Joy is in the present moment. It sounds like a cliche, and if you’re in dire physical or emotional pain, it can seem like an insult. But a friend recently gave me a gift of an audio version of Eckhart Tolle’s “The Power of Now,” and the one question he asks over and over again has begun to change my life, bringing joy where before there was only waiting for the next moment, for the end of the day, the end of the week, the weekend-waiting for some time when I might be magically happy. The question he asks is simple: “What is wrong right now, in this moment?”
The first time I heard the question, my mind immediately brought up a laundry list of complaints. “What is wrong? I don’t have enough money to do the things I’d like to do – to take some trips, quit my job, buy clothes. And I don’t like my job, and I want to live by the ocean, and I’m worried about…,” etc., etc. But remembering the specificity of his question, I stopped myself and thought again. What was wrong right now, in that moment? I quieted my mind and listened to the silence. I noticed that I felt tense and anxious, though I didn’t know why. I hadn’t realized that I was living with that feeling unaware. I listened some more. That time I heard crickets outside my open windows and the sound of my cat’s steady, raspy breathing. I noticed the sunlight on green leaves beyond my sheer curtains. I became aware that in that now, in that moment, I was happy. I had everything I could want: I had a full stomach, safety, peace, and even serenity.
That moment was a revelation. As I listened to the other CDs in the audio book, I found that my every reaction and reflexive objection to the possibility that NOW could be sufficient was addressed by Tolle. It appeared that most people have the same resistance to stopping the mind’s questioning, and the same worrying that not questioning might be fatal, that I had. If I don’t spend this moment worrying about the future, I wondered, will I ever make the changes I’d really like to make? But as I listened and practiced being in the moment, I discovered that it was perfectly possible to enjoy the now, this moment (which is all there ever really is), and still plan for the future – just without that frantic pressure to make the future hurry up and get here so I could be happy THEN. I discovered that, as Tolle teaches, I could use my mind to create, because that is its true job. It is a tool for creation, not the prison guard I’d let it become.
I’m still an early student, but for the first time in my life (at least, since I was a child in the moment as children naturally are), I am finding myself happy for long periods of time. I discovered that there were many things I liked about my job, once I was open to seeing and responding to them as they really were, not as my resistant mind kept comparing them to other jobs, other bosses, or future dream scenarios. I’m learning to deal with other challenges to the moment, like rage. I’m discovering the truth of the fact that I am not just the personality created by my mind; I am something more, and deeper (and eternal, I believe). I’m coming to find some amusement in the antics of my mind in its zealousness to be always thinking something, anything!
As Tolle says, this concept at the heart of Buddhism and was spoken of by Christ. It’s nothing new. But how marvelous to discover, finally, that the moment is always new, when you’re actually alive to it. And rich, and rather beautiful.