Listening to someone talk about “being in the present” the other day, I found myself thinking that this idea is very strange. We are always in the present; there is nowhere else to be. The idea of “being in the present” has no meaning, because living can’t be otherwise.
So what do people mean by saying it? It seems to be telling us not to do certain things: Don’t think, feel; don’t imagine, watch; don’t wander, attend. And yet, the mental is as much a part of life as the physical and emotional. Understanding context is often what allows the eyes to see, and the heart to feel.
Time is like reading a book. The eyes can only be on one page at a time. Whatever page we’re on is the present. As we read, we turn the pages, creating by that movement a past and future: what we’ve already read, and what we have yet to read. Past and future are always part of the present; the present could not be what it is without them.
We read pages in order to read books. A single page has little meaning by itself. Its meaning is a composite of what came before it, and what will follow. As we move through the book, we create a consciousness of the story within ourselves, which is the act of reading. “Being in the present” would be like telling someone to focus on the current page, whereas really attention is due to the story.
The ability to connect to a book’s overall meaning through its pages is a capacity of the intellect. The pages together point toward an unseen reality – the story – which the mind allows us to comprehend. Paying attention to life, then, requires a full use of the mind as well as the senses. No part can be rejected, if we hope to appreciate the whole.
What if life is a book, and time the turning of its pages? What if existence is God’s auto-biography? Then by looking to the connections between things, perhaps we can read its deeper meaning.