“We’ll call it The Present.”
The other day I came across this quote from Alan Watts. He said
“We are living in a culture entirely hypnotized by the illusion of time, in which the so-called present moment is felt as nothing but an infinitesimal hairline between an all-powerfully causative past and an absorbingly important future. We have no present. Our consciousness is almost completely preoccupied with memory and expectation. We do not realize that there never was, is, nor will be any other experience than present experience. We are therefore out of touch with reality. We confuse the world as talked about, described, and measured with the world which actually is. We are sick with a fascination for the useful tools of names and numbers, of symbols, signs, conceptions, and ideas.”
This is what I realized long ago. When I am unhappy or upset or worried it’s because I am thinking about the past or the future. When I am completely involved in the present I am blissfully happy. This is why playing sports is fun. This is why I love doing improv. This is why playing music feels really good when you’re fully involved in it.
This works on the macro level. Nothing from the past and future needs to keep you from making this day, this week and even this year fantastic.
On the micro level, you can take a deep breath right now and experience the present. This is where bliss lives. This is the aim of Zen, to really be present to the present without thoughts of the past or worries about the future. This is surprisingly hard to do for more than a few seconds at a time but that’s the goal of meditation.
I’ve heard a lot of people say they can’t meditate because their mind keeps spinning. Here is the truth. I’m not sure if this is encouraging or disheartening but it certainly blows away the idea that some people can’t meditate because their minds are too active. Everyone mind is too active. You’re not special. No one can stay in the present. Let me tell you a story that illustrates that. Genjo Marinello was an old friend of mind and is now the Abbot of the Zen Temple in Seattle where I started my practice. Genjo told me once that he meditated every morning for 90 minutes and every evening for 60 minutes and meditated several times a day with clients (he’s also a psychotherapist). He said in all that daily time he spends trying to focus on the present without thinking he feels lucky if he has one or two “good breaths.” Now Genjo has since been declared a Dharma heir so maybe all that zazen has turned him into a Bodhisattva who is always in the present moment but the point is that meditation is not about doing it right. It’s about trying to do it. Tara Brach suggests that the real point is not staying in the present moment but rather getting in the habit of noticing that you’re not in the present and refocusing on it. Brad Warner, my new favorite writer about Buddhism and founder of the Angel City Zen Center which is located in Los Angeles and, ironically, somewhere in my future plans, compares staying in the present to riding a surfboard. It’s great when you’re on it but it takes concentration to stay there and inevitably you’re going to fall off.
So take a moment right now to appreciate right now. Do that as much as you can. That’s where happiness is hidden.