To recap two of my earlier posts on the same subject – do you wonder what this is all about – this life? That’s of course, if it’s about anything at all. All the rushing here, rushing there, have I done this, that, everything I have to do? Will I catch the train, the bus, the plane? Where’s my ticket?? Have the kids got everything for school? Come on! We’re going to be late – and no, we can’t afford that – the mortgage is due this week, and the gas bill, and my dentist’s, and it’s nearly Christmas and I still haven’t got a present for – oh, God – what is the point?
We go about life like everything we do has to have a point, some more or less desirable end result – even life itself needs to have a point. As a result, our minds are so much of the time set on the future. ‘My goal is…’, ‘What I want to achieve is…’, ‘My dream is to become….’ And once I’ve arrived at that magic point then, so the assumption goes, I will be happy and fulfilled. Then what?
I’ve never climbed a mountain – at least, not a physical, geographical one – but isn’t it a bit like that? Once at the summit, what then? Clearly, an enormous, exhilarating sense of achievement; a while spent in wonder at the view from the top of the world; taking photographs; then the turn around and the long trek back down. You wouldn’t want to sit on the summit for ever. The mountain has now to be consigned to that thing called memory. And memory is notoriously unreliable. With time, it fades into the mist; bits of it simply disappear; its chronology becomes doubtful, often impossible to disentangle with any certainty.
What doesn’t seem to fade however is the joy you had – however difficult, challenging, painful it may all have been – in getting there. That seems, in some indefinable way, to be still with you; to have contributed something permanent to some inner part of you.
Look back – what were the happiest times of your life? Or really I suppose I should say the most joyful times of your life – for ‘joy’ is a lot more than just ‘happy’. Some special time in your childhood? Something which moved you profoundly – like the birth of a child perhaps. Like watching the pulling down of the Berlin wall and seeing those people with tears in their eyes reunited with family members from whom they’d been separated for years.
Things like that bring joy. But what was the point in any of them? Watch a beautiful sunset – listen to a piece of music that moves you to tears. Where is the point, the end result? To paraphrase the inimitable Alan Watts, you don’t go to a concert, a gig, in order to wait to hear the final chord; you don’t stand there, in awe of the beauty of that sunset in order to see the sun disappear over the horizon; you don’t join in a dance in order to arrive at a certain point on the dance floor. You do those things in order simply to do them and to be part of them. And when they’re over, they’re over. The thing, the act, the event was sufficient unto itself – and to you as the partaker in it. There was no ‘point’ in any of them.
Neither the ‘future’ nor the past are real; they are ideas, thoughts. The past is memory; the future a mental concept. When the ‘past’ was actually here, it was the present; when the ‘future’ gets here, it too will be the present. Our one and only reality, the only part of our lives over which we have any genuine control, is here now – the present. As the American journalist, satirist, H.L Mencken said, maybe a touch – but only a touch – tongue in cheek, “We are here and it is now. Further than that all human knowledge is moonshine.” Everything, without exception, happens only in the present moment.
Given that, it seems only natural that even if you’re never going to find a ‘point’ to life, the only place it makes any sense to look for a clue as to what it might ultimately be about is in the present moment.
The following, on this subject, is from my book of meditations –
If this present moment be out of true – then rest assured, leave it unattended to and the one which follows will also be out of true. Then the next and the next and so on in an ever-steepening curve until you stand at great distance from the wisdom of your own heart. Continue even then as you are – and the resulting distress to your Self will, in the short or long term, resolve itself into disturbance of the mind or illness of the body.
Within each moment is how to live it. Look well and without fear, then do as you find there. It requires eternal watchfulness regarding Now. But Now is all we have and all we know.