What’s past, of course, is prologue. What is to be is a vast, uncertain shore (hopefully not Lincoln’s dark and indefinite one, though, in truth, that is the only certainty of our future). All we have is the present. All we can do anything about is right now. While our past experiences shape us, while our dreams of the future may propel us, today, this hour, this moment is our only possible field of action. (Unless you can recruit Mr. Peabody and Sherman.)
Many writers on matters of the spirit say that we are spirit that has chosen to take form in order to experience the world of Form. As freight unclaimed by any particular faith, I find that idea congenial: it acknowledges a plane of existence beyond the physical, which I can accept; explains a connection between that world and this one, which is satisfying; and gives something of a purpose to life, which is a relief.
Then, paradoxically, these writers recommend meditating to connect with the spirit within. ¿En qué quedamos? as Cubans say. What exactly is our position here? If we’re spirit wanting to experience Form, why are we trying to escape physical form to sense our spirit? Is it that spirit is better? Well, fine, but if we leave the plane of existence that is form, aren’t we frustrating spirit’s desire to experience that world? You wouldn’t want to make your spirit mad now, would you? (Perhaps when people struggle to concentrate when meditating, it isn’t their Form-grounded mind that’s preventing it, but actually their spirit trying to nudge them back into the physical world.) And anyway, even if spirit is a superior kind of existence, won’t we die and get back to that plane soon enough—in the blink of spirit’s timeless eye, in fact? What’s the hurry, then? If we’re here to experience this world, why aren’t we busy experiencing it instead of trying to get away from it?
There is a strain in spiritual writing, whether that of nondenominational spiritual teachers or of major faith traditions, that denigrates the physical world, or at least physical experience. While Christian preachers trumpet the glory of God’s creation, there’s also an undercurrent in Christianity of strict and judgmental morality about too much indulgence in matters of the flesh. Sure, some of that is efforts to maintain social order: the directive to eschew adultery, if followed, eliminates one cause of social friction and retributive mayhem. (Thus avoiding adultery is the interpersonal equivalent of Mutually Assured Destruction. To risk it would be mad.) But there’s also a grim kind of “pleasure is sin” undertone to many teachings. And Buddhists will tell you to avoid attachment to the world and everything on it.
I find these teachings unsatisfying. Yes, too much commitment to the physical, the material can debase the soul and spirit. I am not one to advocate having things, or even trying everything once, just for the sake of the having and the trying. (More importantly, immersion in things sensual would probably achieve little more than to ensure that Mrs. P dispatches my spirit before I’m ready for my time to be up.)
But the world also gives us the opportunity to feel awe as we stand on the rim of the Grand Canyon; behold a butterfly; feel the calm of a summer morning before the lawnmowers start or the quiet of a soft night snow; hear the voice of the song sparrow or the regular splash of waves against rocks; taste the sweet juice of fresh, ripe strawberries; feel oneself wrapped around one’s love.
I argue not for attachment to these experiences. Buddhists are right in saying they are all evanescent, and attachment to them dooms us to disappointment and suffering. But I see no reason why spirit should be starved in its essay into Form.
The key, then, is to both engage in the experience while accepting its fleeting nature. What we must do, then, is to be mindful in the course of our lives, to attend to the present, and by virtue of being in attendance, to be in the present.
We all experience those moments at some time or another, moments when we know we are vitally alive because our minds, our spirits, are attuned to what we are doing or feeling. We feel it when making love is more than gyrations and satisfaction but transmutes into a loving union of bodies and souls. We feel this intense aliveness at the moment a baby is born or, as greenheron notes, that a loved one passes. Some feel it in their vocation, as when a musician joins with the music she is playing or a horse rancher feels a filly respond to his gentling. Many of us feel that heightened awareness anytime we put chocolate in our mouths.
As that delicious example points out, it is not necessary to be working, making, or doing with the hands—though to be in the moment in this sense, it is not enough to be. You must do, though doing may be no more than sensing. The point is to have one’s whole attention focused on that sensing. Active listening and active reading are both examples of mindfulness. So can be taking a nice warm bath—as long as you put your mind to it.
On these occasions, time often slows down—or, rather, stretches out. Like Blake, we experience eternity in an hour, and the experience becomes more intensified by its being stretched.
Being mindful is minding your manner. It’s giving attention to how you’re doing what you’re doing. The sin, if there is such a thing, the nonvirtuous approach, is multitasking, for in doing so, we by definition divide our attention and thus prevent focus, block mindfulness.
And what’s the point? (You need a point?) The point is that by being mindful of what we’re doing, we are truly living in the only moment in which we can truly be alive, this one. And we can thereby experience that moment with the same transportive, joyful concentration that a child feels when building a tower of blocks or standing up for the first time. Because, you know, our spirit never experienced form in that precise way before, and it never will again.
Words © 2011 AtHome Pilgrim.
All Rights Reserved.