This piece was written by my dharma brother Michael Erlewine. It explains the values of being in the moment and how we can train ourselves to be more present. Michael is a longtime Buddhist educator and writer. Please check out his website for all his generous teachings. michaelerlewine.com/
You would think that this would be easy, not to mess with the present moment, but in fact it is the hardest of all. Apparently, we have no idea as to how to just let things be as they are and rest in that state. The main problem is “reification,” our habit of gilding the lily, as they say, trying to make everything more real than it is.
Aside from obscuring the moment with the past or leaning into the future, we find it hard to just be in the present moment. We so easily slip into noodling the past or anticipating the future. And even if we do find the present, we can’t help but mess with and constantly try to alter the present with our wishes, fears, druthers, and what-not. We don’t realize that we are altering the present because we have never not-altered the present. If we have, we don’t realize it.
This topic could fill a book. The obvious comment is to not desert the present for the past or future. We don’t have to have the last word every time something untoward happens, especially if it means chasing the past to justify or get our mind right. We can just immediately let what is done be. Rather than put lipstick on a pig, we can let the pig be and not even give it lip service by vilifying it or rationalizing it. We don’t have to give it our attention beyond the millisecond it takes to be aware that it is calling us to think on it.
Of course, the same goes to worrying or anticipating the future. Sure, watch your step and where you are going, but the future does not need us to walk it in to the present. It can present itself and will. And anything short of being a fire alarm, we wait for. Our habitual tendency to worry everything (past of future) is just a bad habit. As I used to tell my dog when he came up with a dead animal in his mouth, “Drop it!”
And back to reification: If all we do in the present moment is reify this, that, and the other thing, feeling, or mood, that is like creating a cloud in an otherwise cloudless sky. Trying to make life (and the moment) more real than it is (reification) overpowers the pure signal of the moment with its noise. We don’t need to pimp reality. As my first true dharma teacher used to say to me (many times. “Michael, my God is no beggar. He doesn’t need me to make the ends meet; they already meet.”
The purity of the moment cannot be embellished by our insecurities. That’s the definition of purity. It’s already pure and does not need our mental graffiti to look better. Let well enough alone. It’s just a bad habit, our wanting to signature and leave our mark on everything. It’s like kids writing on the walls. Annotating life with what we already know is oxymoronic. It’s just a bad case of hiccups on our part, so to speak.
Or, our fear of silence and the need to endlessly fill every moment with inner chatter. That’s just whistling in the dark on our part. I like that that old quote from Psalm 46-10 that says “Be Still and Know that I am God.” That’s the right idea, but as a non-theist I would have to say something like. “Be Still and Know the Nature of the Mind.” LOL.
The present moment in its purity is not a white-board that is better for our mental scribbling, which brings us to the next and final word of advice from Tilopa, to “Relax, as it is.” Rest, I will comment on that soon.
Simply put, the concept of “Don’t alter the present” reminds me of how the old folksong puts it:
“Take your fingers off it, and don't you dare touch it. You know it don't belong to you.”