As someone who turns out several blogs each month, I am deeply grateful for the invention of the diner. It is at the diner — a true laboratory for human behavior — that I gather much of my material. This morning, eavesdropping again, I overheard the woman in the seat beside me ask her male companion if he had any advice for her on how to be here, tips or techniques for how to get herself into the present moment. In the off chance that my dining neighbor reads this blog, I offer a how-to for being where you are!
Oddly, the question of how to be here relates to our cultural relationship with happiness. We are brought up believing that there is something somewhere that we can attain that will make us happy. If we are happy, then we will be able to be where we actually are, maybe even want to be there. In other words, there is a future that will lead us to now, a there that will allow us to enter here. If this weren’t our cultural creed, it might be used as a definition of madness.
Besides being a recipe for unhappiness, this belief causes us to be in a constant state of searching — if only we could find a better moment, then we could really be in it. Our beliefs about how our life is supposed to go, and what our now is supposed to look like, cause us to continually reject our now, and therefore our life. This moment is never the one we should be living. We don’t know quite where or when the right moment is, but we will know it when we see it. Unfortunately, the right now never shows up because the one thing the right now can never be is… right now. Only an idea of now can be the right now.
In addition to our addiction to searching for a better moment, we are desperately afraid to land here. We relate to our now as something that has the power to victimize us. We believe that the thoughts, feelings, and sensations moving through the present moment are entities that can harm us. As we see it, experience is something that happens to a separate self, and is therefore potentially dangerous to that self. We say, “I don’t want to experience suffering.” In fact, we are not experiencing suffering, but rather suffering our experience — a radically different thing.
So too, if there is a difficult feeling, thought or sensation, any “negative” experience that appears in now, our very identity is threatened. We cannot be here with this “negative” feeling because that would mean that we are a person who is having this negative feeling. What would that say about who we are or what kind of life we are living ? Certainly we would not be living up to our “happiness potential.” We don’t want to be this somebody, nor a somebody whose life is like this. The only answer then is to get away from now.
Furthermore, we turn being here into an effort-filled exercise in order to appease the mind’s relentless need for a task. The mind is constantly in need of something to do, fix, accomplish; it needs material to keep it occupied. The mind is like a hyperactive child on a long airplane ride, it needs a toy. If we were to stop trying to be where we are, and simply be where we are, what would be left for the mind to do?
We have spent a lifetime trying to get to there with the hope that when we get to there, we’ll finally be able to be here. The problem is not that we haven’t found the right way to get to there, or haven’t tried hard enough. Rather, the reason we are flailing is that in truth, we don’t need to get to anywhere else, or do anything. Here is already here. We are already here. How sad that the mind has convinced us otherwise, and made us feel responsible for what is already provided. This is the great irony and tragedy of our lives.
Here and now are our birthrights — like life. Do we need to do anything in this moment to be alive? No. Life takes care of life. Do we need to do something to be in now? No. It is already — and always — now. It can only ever be now. Do we need to go anywhere to create here? No. Here is already here. We cannot not be here. When we stop trying to be present, there is just the present. If there is a task for the mind to accomplish, it is to stop trying to figure out how to get us here, how to insert us into now. Such is a task for which its efforts are not needed.
For the woman next to me at the diner, I offer this: Simply notice what’s here when all the effort and searching stops, when nothing at all is added or taken away. When the trying to find here, now and yourself ceases, you will discover yourself right here — in right now.
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It is not the mind that takes us out of the moment, it is the ego, originating in the three veils of darkness: pain, fear, and anger. The pain veil catapults us into a painful illusionary past, the fear veil projects us into an illusionary future, and the dark veil of anger takes us all over the place, past, future, anywhere but now. For the ego, being an illusion, can never, ever be in the now, in reality. And the mind, flailing about searching for the elusive answer of why I suffer, what’s the meaning of it all, has an important role in clearing the veils, thereby revealing the NOW. An effort is required, one cannot passively sit back and relax into the now, waiting for enlightenment. For that is what living in the now is. The veils reveal themselves in the body as uncomfortable sensations, the pain veil can be felt around the heart, as the fear veil is felt in the solar plexus, and the anger veil creates headaches as well as unbearable sensations of irratibility in the chest. A simple watching meditation clears the veils, to watch the sensations instead of getting lost in them and the altered state they produce. In becoming them you feed and perpetuate them, by watching them, you starve them and they will dissolve, leaving you free and in the moment where there is peace.
It is interesting about diners. I remember a diner scene in a movie many years ago when a man comes into the diner, ask for a cup of hot water. The gal at the counter brings the hot water, the guy take a bottle ketchup, there is always a bottle within reach on the counter, and stirs some ketchup into the cup of hot water. When get the mixture just right, he ask for some saltines, which used to be free, the gal give him some and he breaks them up into the mixture. Try it sometime, it’s not too bad.
The big question here is – Does anybody know the name of that movie. It was from the ‘40’s or ‘50’s.
The other thing about a diner is everybody knows your name. I know it’s a line from “Cheers” but it’s true. And how about the scene in the diner in “Nobody’s Fool” or Mel’s Diner.