The Present

Dialogue Add comments

Dear Kat,

We talk about presence and the present a lot, but it’s a hard subject to pin down.  I see it as an alternate, more basic way to view the world.  Life has learned not only to react to the environment, but to remember the events so that it can react appropriately, and to predict events also.  In other words, our model of the world contains a past and a future.  Furthermore, we have invented language, wherein words are a stand-in for one or a bundle of experiences, and can also incorporate other words, leading to a very efficient way of storing information.

All this has been such a successful strategy that our attention routinely roams around the brain areas that manage the past and the future, interspersed with checking on linguistic summaries of the present.  As a result, to experience the world in anything but verbal terms is very hard, but I want to point out some of its attributes.

FlowersIt’s unspeakable, by definition.  It cannot be captured in words.  It is like a reflection in a pool; if you reach out to grasp it, the ripples of words only hide the reflection.  It is a hard discipline to leave it be.

It is primary.  Our entire verbal and intellectual edifice is derived from this.  It cannot be dismissed as of no consequence just because it has no place in our mental model of the world.

It has a timeless quality.  The sense of time does not vanish completely (though it can be severely distorted by the flood of sensations), but our view of time is a construct of the mind, and it is as if I simultaneously experience two facets of reality: the flux of change (for time is change, nothing more or less) and and an eternal, unchanging element.  It’s not eternal in the sense of lasting forever, but in the sense of being outside of time.

It’s constantly new.  This moment has never been before.

All that is preamble to talking about how we are together.  We both choose to focus our attention on the present, whether it be the scenery while driving or the press of flesh on flesh, and we react in concert to an uncanny degree, far more than if it were viewed in the light of our past or our expectations.  It is as if we are drinking from the same fountain, tasting the same wine.

To phrase it differently, our relationship consists of what is happening, not what did happen or what might happen.  So many complications and misunderstandings are avoided by this.  I thank you again and again.

As a postscript, I want to say that I am not advocating the hedonism of the grasshopper over the hard work of the ant, but I am saying that the rich fields of the present nourish and sustain the whole of our lives.

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