By Stan Stewart.
Many years ago, at a flea market, a small plaque caught my eye. Written on it was, “Now is all there is”.
I asked the beads and studs young woman who was taking the money, “What does that mean?” She said, “I have no idea.” I bought it anyway and I still have it.
Shortly after this, I was reading the German teacher/philosopher flavour of the month (the year, the decade) Eckhart Tolle, and I realized that the phrase probably came from him. Certainly, it is something he would have agreed with. Along with others, he makes the point that the past is only a memory, and the future has not yet come. The only time we are alive is in the present, in the ‘now’. If we are to make the most of our life, we must do it in the ‘now’.
I had thought to put the plaque in our lounge room. But it didn’t seem to be a good idea. Most of our visitors were religious to some extent. “Now is all there is” might ruffle a few feathers. What was intended to be a casual drop-in could develop into something more. This prospect did not appeal. I don’t mind talking about this subject, but it does not fit comfortably into fleeting, light conversations. So, I found a space for it amongst the chaos on my study desk.
Over the years I have become skeptical of all religions, movements, leaders who claim they know about life-after-death. In every age and in most religions, there have been those who claim they know what will happen after death. Because of life-after-death focus, whole nations have been enslaved, pyramids have been built with whole families buried alive, wars have been fought, virgins have been sacrificed and so on. My unease with life-after-death talk includes funeral services I have attended.
At the funeral service for my loved sister-in-law, a priest in measured tones, and with great authority, told of my sister-in-law’s passage from one spiritual realm to another. He suggested practical steps that her immediate family should do to see her safe in the arms of Jesus. I could hardly believe what I was hearing. But two hundred people sat quietly, seemingly believing all that was said. I didn’t.
Nonetheless, this notion that all my life comes down to the pinprick of the present moment is not easy for me to accept. It’s not bad if you are having a good day. But what if the present moment is terrible? For instance, the day I learnt of my daughter’s death. That day was so dark. Groans and tears were my only sensation. “Now is all there is”? Yuk! I guess the ‘Now is all there is’ gurus would say the work of that day was to feel the crushing burden of grief. That was my life’s work at that moment. In the experience of those hours, I was sharing the same terrible weight felt by millions, billions around the world for all kinds of reasons - war - famine - persecution. As I cried, I was connected with them, not in theory but, in practice.
What about life on good days? I heard the academic philosopher, Jordan Peterson talk about a perfect day as many of us would imagine it; perfect weather on a tropical beach, lying back on a sundeck and being waited on with a Mai Tai cocktail. What’s next, Jordan Peterson postulated - another Mai Tai and then another. What about the next day? The same – more Mai Tai’s into the sunset. He said that isn’t a way of life. It is a way of death. I have to agree with him.
Good days, great days are to be cherished but they come and go. They are memory-making in the photo album of our mind, but they are not everything. I think to be awake and alive in every moment is the way to go. ‘Now is all there is’. The challenge is not to be distracted. Milk all days for the meaning in that moment. ‘Some days are diamonds. Some days are stone.’ This is the rhythm of life. To live in the past is not to be alive in the present. To save our living for some future time is hopeless. To be alive, awake in every day, in every moment is the challenge.
We like to say we live in paradise. Real estate advertisements talk about ‘dream come true’ houses. It would be sad to live in a ‘dream come true house’ with an amazing view and still be unhappy – longing for something more - something different. But it happens.
I am trying to live with a ‘now is all there is’ focus. I think it will be worth the effort.