Take a minute and think about the present – your present – the time right now that you are living through. It is a most amazing experience – this ‘present’ that is yours and yours alone. It’s not the ‘world’s present’ or ‘humanities’ present’ but yours alone. No other person will ever have the privilege of living through it. It is truly and uniquely yours alone.
And what can you do with this immediate now? I urge you to think carefully about this question. It is here for you right now and, when it’s gone, it will be forever gone. At the core of every human experience is this immediacy. Some people think of it as the ‘terrible urgency of now’ but I suggest that you try to receive it as the ‘delightful serendipity of now’. Perhaps there is some benefit in the ‘darker’ interpretation but I hope you might have trouble seeing it against the truly amazing opportunity that chance and circumstance has given you.
Think about this present that has presented itself to you. What could you do with it that would make it worth having lived through? You could experience it intensely, grow emotionally or intellectually, reach out beyond the narrow range of your life, connect with a feeling that is new, gain inspiration from others or yourself – or you could let it pass into the deep mist of history unrequited – unfulfilled.
You see the present that has been given to you is a gift – unsolicited and non-returnable. It is yours for the briefest of times – yours and yours alone. There has never been nor ever shall be its equal.
Zen Buddhism teaches that living in the present means experiencing it without comment – directly as the person living through it rather than as an observer of someone living through it. Buddhism teaches that the way to connect directly with your present is to connect with the immediacy of your ‘now’. For instance, you can concentrate on your breathing – quiet your mind and let the rest of the world drop away until there is only the experience of your lungs filling then emptying. The journey to meditation can begin with such a focus. You may never feel more truly alive than when you are experiencing such things as your own breathing.
You can use this present to grow emotionally. Beethoven’s titanic struggle with despair and soaring affirmation of hope – the 9th Symphony – can inspire and lead you to understand that it is not so much the hand that you are dealt which matters as how you play it out. Listening to that magnificent composition is to sit within the mind and experience first hand a human response that turned from the despair of circumstance to the wonder of life. If a composer who lived by his hearing can address the despair of going deaf and push through that despair to write the Ode to Joy, why can’t you do the same in your own way? The present is a beacon – a path forward – that only needs taking. Despair is a wasted response to the opportunity to feel the joy of being alive.
You can reach out beyond the narrow range that your life has become. I remember doing this when I decided – quite on impulse – to take up kayaking. Something in me said ‘get out on the water’ – so I did. The first time out I realized now much I had been missing. Gliding across the water in that diminutive craft – powered only by myself – feeling myself merge with the rhythm of the water and the kayak – experiencing the closeness of nature – all of this came to me because I reached beyond where I was to a new experience. Each time I go out the present becomes alive for me. You can do the same. Maybe its not kayaking for you but something else that makes your life more than it was. That is the opportunity that your present brings – the gift of living within it.
The present may be an opportunity to experience a feeling intensely – to connect with some part of you that has been neglected. In some ways this is like visiting a too long neglected part of a garden and deciding on a whim to spent time making up for that neglect. Sometimes life doesn’t allow us to visit those more remote places within us – but that is often where the most rewarding parts of our life are waiting to be discovered.
Sometimes the present conspires to bring you an opportunity to connect with others in ways that inspire or help you grow in new directions. Remember that your present is often well populated with such opportunities. As transient as they may seem on the surface, these chances can be doorways to very rich and deep places deep within your living experience. I am often amazed at the results of chance encounters – enduring results that contribute richly to my life.
All of these and more – are opportunities that you have within the now that is your present. These precious gifts should not be lost to inattention – they should be savored with a relish that befits them. No one else can live your present because no one will ever be given the opportunity. The life that you have is uniquely yours and the time that comes with it will pass away whether you savor it or not. The only real choice you have is how you will live it.
© Dr. Earl R. Smith II