So it’s forty years of now moments since the Now Moment made its big splash with Ram Dass’s “Be Here Now”, and since then the present moment has continued to increase in popularity at a nearly unbelievable rate. Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now” was recommended by Oprah in the late 90s and has sold three million, and there are lists like “Ten Best Ways To Stay In The Moment!” in every other glossy on the rack. When I worked at the NYSE the hackneyed motto used in our commercials in the early 00′s became, “Right here right now!” I’ve even been infected myself with this insatiable hunger for the present. Sometimes when teaching my class, usually at the beginning, I’m instructing them to breathe deeply, and I can’t help myself, I find myself parroting those lines about how the breath draws us into the present moment, the breath is not about yesterday and not about today, it’s just about right now.
Yesterday I started reading a book someone recommended, which I accidentally found in the library: “Awake in the World, Teachings from Yoga and Buddhism for Living an Engaged Life,” by Michael Stone. I thought, what the hell, I’m trying to write a book like this myself. And I should say now, before I unsheath my rapier, that I generally like what I’ve read so far, and I admire his projects. Okay, that’s done with. Not shockingly the first chapter is entitled, “This Is It… The Here and Now of Everyday Living.” Right away he gets my sarcasm up in quoting the venerable Dogen: “I came to realize clearly that mind is nothing other than mountains and rivers and the great wide earth, the sun and the moon and the stars.” Yes, there is that; and there is also the 34th St. subway station; that’s my mind for you. There is also the kid picking through the garbage heap outside all the slums in the world. Anyway, moving on: “All that is necessary is for your mind and body to be present like the moving grasses, the petals of a tulip, the currents and subcurrents of endless rivers.” Also, the rivers of garbage alongside the tracks at 34th St. Let’s re-phrase, shall we? All that is necessary is to be present like the mosquito sucking my blood in the now moment, ouch.
Stick with me, I’m going get very serious in a minute, I promise. He then makes the curious statement that “Pre-Buddhist and pre-Patanjail Yoga are both concerned with looking beyond the here and now for salvation…” I think he’s right to imply that Buddha put paid to some of this salvationist thinking, but Patanjali was all about the transcendence. I’m reading Patanjali in many translations these days for my history essay, and to my little mind he is all over striving to escape this world of suffering to finally arrive at kaivalya, or liberation. “II.26. Clear and distinct (unimpaired) discriminative knowledge is the means of liberation.” The last book (Pada) of the Sutras is called Kaivalyam. If this “liberation without qualification” is not “salvation” then I’ll eat my atman. Along the same lines Stone’s modern view of samadhi is interesting: “In the absence of turmoil, greed, and self-reference, we experience deep samadhi — the embodied vividness of nonseparation. Samadhi is not a permanent achievement or final state in which you rest outside the temporal and unreliable flow of conditioned life. Samadhi is a glimpse, even if sustained over a period of time, of the ground in which one recognizes that one is free to be in this world without being gripped by exaggeration, craving, or rejection.” Patanjali puts it this way: “IV.29. Thus freed from selfish motivation (akusidasya) while abiding steadily (sarvatha) in self-luminous discrimatory awareness (viveka-khyater) the cloud of natural law (dharma-megha) is gathered (prasankhyane) and absorbed (samadhih),” and he goes on to describe “absolute liberation” in the last Sutra. Now I’m not saying Patanjali wouldn’t know a Now Moment if it kicked him upside the head (there is after all Sutra 4.12 — look it up), but it’s not like he’s terribly enthused about it.
But these are quibbles and we’re getting away from the theme here, the Now Moment. Stone says, “If there is no fixed enlightenment, we must keep asking: What is this now? It’s the ‘now’ that is important. It’s the ‘what’ that is secondary… The ‘what’ orients us toward the now. But the now is not separate from you. The now is endless time — you become time when you become yourself.” My problem with this is that if there’s no escaping the now, why worry about it? When I’m dreaming of the past (per John Lennon) I’m still in the now moment. When I’m worrying about tomorrow’s to-do list, I’m in the now. Why must I keep asking anything? If “we are always ourselves” anyway, as he goes on to say, what me worry? I like the idea that me and time are like this, but isn’t that a good reason I don’t need to concentrate on it all that much? I actually find that sometimes thinking about the now and what it is just feels like a silly mindgame. Anyway, let’s face it, sometimes the now moment just sucks.
Okay, I admit it, I am sort of a transcendentalist myself, so I do think there could be a state where you are one with the inner Seer, or The Witness as Yoga sometimes calls it, to the extent that whatever happens, you’re basically experientially in the present eternity of being and seeing from a divine state. But I think this is something that is given by grace when you’re worthy for it, so I’m not even gonna worry about it beyond trying to be a nice enough guy.
Life is full of paradoxes, that’s one thing I now know. And sometimes the best way to be in the now is to be wistfully and sadly recalling the glory days, or, on the other hand, project-planning tomorrow’s exciting vacation. Sometimes that’s a little bit of samadhi in itself.
So this is something I want to tell my classes these days. Come into the now moment, but if now and then you find yourself outside the now moment, don’t worry about it. You’re in the now moment anyway. So now let’s do some sequences.