Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Moment

I hope I’m not writing about “old news” here. It’s already January 3, and I have a backlog of holiday things I’m still mulling over, wanting to share. But I suspect most everyone is ready to move on to the next thing, whatever that is. January. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. Getting back to the job . . .

But each year, I find myself appreciating New Year’s more and more. I think it’s become my favorite holiday. Not just because it’s “fun”; I find it full of significance, and I grow simultaneously reflective and projective.

I think for me, and for many other moderns, New Year’s Eve has supplanted the Winter Solstice as the moment when we suddenly, keenly realize that we are standing not in the past, nor in the future, but in the moment.

In my head, it becomes as a professional-level question in conceptual physics, and thus far beyond my mental grasp. But when I consider this instant that serves as the fulcrum between What Has Been and What Might Be, innate faculties surpassing mentality can somehow, fleetingly comprehend what’s going on.

At times like midnight on New Year’s Eve, we realize that our lives, however long or short, exist within the tiny constriction of the hourglass, where the sand flows the fastest. And our “now” is forever an instant—not a minute, a second, or even a quarter of a second, but an instant—which, discrete and indivisible, doesn’t actually exist in time, or even in space.

Time and space are components of the natural world, the world of physics, a realm that can be weighed, measured, and possibly predicted, whereas, to my thinking, the “instant” must belong to something “beyond,” something “meta-.” Thus metaphysical, supernatural, the realm of faith and spirituality.

I can’t shake the idea that the elusive moment of time called an “instant,” or “the now,” is the only aspect of “eternity” that we living mortals can occupy, or even sense. It’s at times when we are truly “present”—as when praying or meditating, or allowing creativity, joy, or passion to flow through us, or experiencing a moment of great wonder or discovery—that time stops and we sense “God” being with us, that we sense Eternity.

This winter, in part because I’ve been seeking solace about some circumstances that deeply sadden me and about which I can do nothing, I’ve been dipping into the Bhagavad Gita, which is basically a cheerleading session from God to a human who’s so dejected he’s lost the will to go on.

One of the steady drumbeats in the Bhagavad Gita is the idea of Eternity, which of course is a concept common to all religions. We humans are defined by our mortality, locked by the one-way road of time into our inescapable ultimate demise. There will be an end to each one of us—of that we are certain. Yet human religions constantly tell us that our most cherished wish can come true: though we die, we will yet live on, somehow, some way.

Of course the notion of an afterlife and immortality might all be wishful thinking, but the Bhagavad Gita at least puts our little lives and struggles into a natural, cosmic perspective from which even a devout skeptic can find some comfort. In chapter 2, the deity consoles us, explaining things in the light of eternity:

“Thy tears are for those beyond tears; and are thy words words of wisdom? The wise grieve not for those who live; and they grieve not for those who die—for life and death shall pass away.” (2.11)

“From the world of the senses . . . comes heat and comes cold, and pleasure and pain. They come and they go: they are transient. Arise above them, strong soul.” (2.14)

“For all things born in truth must die, and out of death in truth comes life. Face to face with what must be, cease thou from sorrow.” (2.27)

“Invisible before birth are all beings and after death invisible again. They are seen between two unseens. Why in this truth find sorrow?” (2.28)


There is nothing like New Year’s Eve to make me realize that I am standing exactly midway between past and present and forever occupy a space that is neither: the Now. Yes, I appreciate the richness of the past and rely on it as a great tree relies on its roots for nourishment, structure, and anchorage. And the pathways of the future, like the branches sprawling and dividing toward the sun, represent the directions of fate and all the decisions I will make; it is forever undetermined, alterable, ever in need of nourishment, pruning, and shaping.

It is no wonder that New Year’s is the time for formulating our resolutions, making proposals, going through one’s business and tax paperwork, and so many other cleanup and startup activities. And it is no wonder that we greet 12:00 a.m. on January 1 with a time-stopping smooch with our sweetie-pie, an intoxicating glass of Champagne, and a raucous cacophony to frighten away any evil spirits that might think of plaguing our future.

This year seemed particularly auspicious, with the full, blue moon directly overhead. And thus at midnight I piped to the future, in notes loud and broken and full of what power I possess: The future, do you hear me? It might take me a while, but I am coming to get you.

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