It seems appropriate to launch this blog with the words of someone very dear to me, who recently said with great animation, “I’m so excited about Now!”
This moment is the descendent of an unimaginably long and rich history of mere possibilities made actualities. The fact that you are here right now doing whatever it is you are doing is the product of a sum of countless causes too innumerable to contemplate. All the events, circumstances and conditions in the history of humankind that led up to you being You in this Here and in this Now would utterly boggle us if they weren’t so utterly elusive; even more boggling are the possibilities that didn’t occur, but might have. Imagine that if one of your ancestors a thousand years ago had made a left turn instead of a right turn down an alleyway, thus meeting a terrible accident before she had given birth to the next link in the chain of your ancestors: you would not be here. It is easy to take this Now for granted or to be glum about its prospects, but Now itself is laden with infinite and unforeseeable possibilities. It is the seed of all possibility. Now is certainly something to be excited about!!
Those of us who practice Zen Buddhism are reminded to smile upon whatever Now offers to us so that we do not miss Now by thinking too much about what isn’t Now. We humans tend to run all kinds of narratives in our minds, and these narratives take us to other places besides Now. We imagine scenarios that often hijack us to less enjoyable places than Now. We relive and even invent arguments with someone who insulted us or hurt our feelings; we become preoccupied by what waits for us at the office or the job site while we are at home with our families; we agonize over a range of possible outcomes for events that are out of our control anyway; we fret needlessly over fears that never materialize. We worry, and in our worrying, we spend our precious life’s energy confronting armies of circumstances that may never actually actualize.
Our brains are survivalists–they are hardwired to be on the look out for negative situations that might harm us. All manner of neurotransmitters are engaged in the process of heightening our chances of survival every nano-second. These neurotransmitters are engaged in biofeedback, increasing our experiences of avoidance, suspicion, fear. They cause us to do things like shorten the length and depth of our breath, tighten our muscles, hold our postures in habitually protracted positions so we can protect vital areas of the body, raise our blood pressure, and so on. In the long-term, chronic over-stimulation of the Central Nervous System brings about significant wear and tear on the body. Sometimes it even results in dis-ease. We are so very adept at living in any place and in any time but Now.
If we are so biologically determined to be hijacked away from Now, what can being excited about Now do for us? When we remind ourselves to remember Now, to reflex our thoughts about the past, future, or imagined past or future back into this very moment so that we can appreciate what is there in the Right Now, we short-circuit the biological process of inducing stress. Moreover, when we learn to smile on Now, to feel gratitude for all of the wonderful things that Now has to offer, we train our brains and our minds to make the move from residing in a house of pessimism to living in a home of optimism.
Every moment, even if it seems to have something unpleasant in it, holds something to appreciate–a rich color, a pleasant sound, a familiar smell, the kind intentions of a loved one and a whole host of unimaginable possibilities.
What about Now do you find exciting?????
(I found this book by Dr. Rick Hanson to offer a fascinating study of the neuroscience of meditation and mindfulness.)