Now. Why is it so hard to be here?
I settle down into a comfortable position to meditate, wrapped in soft blankets, and close my eyes.
Lately, I’ve been more distracted than usual, and between sporadic flashes of mental nudging to attend to my breath, I am anywhere but here. I don’t dwell on each memory or thought for long—during meditation, that is—but there is a light, frenetic dance of consciousness in which my breath is just beyond the outer reaches of the galaxy, within my field of awareness, obscured.
I don’t know where exactly this plane of consciousness resides. Part of me wrestles lightly, almost tiptoeing around the halls of now, but breezes come wafting in from all directions; with them, the flotsam of so many of life’s moments.
I fall into my most comfortable trap: thinking.
It’s a salve after my adventures into the muck of seeking clear awareness, and a welcome diversion. I think about writing this very article, about the staggering fact that there is no pure present we can actually verbalize or form concepts around. I love verbalizing and forming concepts. It’s what I do.
I’m seized by a panic; unable to locate, even slightly, who is doing the sitting and thinking right now, and what she possibly has to say.
Who will I find there?
Will I like her?
Can I learn from her?
Can I stop wanting to learn and know, and just be with her?
Can I just be?
The thoughts come flooding in: how bizarre is it that in every single part of our existence we can be aware of what has already vanished? Of course, there is also the future, which always seems willing to be worried about, but all the tools we have in our arsenal of self-identity, everything we tend to believe makes us us, is firmly lodged where we have once been—unreachable except to be available for endless rounds of re-interpretation.
The second we grasp that we are experiencing a present moment, it’s slipped through to that place behind, where it lends itself to becoming a plaything: a memory, a relic, a nostalgia basin.
We self-identify by means of the relics of who we have been.
Is this useful?
To a degree, sure. It allows us to do everything from remember to brush our teeth, hold conversations, go to work every day, and evolve on our paths of growth; even as it also holds us down and sets us firmly within the bounds of self-imposed limitations.
We must want more than to be a living, breathing museum of our former selves.
We watch the future cruise right into the past, sailing down that winding waterways of us without stopping to say hello here and now, wake up!—without checking in with the present moment.
We long for the now, for a pause, a break, a change of pace, a chance to regroup, to breathe life’s wild things.
We know, deeply, that to move forward, we have to find a point of stillness from which to begin. We are not clocks tick-tocking forward ad infinitum, with no purpose other than to mark the passage of something that’s been designated as chronological time.
We consist entirely of who we were: we are fragile, open and hopeful beings who know down to the bones that there’s more to life than time passing. We are lured into hope through absolute stillness. Maybe on a clear, starry night, at the beach gazing at the horizon beyond the sea; maybe hearing crickets at twilight or breathing in the silence in a forest; or maybe looking into the eyes of an old friend, a new lover.
This is when the stream of our lives stops, and fears give way to an offering that proves to be our greatest teacher, and most reliable guide.
What can our future memories consist of, anyway, if our now-moments are restless and polluted with distraction? Don’t we owe it to ourselves to discover who we essentially are in the space of real present awareness, to enrich our lives in ways that have nothing to do with grasping at the Jekyll and Hyde security our memories inspire?
This is what I want to discover. I don’t want to be a gallery retrospective of all the moments that have brought me here. I want only to be here, in a time outside of time, and in a space that branches out much wider than my thinking mind can take me.
I want to meet everyone else there too, in connection free of grasping, by welcoming without judgement.
This is why I sit on my cushion and close my eyes to face the deluge of thoughts, to try and stabilize my mind by remaining in awareness of breath, with hope and optimism for that elusive encounter with now.
One of our first days in Japan, my husband’s father was driving us downtown; his friend came long for the ride. Not speaking more than five or so words of Japanese, I understood nothing about what they were saying, but it sounded like the two elders in the car were great friends who took care of each other and made each other laugh. At one point, my husband laughed too, and looked at them with an expression of wonder.
I asked him what I missed. He told me he never would have expected something like this to come out of his father’s mouth.
His father’s friend, a feisty man in his eighties who was wearing a straw hat that almost engulfed his already endearing face, noted that there weren’t any kids out on the street, even though it was summer vacation.
“Where are the kids,” he wondered.
I was still very new to Japan, and hadn’t yet been inundated with news of the national panic over Japan’s aging population and dramatic decline in the childbirth rates. I did, however, notice that there never seemed to be kids running and shrieking about, and this had made a subtle but powerful impression on me.
My husband’s father responded: “Oh, they’re here, they’re just in their own world and we can’t see them.”
I was also blown away by his father’s imagination, genius, even. I haven’t been able to stop thinking about the secret world of children since.
Do we really have no access? Am I so old that I’ve leaped into an orbit divided from children by an impenetrable barrier? Obviously, I’d rather be on the other side, not because I want to be younger, but because I want to experience a world where anything’s possible again, where imagination reigns, where some pretty ugly things have not been born.
Do I even have the imagination to wonder, to imagine what might be going on in this world of children-only, like I would love to do?
I could say we were in a land far away with mysterious jungles and tiny strawberry-scented fairies and talking trees and clouds that shape-shift into magical things like outfits that make you invisible and bottles that sprout heart-shaped flowers and sing during twilight.
But I’m going to go in another direction. I’m going to say that they’re in a world exactly like ours, only we are not in it. I guess it’s another possible world concept, a parallel universe. Only how can it be the same if the people who made these children no longer exist? Who gains entry to this Child World, and how do they get to be here without having really been born to, or borne of anyone?
I’m already thinking too much. They’re alive, and so it’s possible. The kids are running across the street in the sun, like we do, only they don’t have to worry about oncoming traffic, because there are no cars, though the roads prepared form them are still around. In Child World, they have endless trees to climb and play in, because they haven’t all been cut down yet. All the buildings remain, because we’re still in transition – even in this other possible world – but they’re open to anyone, no one’s turned away, and they can turn them into whatever they’d like as soon as they enter.
All the cars and car repair shops are now (sugarfree, healthy) candy shops and (locally-produced, recycled) toy stores, because we’re still a little while away from realizing we don’t need these things – and the clothing stores are all superhero costume shops. Only they’re not known as superhero clothes, because superheroes aren’t fictional characters in cartoons or in the movies. When you put the clothes on, you simply become a superhero – not a recognizable brand superhero, but your own – what’s already inside your heart and soul is simply displayed in all its splendor and beauty for all the other kids to see and enjoy.
In fact, the shop changes every time a child enters it, so that the clothes, the magic of who they are, exist just for them. Each shop is a kaleidoscope of constantly changing outfits, and gives each child its own personal history of superhero-dom.
And of course they’re not really shops, and there’s no such thing as money, and the currency is love and communication and connection and imagination and sharing. And all that’s asked for in return is that the kids continue to play, have fun, and be happy.
Yes, I like this world very much and will try to find it and peek in, if only to prepare myself for entry.