We Are In Many Moments


Jerry DeNuccio wonders if we can ever be "in the moment":

Not according to the Stoic, Marcus Aurelius, who says time is a “river of passing events,” and “no sooner is one thing brought to sight than it is swept away and another takes its place and this too will be swept away.” Not according to Job, who says time is “swifter than a weaver’s shuttle,” nor Andrew Marvel, who, at his back, hears “time’s winged chariot hurrying near,” nor William Butler Yeats, who says “The years like great black oxen tread the world/ And God, the herdsman, goads them on behind,” nor T. S. Eliot’s Prufrock, who says there is “Time yet for a hundred indecisions,/ And for a hundred visions and revisions,” nor Robert Frost, who says time “seriously, sadly, runs away.”

Certainly, being in the moment would seem impossible in our culture’s time-fissioning present, our iPhoned, Facebooked, Googled, Twittered restlessness, our desperate fear of missing the latest morsel of information, our attention never more than a nanosecond from seduction our discontinuous, du jour present, a Smithsonian so densely packed with experiential exhibits that no lingering look, no settled examination, seems permitted. No sooner do we settle into a moment than another gallops by, all dust and flashing hooves.

This "in the moment" cliche, I think, can be misunderstood. The point is not to somehow stop time; the point is to transcend it. We are, as mortals, trapped in the "deadliness of doing," but if we can get above the practical mode of experience, we can experience moments in time that are also out of time, what Oakeshott meant when he spoke of salvation as having nothing whatsoever with the future. Or when he wrote of the gift of the religious and spiritual life in:

the poetic quality, humble or magnificent, of the images, the rites, the observances, and the offerings (the wisp of wheat on the wayside calvary) in which it recalls to us thet 'eternity is in love with the productions of time' and invites us to live 'so far as is possible' as an immortal.

The citations are from William Blake, who elsewhere, wrote of the real goal:

To see a world in a grain of sand
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour.

I think Eliot was onto the same thing when he wrote in his masterpiece that

to apprehend
The point of intersection of the timeless
With time, is an occupation for the saint

To reduce this ancient insight (also central in any ways to Buddhism) to somehow stopping time is to miss the point entirely. It is about being both mortal in time in a way that brings immortality to life 'so far as is possible' - in ritual, meditation, prayer and openness to what we see and engage each day through time, in time, and yet beyond it.

An idea that is actually a practice that escapes words.

(Image: a view of Beijing by Corinne Vionnet from the series, "Photo Opportunities," made from hundreds of snapshots of tourist locations found on the Internet.)