Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Tend to this moment; it's all we have

Sitting by a window at this house in a small woods on a cool summer morning, naturally the main sound outside is the call of a bird — several birds, of course. Sinking into the moment, one is suddenly struck by the realization that the moment is all there is.

There is no time. Yesterday is a collection of moments like this. They cannot be retrieved; what's done is done. Tomorrow will be another such collection; it cannot be accessed, not yet, not ever.

A joke I heard from Barry McGuire, who tonight (according to his Web page) plans to be across the country in Port Townsend, Washington, home of Liberty magazine and a town I would like to see someday:

Guy walks into a bar (as so many guys do in jokes) and sees a sign: "Free beer, noon tomorrow." All right, sez he, I'm coming back to this little gin joint.

The next day right before noon, he walks in, plants his hands on the counter and says, "Line 'em up. I'm ready for the free beer." Bartender looks at him as if he's nuts. "What are you talkin' about? There's no free beer today." To emphasis their arguments, they both point at the sign: "Free beer, noon tomorrow."


Tomorrow doesn't exist. Only this moment is real.

What does this moment require? Consider the needs of the moment, and act.

When Barry talked about this, it reminded me of the cover of a book, years ago when I lived in the 1960s (oddly, I now see it was published in 1971): Be Here Now. It has always sounded like as good a good philosophy of life as can be summarized in three words. He talked about encountering the idea in The Sacrament of the Present Moment, written 350 years ago by a priest named Jean-Pierre de Caussade. I ran out and found the priest's book; it is slow going but it is amazing if a person is so inclined.

Here's the gist of it: Only this moment is real. You have control only over your actions of this moment. What do you need to do? Do it. Do you have a task that appears too much for you? Do you think you can handle it just for this moment?

Barry spoke in the context of a man who was trying to stay sober. He asked the man, Do you think you can keep from drinking just for this moment? "Sure, that's not so hard." OK, How about this moment, now? "Yeah, I can do that." And now this moment, can you keep from drinking for this moment? Great. You're doing it.

Each day is a collection of moments. Stay in the moment at hand, do what the moment requires. Don't fret over past moments; you cannot change what happened then. Don't fret over tomorrow; tomorrow doesn't exist yet — and if you tend to the moment, the needs of future moments will become self-evident. Stay in the present moment.



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