I’ve said or been told to live in the moment so many times that it’s practically a cliche. Running from task to task, I hear a little voice, “be here now,” and reply, “just a minute.” Remember Janis Joplin’s “Tomorrow never happens, man. It’s all the same fucking day”?
And the Buddhists say the same thing. This world we’ve parsed out into segments called time, which we “manage,” is an illusion. A sleight of hand. Sure the sun rises and sets in a day and night begins at 7:05 or whatever, but only here on this street. Globally, it’s day and night sweeping across the land constantly.
But on occasion, I realize that I’ve just been so in-the-moment that I’ve forgotten myself—the myriad responsibilities, my hopes and worries, my longings and regrets and rehearsals of times now gone. But wait, even there, in that sentence I’ve defined “myself” by my jobs and various big and little obsessions. Is that who we are? I’m no Heideggerian but I know a little of his “dasein,” which means basically “being there” in one of two modes, authentic or inauthentic. So far so good. For Simone de Beauvoir, there were two selves, Subject and Other, with the male always the former, and the female (woman is not born, she is made) always the Other, caught in a state of immanence and voicelessness. That’s what “Subjects” do–speak for others, write the histories, declare the laws, incur the wrath, among other things. So I’ve mixed up Heidegger and the Existentialists in one paragraph, having gotten to them through Janis Joplin, such that my philosopher friends would cringe. But there’s a point here, albeit a bit chatty, that this thing we call “self” so glibly is much more than the sum of what we fill our mental landscapes with. I am not my worries. You are not your heartache.
To further show just how light-handed I am with large bodies of complex thought, from my understanding of Buddhist thought, the mind is undisciplined, but trained throughout our lives to flit–towards what feels good, away from what feels bad, and to go numb with what’s neutral. So “monkey mind” is what we know, quietness and being in the moment is what we do not know.
Last Sunday, during a quick trip to Florida to help out my in-laws, I was sitting with my mother-in-law, just the two of us, in her temporary apartment in a wonderfully sunlit and comfortable assisted living facility. Her husband and son were gone for the morning. We were listening to a local church service on TV, led by a former Baptist now Presbyterian (that seemed relevant). He was talking about stillness, using some psalms and a passage from the Old Testament about Moses and the people he’d led into the desert. “How do you respond to a spiritual crisis?” the preacher asked. It was rhetorical, but his assumption was that most of us do not go “still.” We might weep or yell or pace, but we don’t let go quiet. We don’t let things spin around us, instead we spin. We are not the mountain that the winds pound but cannot hurt. We are not the sky that the clouds pass across but do not change.
Because I’m a knitter, I was listening while knitting, my eyes on the color purple, my fingers, the clicking needles. Evelyn was to my right. Suddenly everything outside of us seemed to slip away. I wasn’t particularly focused on either of us–didn’t wonder what she was thinking or feeling, wasn’t my usual impatient self. It was a moment of peaceful listening. And then I noticed it, thought something like, “wow, that was really pleasant.” It was as if we were there and not there at the same time, the her-ness and me-ness evaporated and we slipped into a different sort of place. Maybe the dasein had a moment of authenticity.
Occasionally there are moments of slippage and then an awareness of a different level of consciousness. Sometimes it’s gender that disappears. We’re so conditioned to notice what sex another person is that to forget it seems remarkable. For instance, sometimes in the midst of conversation there is such a connection that I forget I’m talking to a man. Then a little voice goes, “Wait a minute, is this a man or a woman?”
It seems like a good thing if even occasionally we forget to filter through all the levels of difference that we attach to each other. Peeling away the layers, making a direct connection. Isn’t this another way of being in the moment?