It is always now. I actually want to talk today about death. Now most of us do our best to not think about death. But there’s always part of our minds that knows this can’t go on forever. Part of us always knows that we’re just a doctor’s visit away or a phone call away from being starkly reminded with the fact of our own mortality or of those closest to us.
Now I’m sure many of you in this room have experienced this in some form. You must know how uncanny it is to suddenly be thrown out of the normal course of your life and just be given the full time job of not dying or caring for someone who is. But the one thing people tend to realize at moments like this is that they wasted a lot of time when life was normal.
It’s not just what they did with their time. It’s not just that they spent too much time working or compulsively checking e-mail. It’s that they cared about the wrong things. They were correct what they cared about. Their attention was bound up in petty concerns year after year when life was normal.
And this is a paradox, of course, because we all know this epiphany is coming. Don’t you know this is coming? Don’t you know that there’s going to come a day when you’ll be sick or someone close to you will die and you’ll look back on the kinds of things that capture your attention and you’ll tend to ‘What was I doing?’ You know this, and yet if you’re like most people you’ll spend most of your time in life tacitly presuming you’ll live forever.
Watching a bad movie for the 4th time. Or bickering with your spouse. These things only make sense in light of eternity. There better be a heaven if we’re going to waste our time with that. There are ways to really live in the present moment. What’s the alternative? It is always now.
However much you feel you may need to plan for the future, to anticipate it to mitigate risks, the reality of it is now. Now this may sound trite, but it’s the truth. It’s not quite true as a matter of physics, in fact there is no ‘Now’ when it comes to the entire universe. You can’t talk of an event occurring simultaneously occurring here and at the same moment occurring in Andromeda.
The truth is, ‘Now’ is not even well defined as a matter of neurology. Because we know that inputs to the brain come at different moments and that Consciousness is built upon layers of inputs whose timings have to be different. Our Consciousness awareness of the present moment is in some relevant sense already a memory. But as a matter of conscious experience, the reality of your life is always now.
Now I think this is a liberating truth about the nature of the human mind. In fact I think there is probably nothing more important to understand about your mind than that if you want to be happy in this world. But the past is a memory. It’s a thought arising in the present. The future is merely anticipated. It is another thought arising now.
What we truly have is this moment. And this. And this. And we spend most of our lives forgetting this truth. Repudiating it, fleeing it, overlooking it. And the horror is that we succeed. We manage to never really connect with the present moment and find fulfillment there because we are continually hoping to become happy in the future. And the future never arrives.
OK, even when we think we’re in the present moment we’re in very subtle ways always looking over its shoulder, anticipating what’s coming next. We’re always solving a problem. And it’s possible to simply drop your problem, if only for a moment, and enjoy whatever is true of your life in the present.
This is not a matter of new information, or more information. It requires a change in attitude. It requires a change in the attentiveness you pay to your experience in the present moment.