I could as easily ask ‘what time is love?‘ – same answer: at the tone the time will be…’now’. It’s always ‘now’, actually, and never any other moment…unless, I suppose, we count the possibility of time travel, or perhaps the influence of huge quantities of certain hallucinogens. So… sure, okay, a few things may shake the unavoidable ‘now’…but…generally…’now’ is the time. Here we are. This is it. Whatever it is…it is. This morning, ‘now’ came early – at 3:17 am, actually. I turned off the alarm once it was clear I was definitely entirely awake, and headed for the shower.
It’s still ‘now’. A shower, yoga, meditation and preparing coffee…and although it is later, it remains very much ‘now’. I can look ahead…it’s still simply ‘now’. I can look back…still, here I am, fixed firmly in the ‘now’ moment. Wherever I turn, ‘now’ is what I really have to work with. It’s not that the future is unaffected by ‘now’ – it is most definitely affected by ‘now’; every choice I make ripples through my future. Even the past is altered by ‘now’; my perspective changes with experience, with new information, with the passage of time itself. Still, however busy life is, all I have to work with, to enjoy, and to live is ‘now’.
What time is it? Right now it’s coffee time. My coffee this morning is quite dreadful. I am considering pouring it out and making a fresh cup. ‘Now’ matters that much; if I am not present in the moment, my actions may not be sufficiently relevant to my needs, and I may be unaware even of what my needs in the moment actually are. Me, personally, at 4:43 am…I need coffee, and frankly, my preference is that it be, if not exceptional, at least quite good. So…now I am going to make a fresh cup of coffee because this one… yeah… it sucks. It’s definitely important to pay attention while making coffee if using something that requires an artful touch, and some precision, as with a pour over. “Paying attention” is one way to describe mindfulness.
Second cup, no second thoughts – and it is still very much ‘now’. That’s how it tends to be – ‘now’. What will I do with the moment? I rarely pause to consider it, I simply do and be much of the time, and I don’t make that observation with any hint of criticism. I find life is to be lived. I strive to live well, and mindfully, and mostly doing so is more pleasant than not, and tends to result in a certain sense of worthiness to the entire endeavor – which seems worth having, and reason enough to work at it attentively, investing in good self-care practices, and learning to cope compassionately with my injury and my damage. ‘Now’ has become a pretty big deal.
Here’s something noteworthy about ‘now’, though – it’s easily wasted. It can slip away in an instant and become hours that have passed me by without action, without effort, without any investment of will and intent, and without significant result, or activity worthy of later recollection (I’m looking at you, television!). I find that almost any moment spent mindfully aware, even the painful ones, and yes, even the ones spent in stillness, meditating or watching clouds drift by, is a moment well spent. I remember more when I am awake, aware, and present. I have the sense that I am doing or achieving more, regardless how much ‘got done’. Life feels lived – as though the noun itself comes alive and gets all verb-y straight away – when I approach it mindfully, aware of my choices, deliberate in my actions. Time itself passes more slowly – and ‘now’ becomes of even greater value, extended, prolonged, and significant.
There’s nothing actually ‘easy’ about mindfulness. It’s also not actually ‘difficult’. It isn’t expensive to pursue it, and it requires no costly memberships or equipment. It need not be attached in any way to profit-generating activities, although it is clearly finding its cultural moment, and along the way many people are finding ways to market mindfulness or profit from it. The current popularity of mindfulness as a word, as a concept, and as an endeavor don’t make it any more likely that people will actually practice the needed practices to become more mindful – though many will say that they will, or do, or are. I don’t worry much about any of that, although I am sometimes frustrated to read articles that seem critical of practices I find have such value, myself. I worry, sometimes, that people innocent of the marketing bullshit, the hype, and the inevitable disappointment of people who expected it to be ‘easy’ or to ‘fix everything’ will result in someone who really needs what mindfulness has to offer not finding their way to it – that was my own experience. I didn’t get ‘here’ sooner; I was distracted by other people losing their way, being discouraged, and because I was discouraged, myself, the first time I was exposed to meditation – there were verbs involved, and more than one sort of practice, and… and… and… it’s not easy! (“Isn’t there some prescription, or…?”)
Mindfulness practices can be very simple and very basic. My own favorite meditation is not any sort of elaborate guided meditation with a soothing voice, lovely visual image, or lofty conceptualization – it isn’t necessary that it be such, and those don’t ‘work for me’ in the sense that although they may be soothing and pleasant, what I need myself is to become very centered, present, and calm within myself. I rely on meditation to keep me from standing on the precipice, to pull me back from the brink of disaster, to clean up the chaos and damage; the only world I am looking to change with any urgency is the world within. My own favorite meditation is simply to focus on my breath, to remain in this ‘now’ moment until I achieve stillness and inner calm. Yes. I have to keep at it. Yes. My mind wanders. Yes. I am sometimes distracted by physical discomfort, noise, stray thoughts, having to pee, and suddenly remembering other things that arise in my recollection attached to a sense of urgency. There’s no rush, no pressure, no report card, no internal criticism; I just keep at it until I do find that inner stillness. If’ I’m uncomfortable, I adjust – and begin again. If I am distracted, I take another breath, and begin again. If I have to pee, I take care of that biological need and begin again. If I remember something important that has been forgotten, I take a note and begin again (and often meditate with a notepad very near at hand for that reason). It’s called a practice for a reason – and there are most assuredly verbs involved.
“Does mindfulness work?” is a question with similar value as “what time is it?” – It really depends on what you are trying to find out. I find mindfulness practices very effective, myself, but the outcome is entirely dependent on my actions, my own investment in practicing the practice, and how well-chosen the practice is for my needs. If I were to discontinue the practice of meditation, would meditation itself be less effective because I stopped practicing it? Um…no. I might be less effective – but it would be a choice I make for myself, not a failure of meditation as a tool or practice.
The time is ‘now’. If one practice has failed, try another. If the ‘failure’ is simply a lack of actual practice, easier still – begin again. There are verbs involved, and there is all the ‘now’ in the world to use them. 🙂