You are busy. There is so much happening around you. People, events – the general coming and going that makes up your day. All of these keep you distracted – sociologists and psychologists would describe you as engaged and involved.
Your mind is busy. It jumps around from idea to memory to concerns about the future. In Zen, we refer to it as the ‘monkey mind’. It decorates your experience with stories about the past events and apprehensions about the future and pushes away the treasure of the moment.
As a result, you end up looking outside this moment for happiness, an escape from grief or pain, satisfaction or any of a wide range of coping strategies. If you are not careful, these distractions can become your entire life.
But it is important to realize that all of them are illusions – stories that your mind has made up. When you look outside of what is happening in this moment, all you ever find are stories and fantasies. In Zen thinking, we called this not being present in the moment.
You are not somewhere else; but you are looking somewhere else.
To be clear, there are times when looking somewhere else is helpful. When crossing a busy street it is useful to look both ways. When you are walking along a busy sidewalk, it is useful to be aware of the people around you. Situational awareness has its benefits. But that’s not what I’m talking about.
It’s the present moment and the treasure it brings that is my focus. The strange thing about memory and fantasies about the future is that we accept them as real. But they are not. Memories are almost surely inaccurate. Fantasies about the future may or may not come true. But your experience in the present moment is always accurate and real. That is, if you are living in the present moment and paying attention.
You don’t have to wonder if it’s going to come true. You don’t have to wonder if it is real. In fact, it’s the only thing in your life that you can be absolutely certain of. The moment that is happening is real. It is not a story or a fantasy. And there is another thing. The experience of the present moment is always true.
Every experience that you are having right now, including reading these words and the thought that are arising in your mind, is real. You don’t have to question whether you are reading. You experience those thoughts intimately. That is the treasure of the present moment. Certainty. When all else around you is provisional, the bedrock of your life is that certainty.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD