Ah, the present moment, like a Moody Blues song as we contemplate breathing deep the gathering gloom, that which we turn into glimmering light of peace and ease, converting to tranquil contentment filled with joy and ecstasy, a moment when …
Hey, wait a minute! Is that really what being in the present moment is all about? Or is it really about paying attention?
On my way to work today, traffic was briefly held up by an earnest pedestrian who decided to run across Ellston at the Forest Glen Metra stop because he saw the train was there, but he was on the wrong side of the road. Not only that, he didn’t have the crosswalk light in his favor. But dab gummite! He didn’t want to miss that train even if he was late, so he just decided to step out into traffic and hope everyone would stop.
Lucky for him, traffic did stop.
This moment got me thinking about the present moment. This late pedestrian wasn’t living in the present moment. Whatever moment he was living in, it had no connection with what the present held for him.
The streets and highways are filled with folks who pay no attention to the present moment, not really, that is. Outside of their car, they may speak with beatific words about living in the moment, absorbing the essence of life, but when it comes right down to it, they have no clue as to what it really means to live within the present moment.
Living in the present moment isn’t this esoteric blissful state that many think it. It’s not an artificial halcyon existence, although if one does properly live in the present moment, ease and tranquility follow you like a shadow that never leaves.
But getting there is much more mundane than simply smoking a joint and saying, “chill out dude and enjoy the moment.”
Consider the solitary monk Thera. In the Theranama Sutta, the Buddha hears about this character, Thera, who extols the virtures of living alone. The Buddha doesn’t directly refute the way Thera lives alone, but the Buddha does add some context to what it really means to “be alone.”
“And how is living alone perfected in its details? There is the case where whatever is past is abandoned, whatever is future is relinquished, and any passion & desire with regard to states of being attained in the present is well subdued. That is how living alone is perfected in its details.”
Hmmm, forget the past, the future must be let go as well too, and controlling one’s actions and feeling in the present, well, that’s the only real action to be taken! Pay attention to what is happening now, that’s what the Buddha is saying, right?
Well, let’s get some confirmation. Let’s take a look at the Bhaddekaratta Sutta and see what it says.
“You shouldn’t chase after the past or place expectations on the future. What is past is left behind. The future is as yet unreached. Whatever quality is present you clearly see right there, right there. Not taken in, unshaken, that’s how you develop the heart. Ardently doing what should be done today, for — who knows? — tomorrow death. There is no bargaining with Mortality & his mighty horde.
Whoever lives thus ardently, relentlessly both day & night, has truly had an auspicious day: so says the Peaceful Sage.”
I’m beginning to see a pattern here. It’s as if the Buddha is saying, “Hey you! Pay attention to what is happening right now! Know what you are doing because where you are right now is the result of your past, and what you do right now is going to determine your future. So pay attention!”
So the next time you’re late for work and traffic is heavy and you’re stuck behind me, try to remember it’s not my fault you’re late. You are responsible for where you are right now, in this moment. You put yourself there. I didn’t, and no body else did. You did. You. It starts with you.
The image with this post comes from Benny Chan and was taken in Peru.
I'm a content director for a television company, guiding content on Web sites. I'm an avid listener of Frank Zappa and a practicing Buddhist who follows the Theravada vehicle. I'm an insatiable traveler who calls Chicago home.