I suspect there are few lessons in life as important to learn, nor as potentially difficult to assimilate, as the ability to live in the ‘now‘.
We all of us know people, perhaps we are people, who live in fear of the future. All the “What if….”s and “Just in case….”s. It is entirely possible that we live so much in fear of what might happen that we forget to even look at what is happening now. We can spend days, weeks and months worrying about what could happen if… we lose our job… we can’t afford our mortgage… our child doesn’t get into a particular school… or even: we die before our children are grown and ‘safe’. But each of those days, weeks and months holds the potential to be the happiest or best day, week or month of our lives, if we allow it: if we connect with it.
All we need is a shift of perspective.
Those used to be just words to me. Slightly infuriating, cryptic words. But when you have achieved a shift in perspective it is astonishing how easy it really was, however difficult it might have seemed at the time.
Buddhism teaches about the suffering that attachment brings. Those of us unfamiliar with the concept will probably first assume that this refers to the material, and that makes sense. If you become attached, say, to your car and it breaks down, is written off or stolen, its loss will cause you suffering.
Equally, if you become attached to people, their loss could ‘ruin your life’. Which is not to suggest for a second that you don’t love them, or that their loss won’t sadden you – deeply, even – but you don’t own them, and you can live without them just as they can without you: perspective.
But more abstract, though equally important, is attachment to time, to emotions:
“I’m happy now – how can I make this moment last?” or “How can I reproduce this moment so that I am always happy?” Try to hold onto it, and it is gone – poof! – just like that, because suddenly it has ceased to be a pure moment of happiness and has been tainted with the anxiety of its potential passing.
Isn’t it enough to sit back and sigh contendedly in the recognisation that you are happy now? I know it is a well-worn cliche of a slogan, but I have always liked: “The past is history, the future’s a mystery, the present’s a gift.”
Nor, incidentally, does it help us to attach to our misery. How many people do you know who have frozen in time, in the past, hung up on some event or slight or loss? It isn’t that event, slight or loss that has kept them unhappy, but their attachment to it. Which, again, is not to say that there wasn’t good cause for being upset or hurt, but what is pain if it isn’t an opportunity to learn, to assimilate, to grow, to become a more rounded, grounded and compassionate human being? Unless we become attached to it, addicted to it, chained. Our misery is thus perpetuated.
Once again, reading the same book I mentioned yesterday, I found a beautiful story, which I will quote verbatim:
“Sometimes when I am happy, and I question why I am happy, the happiness simply goes away.”
It is the examining of our pleasure that is the cause of our displeasure. If we try to examine the ‘why’ then we are not meeting life on life’s terms.
We are here to be.
Ayutthaya historical park, ancient Venice of the East. I walk through ruins, hot shallow canals where boats carrying royalty once passed. Harwood trees. I see from a distance the White-throated Kingfisher dive into the waters and then returning to his perch, each time a sparkling fish between his Bill.
The bird is magnificent blues and whites and orange, diving in a flash of colour into the turquoise waters. I am stuck with the quandary: to approach and potentially scare the beautiful bird away or to stay put and observe for hours from afar.
I approach slowly and as half-expected the bird flies away to fish in another stretch of water miles away in the distance. Beyond sight. And beyond the threshold of my enjoyment.
The historical park was my story, the bird my thoughts and the fish my pleasure.