Perversely Avoiding The Present

Sunday, August 9, 2020
Glendale, California

Perversely Avoiding The Present

Two recent experiences bring the absolutely unequivocal ways in which we perversely avoid the present to my attention:

First, and a great example of the unconscious mind, I resumed daily Zen-style meditations on 1/1/2020. I don’t know why. Then, in the Spring, perhaps encouraged by the Covid Crisis, I increased those sessions to two, 30-minute periods per day.

Second, and several times a week, I enjoy the unique opportunity  of watching an infant, now 15-months-old, experience her life.

It is absolutely amazing!

But, first things first.

Regarding meditation, and as any of you who practice its many varieties know, the process involves studying life-in-the moment. It requires a single-focused attention. In Zazen, the name for the Zen Buddhist meditative practice, one focuses on the feeling of the abdominal muscles expanding and receding, breath by breath.

Watching the mind avoid this level of concentration is, pun intended, mind-blowing.

I consider each 30-minute session a success if I am focused on my breathing for, say, 3-minutes each half-hour period.

That’s it!

The various meditation methods invite practitioners to expect such a lack of focus. They encourage simply watching the mind wander, and then gently bringing one’s attention back to breathing. Meditators learn to watch themselves become distracted and then repeatedly return to focusing on the breath—like one might witness clouds passing across the sky.

Regarding observing the one-year old, it proves equally mind-blowing.

The child I observe has just started walking.

She has no words yet.

And, yet, in every single micro-second, she’s completely and totally engaged with the world.

She is almost certainly starting to learn concepts, like “Ma,” “Pa,” “counter,” or “food.”

Clearly, however, she lives precisely the “no-self” for which the meditators strive. She’s completely “in the moment,” her attention absorbed, serially moving from one experience to another.

Her life experience consists of total concentration, raptness, fascination, second by second.

As the Buddhists would say, all infants and toddlers naturally have “Buddha-hood.”

Watching a toddler ingest their experience of the world validates this truth.

What’s the take away?

I encourage readers to reflect on how difficult it is to:

STAY IN THE MOMENT. 

Watching myself, for example as I write this post this second, I am often thinking of the morning, of what chores I must complete after I finish, of my evening plans, or of the coming week.

Can you see how those thoughts are entirely imaginary?

The past is an illusion; the future is equally so.

If you struggle with the self-discipline to meditate, as I have for more than 60-years, then at least pay attention to any little kid you might know.

It will amaze you.

Hopefully, it will remind you of the absolute truth of the PRESENT MOMENT, and the way we human beings perversely, if constantly, stray from it.

References

Goleman, D., Davidson, R.J. (2018). Altered Traits: Science Reveals How Meditation Changes your Mind, Brain and Body. New York: Avery.

Rahula, W. (1974). What the Buddha Taught. New York: Grove Press.

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