I have taken to building my own ceremonies. Their genesis begins with Baba Ram Dass’s over- and often mis-used phrase “be here now.” My attraction to “be here now” begins with a realization leveled at me by an old friend who coined the phrase “anticipatory dread.” Once I recognized the familiar prospect of future dread, a second epiphany landed on the opposite side of the foxhole I have dug on the broad, flat expanse of my time-space continuum.*
The second epiphany applies to the past that often lurks in the background, full of regret. I can imagine that many of you will balk at the notion of a regretful past and a dreadful future. Haven’t we had good times in days gone by? Doesn’t the future hold promise?
Regardless of your response, be here now, and you’re free, even if that condition lasts no longer than a single breath. No regrets, no fears. Buddha, the Dalai Lama, and Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist teacher, all tell us to live in the present, to be here now. As the Dalai Lama says, We’re part of the vast, unwashed Western herd that is receptive to Buddhist thought because we have not suffered through centuries of constipating dogma that encumbers all religions. Be here now, baby.
I’m not a Buddhist, but I am a curious person and I meditate. In my daily sessions, I have begun to trace the travels of my chattering monkey mind when it abandons the simplicity of breathing in… and breathing out. In those moments, I find that the monkey has highjacked my awareness and loped away to the past or the future. I recall an embarrassing musical performance from 1992 and that reminds me of an earlier performance debacle in 1970. I anticipate an upcoming doctor’s appointment with dread. I fret over what I am going to write about next.
Neither recollections nor anticipations bear any fruit. I can’t reverse my past musical blunders. I don’t yet need to know what I’m going to write next; I’m still trying to promote my most recent work. But when I hang in my be-here-now present, my perspective changes. My monkey-jacked mind appears overly anxious, painfully contrite, and largely unproductive. A phrase from Thich Nhat Hanh’s guided meditation hangs in the here-and-now. “Most of our thoughts are not very productive,” he says.
So, I have developed a series of be-here-now ceremonies. Most of these little rituals focus on morning activities, when the future most frequently steals my mind. Call the bank. Hire a roofer. Grocery shop. Medicate our ancient feline abuela. Empty the garbage. Pay the bills.
Screw that; be here now.
I walk to the kitchen sink and fill the kettle with water, listening to the tone change as the vessel fills. I place the kettle on the burner and ignite the flame. I pick up last night’s cat plates and serve feline breakfasts. Coffee water heating, I retreat to the bathroom, stand before the mirror and breathe in… breathe out. I splash my face with water before I swing open the medicine cabinet to reveal my medication medley. I swallow pills and turn my undivided attention to the intricate tasks involved in fueling and firing up my waterpik. I greet each tooth with a “good morning.”
I return to the kitchen, pull the coffee grinder forward, and measure out the beans, taking care not to spill the slippery little devils onto the floor. I gaze out the window at the trees that catch the morning sun while I grind beans, shaking the grinder rhythmically like a shakeree. I pour the water over the coffee and breathe in… breathe out.
Rituals, little ceremonies. Before I sit down at the altar of my computer, I light a stick of palo santo, holy wood casting its scent into the Hollywood morning. I look out my windows at the tiled roofs and cypresses and let myself fall back into the seat of my awareness, arriving home. Breathe in… breathe out.
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*Aside: What direction does your time-space continuum move? Left to right? Right to left? Is your time-space continuum linear? Does it orbit around a focal point or spin like a galaxy?
Be here now, baby.
Writer, editor, and educator based in Los Angeles. He's also played a lot of music. Degelman teaches writing at California State University, Los Angeles.
Degelman lives in the hills of Hollywood with his companion on the road of life, four cats, assorted dogs, and a coterie of communard brothers and sisters.
Love the appreciation of the here and now. Especially the morning coffee ritual and daily patterns that become their own little rituals and ceremonies if approached with intention and open mind.
They’re everywhere, those little ritual opportunities. Walking works, too.
I have the same morning coffee ritual. Now I am going to start thinking of it as a ceremony. Thank you for that, it will enhance my mornings.
Thanks, Suzy. Delighted to enhance your mornings!
Thanx Chas, Less monkey mind chatter, less obsessing over past regrets, and less anticipatory dread sounds good. Will try your ceremonies.
(Jewish telegram – “Start worrying, details to follow.”)
Thanks, Dana! I hope my ceremonial recipes will work for you. Love the telegram!
OK, Dana, that is funny!
This essay had the effect of raising my sense of alertness and nervousness, just by reading about yours! And then–Presto!–calming me down as I contemplated the rhythmic breathing, the boiling water, the coffee beans. It must have been a great piece of writing to accomplish that. Thanks, Charles.
Thanks, Dale for your thoughtful notes! I hope I didn’t take you too far afield.
Oh boy, Charlie. This caught me at the perfect moment. Having a dust-up with child #2 (never mind my current story), who is busy living in a past full of regret and recrimination, blaming moi for most of it. Wish I could get her to quiet some of her monkey brain. Barring that, maybe I can help myself a bit, as I am really hurting right now. “Live in the moment”. Great advise.
So sorry to hear of your offspring recriminations, Betsy. If they were vulnerable to our parenting power, we become vulnerable to their after-the-fact discoveries. It’s not easy for them, and worse for us, because we can’t change the past any easier than they. Hopefully, time and maturing thought (it takes longer than we can imagine) will move toward resolution.
What I’ve found applies only to self, not the monkey minds of our kids. Breathe in (“arriving”) and register where your monkey mind has abducted you to, past or future; breathe out (“home”) and fall into your own embrace. It’s such a relief to feel free and in control, even if it’s just for a moment. Stir, then repeat!
Thank you for this important reminder to live in the present moment. Too often, I start my days with lists of things to check off. Better to take a moment to be glad I am still here each day.
This “be here now” thing works especially well at day’s beginning, when we begin stacking up the to-do tasks and responsibilities. Slow down and brew — or smell — the coffee. And thanks to the cosmos for giving us another day.
Poetically written, Charles!
I tend to avoid (well, I try) too much introspection, as I feel I have done far too much of it over the course of my life, to the extent that I have spent many years, cumulatively, wallowing in the past, to the detriment of making a better future.
While most of us have good memories and the prospect of making more, a lot of us seem to be wired to emphasize regrets and anxieties. Reading your story, I was immediately reminded of a Jackson Browne song (although I prefer the Joan Baez cover), “Fountain of Sorrow.”
“And though the future’s there for anyone to change, still you know it seems
It would be easier sometimes to change the past.”
Sometimes the abyss not only stares back, it feeds.
Thanks, Dave. In my ‘umble estimation, you’re an excellent candidate for being here now. The object of the exercise (meditation) is to de-emphasize the regrets and anxieties. What the hell…It only takes a lifetime of effort. Enjoyed your variation on Nietzsche’s abyss quote.