Here and now

The problem with living in a downstairs flat is that there is no upstairs. This may sound obvious, but when you have lived in a house almost all your life, with an upstairs, you tend to forget. Many times I have grabbed my camera to head for the upstairs windows, only to realise that the couple who live up there might, possibly, object to me barging in unannounced every sunset and dawn.

My home is on a roughly east-west axis. Just sufficiently ‘off’ to mean that in summer, I can watch the sun rise from my pillow without needing to move. In winter I see the dawn through the garden doors that are, inevitably, already open for the dog.

Sunsets are a bit more problematic. The curve of the houses in my street and the rooftops opposite my kitchen window block most of my view. I get only the spreading colours as the light fades… which is where the upstairs would have come in handy. A little more height and I could see so much.

Yet, as I stood on the doorstep tonight, watching vivid pink and gold soften the sky, I realised how lucky I am to be able to watch the day begin and end, in glowing colours or beneath a pall of roiling clouds,  every single day. City dwellers seldom see much of the skyline and, when work takes me early into town, I miss the dawn as it hides behind the rooftops.

It may be natural to wish for things that are seen, but just out of reach or it may be the way we are conditioned by our society from the earliest age to aspire to ‘something more’. ‘The grass is always greener’ and all that…  But all that happens is that in looking beyond what is to what could be, we shift our focus away from the moment in which we stand and fail to appreciate what it offers. Not only that, but we create dissatisfaction for ourselves, a pressure for change for the sake of change and the stress of always chasing an illusive and elusive ‘something’ that we hope will be better than what we have. How often do we truly look at what we have in gratitude, not with some indefinable yearning?

Does it really matter that I see ‘only’ a sky suffused with colour and not the whole sunset? I could change that… a walk to the fields would give me an unobscured view, but it would take time and effort… a commitment and an active choice. Wishing alone will not get me from here to there… but I need do nothing at all to be here and now.

Every day is different, every dawn and dusk offers new wonders… and it does not matter at all where I am or where I stand. It matters only that I look up and see it as it happens.

Fragments of perception

Fragments of night rise from the road, scattering flecks of dawn on ebony wings. I watch the sun gild a horizon veiled in mist and see the earth blush at its touch. The morning song of birds drowns the sound of the engine as I drive through a green land that is waking to spring. It is only a few weeks since I last drove this road, yet it is a different place… the seasons have turned, the light has advanced… new life springs from old. It is beautiful and I know this road so well that I can give my attention to the land. I am struck, quite forcibly, by the realisation that no-one has ever seen quite what I am seeing…nor will they ever see quite this scene again.

And nor will I. This is the very last time I will see it. For a moment that thought sears the heart and yet, by the time I have realised the pain, I am no longer there and it is already too late.

It is also the first time I will see this scene. It has never been quite like this before, no matter how many times I have driven this way. The dawn light, always glorious, is always different. Everything is in a constant state of flux, moving inexorably through its own inner cycle, responding to the greater cycles of life and evolutionary time.

I will never see it again for it will never exist quite like this again. And nor will I. Even I am changing, a millisecond at a time, always different. Even the ‘I’ that considers this fact is no more before the thought has finished formulating.

The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali (1931)
The Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali (1931)

What is, is… now and only now.

The place I have left exists for me only in memory. I am no longer there. The place to which I go is also just a memory. I am not yet there. Neither is more real for me, at this moment, than a dream. I move between moments trusting that both my past and my future are a true reflection of my perceptions. I must trust that my perceptions are a true reflection of reality. My life is based on that trust. Indeed, I must even trust that the ‘I’ that is recreated with each passing moment is the same ‘I’ that I remember myself to be. Even so, the ‘I’ to which the ego persists in clinging no longer exists, but is itself no more than a perception of memory.

I drive on, allowing the now distinct fragments of my perceived self to give their attention to the moment. While my eyes drink beauty, my mind explores and my body drives itself onward, recognising that even the word ‘my’ can no longer apply as ‘I’ do not exist for long enough to own anything.

Can you live, day to day, with such a realisation at the forefront of the mind? Dali’s paintings suddenly make more sense than ever before. So does the Ruler of the Universe from Douglas Adams’ books and those religious orders who eschew words of possession. Only madness, genius or divine revelation can come from attempting to live within the world in that state of realised non-being for very long.


Fair use,
The Disintegration of the Persistence of Memory by Salvador Dali (1954)

Once touched, though, that realisation leaves its mark. Imagine, just for a moment, if you were to know that this would be the last time you would ever meet a pair of eyes in quite this way… if this were the last morning you would ever see… the last hug you would ever give or receive from one pair of arms. Imagine that this is the last time that this you would have chance to embrace this moment. And then stop imagining, for it is true.

The world, your world, becomes a different place when every second is to be lived with a passion because you know it will never come again. No chore is quite the same when you do it for the first time…or the last. No joy is as bright or as poignant as the first and the last time it touches your heart. And it is always both.

We do not have to twist ourselves into spiritual pretzels in order to learn to live only in the now… it is the only place we can ever live. The past is a memory, the future a dream and we move constantly from one to the other, watching them slide seamlessly into each other in less than a heartbeat, with our awareness poised on the scintilla of time in-between. What we may need to learn is how to remember to embrace each moment as a first and savour it as a last time… and how to remember our selves as we move through our world.