Nearly every time I am out with my nearly two-year old daughter, someone cheerfully instructs me to “Enjoy the time with her now because it goes so fast.” The same was true and continues to be true with my nine year old. I guess you could say that I have been listening to this line for the last… well, nine years. Since the very first time I heard it, I found that my body had an immediate distaste for this advice. I have tried a variety of responses over the years, to behave agreeably, but the response that I truly want to utter when someone offers me these kind words is “For G-d’s sake then, let me enjoy this moment NOW.”
We are taught in this culture that there is something somewhere outside of us that will make us okay. When we have that thing we will be able to rest, to be, to finally land in our NOW. Sometimes we get that thing and for a little while, we feel okay. We feel we can be present in the moment as long as we have that thing. Sometimes we lose that thing and we lose our okayness, and we believe that the okayness went away with the thing. And so we begin searching again for that same thing or another, that will again return us to okayness.
But often, it does not even take losing out object of okayness to find ourselves back in a state of searching and longing, for the something that will make us be able to bare being here.
Soon after we get what we thought we wanted, we turn our attention to the time when we will lose it. Enjoy this time with your children because soon enough it will be gone. Or, once we have the thing that makes us feel okay we instantly begin thinking about how we are going to keep it. One friend describes being in her favorite yoga class spending the entire class thinking, I should really do more yoga, and mentally planning her schedule for future yoga classes. Even when we have what we want, we still can’t land in this moment. We cling to the illusion that there are indeed a set of circumstances that, once we achieve them, will finally, miraculously make this moment inhabitable. We will be able to rest–here–and stop striving to get somewhere else.
The truth is our mind is allergic to now, regardless of what it contains! Good or bad, we can’t be in it. No matter the contents of now, the mind races ahead–searching for the next thing that will make us want to be where we are. Quite simply, the mind is programmed to take us somewhere else–anywhere but here. That is its job and the task upon which its survival depends. When we enter now and stop striving to get something or somewhere else–to a better moment–there really is nothing left for the mind to do. Our attention, our being, has dropped below the neck and our “I” disappears into the experience itself. The mind is off duty, and as far as the mind is concerned, off duty means dead.
What are we to do with this mind and its allergy to now? The remedy to this allergy is first and foremost, the recognition of the allergy itself. Once aware of the mind’s adversarial relationship with the now, we can then include this relationship (its striving, its fear) into the moment itself. That is to say, rather than moving our attention to the future that the thoughts are about–getting involved in the contents of the thoughts–the thoughts simply become part of the landscape of this present moment. Because your mind is generating thoughts about the vacation week in December when you will finally be able to relax and be present, does not mean that your attention needs to jump to December, or that you can’t relax and be present right now, here, in October. We simply meet this now with the thoughts about December noticed and included.
In this way we are not controlled by the mind’s terror of now and not continually kidnapped by the future-oriented thoughts that the mind generates. We watch the mind scurry and strive, desperately searching for a role–something to do, somewhere else to take us–as we simultaneously remain still and present, here, experiencing this moment–with all that it includes. In so doing, at last, we come to know ourselves as the spacious landscape within which the monkey mind–in its full rash of hives–is welcome to keep scampering and searching, but without our having to react or–ever–abandon this now. This is freedom.