By Mariamne Paulus
Way back in 1971, Richard Alpert returned to the United States as Ram Dass. His guru in India had instructed him to go home and teach what he had learned. One of his first acts was to write a book called Be Here Now, and the majority of us who were awakening around that time bought and read the book and began our individual quests to live out that adage.
Forty-four years later, I am here, now, to tell you that I have discovered there are both pros and cons to living in the here/now.
I have been living intensely in the vivid present for several years now. At age 77 I have found that living in the present makes my life flow along smoothly, almost seamlessly. Some days I feel as if I am being moved along, moment by moment, by a soft breeze. There don’t seem to be bumps in the road of passing moments. Instead there are gentle curves that change the direction of the flow of the day without causing disruption. Life is gentle, easy, unhurried, stressless.
In addition, I love the vividness of my days. I am able to be present to colors, textures, sounds, tastes, and scents in my environment. Birds chirp in the early morning air, flowers blossom filling our garden and the neighborhood with color, the scent of citrus blossoms gives the promise of new fruit to come, the air is soft as it caresses my skin, and each meal is a feast of life-giving, mouth-watering treats.
In these grace-filled days I am present to each person who comes into my awareness. I take time to savor essences and to be enlivened by differences. Each encounter or exchange is a blessing.
What downside could there possibly be to such a style of life?
I can no longer multi-task with any kind of skill or efficiency. I even find it hard to have music playing “in the background.” I either want to bring it into my full awareness or return to my preferred silence.
In fact, I no longer multi-task. Instead I give my full attention to each task, and if I am interrupted, I consciously shift my attention to the new that has come into my awareness.
But there are other cons.
Last evening I was at a social event. A woman I hadn’t talked to since December sat down to chat. “How was your holiday?” she asked.
I drew a complete blank. I tried to focus on what holiday she could possibly be asking about. First I brought into my awareness that we were in the month of March. Then I ran my consciousness backwards through February and January. I was sure she wasn’t talking about celebrating a birthday. I tried to remember how we had celebrated Christmas and New Year’s. I couldn’t remember any celebration. Only after a long lapse in which I said nothing did I say, feeling a bit unsure, “I think we went on a cruise.”
“Yes,” she said. “That’s what you told me.”
I fumbled around to explain that I get so caught up in the immediacy of the moment that I forget all about the past, but it sounded feeble. I simply could not recall the cruise and was very grateful that our conversation (such as it was) was interrupted by the start of the program for the evening.
As I reflected on this experience I realized that one of the cons of living in the here and now is that the past fades away and the future does not yet have a firm place in my consciousness. If I am reminded of an event (“Remember we flew to Rome to take a Mediterranean Cruise?”), the experience pops vividly to the forefront of my consciousness. It’s not that I have trouble remembering, it is rather that the past gets filed away and needs a clue to call it forth.
Unfortunately, the same is true of the future. When setting dates or making plans for the future, I am totally present. However, I have taken to recording plans and dates in my iPhone calendar and when I turn my attention to what is next in my now moment, the future falls away. Each evening I check my calendar to see what is on the agenda for the next day, but I usually need to refresh my memory the next morning as well.
Worse than that is that if I am absorbed in reading or writing, time goes completely out of my awareness and I can miss appointments. I am fortunate that often OSO is around to remind me.
I often laugh when I remember that when doctors are trying to discover whether someone has suffered a concussion or is sliding into dementia, they often ask questions such as “What day is this?” or “What year is this?” I might be in trouble in such a circumstance because I often forget what day of the week it is and have to concentrate hard to pull back the awareness. I am not suffering from a concussion or dementia. My condition might be labeled “too much here and now.”
Would I trade the beauty of this single-focused way of moving through my days? As long as my memory does not fail me when I turn to it, I continue to choose to be present, here/now.
But I do make a special effort to focus totally on plans or appointments in the future so that my memory will record them vividly, and I practice patience when trying to remember something. I find that my mind does bring things forward, but sometimes it takes a while.
I have developed a way of focusing on images or places associated with what I seek to remember. If I hold the focus, the memory comes more quickly. I enjoy being utterly present in the here/now. The past and future return to the present when I invite them.
Perhaps the message is that any spiritual practice, if carried to the extreme, leads to imbalance. As long as we are in bodies we need to balance here/now with then/there, whether past or future.