rather than the subjunctive) and it’s been quite an interesting experience.
    (It’s also made me feel less anxious about the chapter on the subjunctive that’s coming up very soon in my Spanish textbook!!)

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