Live every moment
Love every day
Because before you know it
Your precious time slips away
– Kevin Cronin, REO Speedwagen
Back in college I wrote a poem “Now Lasts Forever.” I was intrigued by the idea that it is always now. Time is an elusive concept. Physicists tell us that time and space are really two parts of the same thing. Photons — those particles of light illuminating the world — do not experience time, only speed. For them now is literally all they experience. That seems incomprehensible but we’re really in the same boat. We experience now, even though the world changes around us. My best definition of time is change – you know time has passed when things change. Now lasts forever, change is constant.
I’ve argued before that it’s important to ‘live awake,’ to see beyond the kind of fog that society and culture can impose as we go through the day doing what we are supposed to do, caught up in various little battles and problems. Angry at the traffic jam, snapping at the kids, fretting about work. It’s easy to get caught up in that kind of parade of emotional noise, exhausted at the end of the day from the constant push and pull — or as a line in a different song puts it “overwhelmed by everything but wanting more so much!”
Live that way and days can pass in apparent meaninglessness. Every battle or issue that arouses emotions and causes frustration gets forgotten, replaced by others that distract one from really living. Then at some point it ends, and for most of us everything we’ve worried about and focused upon is forgotten faster than we think possible. Even those who make it to the history books do it in a caricatured manner. People remember some deeds and details, but most of the daily concerns and activities are lost. Now has changed, that past is gone completely. We perceive left over traces in memory and artifacts, but little more.
No wonder some philosophers see the human condition as one of suffering and pain. Wanting and yearning, desiring and struggling for something utterly unobtainable – a world that makes us happy. When you depend on the world for happiness and contentment, the world will always disappoint. Especially modern humans, stripped of the meaning community, faith and tradition provided in the past, face tremendous psychological difficulties coping with trying to make sense of this world and ones’ place within it.
The answer, it seems to me, is to take now seriously. It is now. Always. Now lasts forever. Change flows through the now. It’s not that time is passing, now is simply changing form. It’s not that we’re aging and gaining wisdom, we’re simply changing along with the world around us.
That lends perspective. Why let ourselves be tied down by daily drudgery? The reason things seem frustrating and boring is we create temporal cages. We see time as well defined and important, and thus in any battle or fight the stakes are high.
What I try to do is appreciate the now whenever it occurs to me to do so. When I put my six year old to bed he wants me to lay there and cuddle him. The part of me wanting to build temporal cages thinks “I have to grade papers, I want to read a book, I don’t feel tired, he’ll keep me in here a half hour, he should fall asleep on his own…would my dad lay with me and cuddle…fat chance…” If I do that my mind gets caught up in drifting, thinking about what I could be doing and the time passing.
But if I look in his eyes, hug him, look around the room and think of its beauty and how it will change, I appreciate being with my six year old son in his bedroom with the moon light flowing in, his soft skin against mine, or his little feet kicking my back, and it’s bliss. I’m appreciating and living this moment, keeping my mind from wanting to leap out of the now. After all, fretting about what one could be doing accomplishes nothing yet keeps one from appreciating what one is doing.
Walking downstairs through the rec room to my office I look at the wall colors. What a beautiful house! Where others might see a messy room, I see toys that someday will just be memories. It’s here now, I’m in a point of time that has great joy if I let myself simply experience. When I read student participation in discussion board for my on line course I realize I’m part of their education, they’re learning, taking time to write at something I constructed (this course and its structure) and we’re engaged in a real learning relationship. It’s not “damn, I have to grade,” but WOW, I get to read these ideas and respond. How cool is that?
Focusing on now is also helpful when one is irritated. If I think, say, my son was treated unfairly in some situation I could fantasize everything from law suits to angry confrontations. Those won’t happen, I’d just be wasting energy due to my own lack of satisfaction with the situation. So instead I pause. Look around. The beauty of the place where I am at, the things around me, the joy inherent in this moment. Last weekend skiing I had to go up the T-bar with my six year old. One time towards the end of the day my legs and shoulders were in pain and the ride was excruciating. I was dwelling on my poor aging aching body then suddenly thought…wow, Dana and I are going up the T-bar together, that is so great…look at the snow, the trees, the sunlight, this is such a beautiful place, so magical. And it was – as I engaged in that celebration of the moment the pain didn’t disappear, but it didn’t register.
We joked and laughed going up the mountain. That laugh. So delightful. Today after school Dana comes out and it’s the first really cold day this year, about 10 degrees Fahrenheit. He takes off his jacket, “wow, it’s really hot out here,” he says. (Note: I take full responsibility for that kind of behavior, he’s acting like me in that sort of instance.) I try to get him to put his coat on but to no avail — though he does move quickly to the car. Other parents might struggle and get mad “how can you take your coat off, you’ll catch your death of cold, get your coat on NOW!” I just smile and watch the stubborn and independent little guy run to the car laughing. The moment is beautiful.
The more I manage to appreciate each moment as it goes by, the better I feel, the more I find life truly beautiful and wondrous, the more magic seems to occur. Monday was trash and recycling day. We recycle monthly, so I had a whole bunch of Christmas boxes I got ready to go Sunday night. I usually leave things up there Sunday nights but it was raining – and freezing rain is not a friend to things left outside. So I knew I had to wake up Monday early.
I did – at 7:41. The rest of the house was asleep. The recycling people come early and I was afraid I’d missed them. I rushed to the garage still wearing my lounging around the house pants and headed up to the road. It’s about a quarter mile up to get to where I have to leave the stuff. The recycling truck is there. I get out, “glad I caught you,” I say as I hand the guy my broken down boxes. He smiles, takes the stuff and I head back.
But as I do I have a huge smile on my face. What a moment. I woke up just in time! Can that really be coincidence? And I got the maximum sleep possible without missing it! The air is crisp, the sky clear, and the world full of magic and beauty. Living in the moment works.