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Be Here Now
Be Here Now
Be here now. That was what was written over the door of the Zen Center. Where or what exactly “here” was was never explained, but that was the whole point of Zen. To be so in the moment you were the now. Alexander Morris, understood the now to mean paying attention to the world outside himself. But, as a scientist, he was skeptical that the Zen ideal of being in the “now” was even possible. What exactly was the damn now anyway? It bothered him. The more he thought about it, the less “now” he became. Wasn’t that ironic? Purposeful thinking about something, even the now, took you further from its essence. He wondered how physics would explain the now or was it merely a mental state?
One day, when his questions and doubts overwhelmed him, Alexander approached Nom, the Zen Center’s Zen Master. Alexander bowed low with the respect due an enlightened one, and in a humble voice asked, “Master, can you please tell me, what is the now?”
Nom smiled a secret Zen smile and, striking a small gong he kept at his side, answered enigmatically. “The waterfall looks continuous but is made of countless drops.”
Alexander meditated on the Master’s statement for several weeks. At first he saw no connection between the now and a waterfall, but slowly it came to him that the now was like a single drop in a continuous rushing stream plunging headlong into the unknown. He checked this realization with Nom. The Master tinkled a small brass bell, smiled his enigmatic smile and said, “You are not the drop, you and everything are the drop.” The bell meant he was on the right track. The gong meant he was going wrong. He pondered the Master’s words some more.
After several more weeks of meditation, Alexander though he’d figured out what the Master meant: the now was a single point on a line. A point containing no dimensions and no time. It contained the entire universe and all time. Alexander was sure he had made a great stride forward in his understanding of the ineffable now. Bursting with confidence, he ran his new interpretation past Nom, the old monk banged his gong and told Alexander this story:
Once a Monk was walking along, his begging bowl in his hand, thinking about nothing when, in that very moment, he was eaten by a tiger.
Again Alexander struggled to derive any relevant meaning from the story. Maybe being mindful was dangerous. How else to explain the tiger? How could the monk fail to see the tiger if he was being mindful? Wait, the Master never used the word mindful. What did he say? “The monk was thinking about nothing when the tiger attacked him.” What does thinking about nothing mean? Is the now nothing? Was that the danger to look out for? Is thinking of nothing the same as being mindful?
When he asked Nom for help, all he got was the dismissive gong. That meant more weeks of meditation. Then he thought, maybe the tiger represented enlightenment, that elusive “satori” moment everyone at the Zen Center was striving for. Maybe the monk in the story found his satori moment as he walked along. Maybe the tiger was the totally aware now he had been seeking the whole time. That must be it. The realization gave him an aha moment and it thrilled him.
When Alexander presented this new understanding to Nom, he was rewarded with the opaque smile and the brass bell which told him he was on the right track. Now he felt he was getting somewhere in his understanding of the elusive now. If he could only wrap his head around it, he could join the ranks of those enlightened individuals who knew the now intimately. Those fabled few who could ride the now like a surfer rides a wave.
On his way home from the Zen Center Alexander tried to empty his mind and tried to be in the moment. He was so close, he could almost taste it. What would he do once he reached that exalted state? Would people call him Master? He saw himself advising those young seekers striking the gong when they were going wrong and rewarding them with the bell when they grasped his subtle truths. Nom would be his equal. Alexander knew that he shouldn’t let his ego cloud his perception, but he couldn’t help it, he was proud of himself, damn proud. He felt he was only moments away from a life changing breakthrough. He could practically hear the now rushing at him ready to sweep him along.
It was at this precise moment that Alexander stepped off the curb and was struck by a taxi. Before he lost consciousness he realized what the tiger in the story was—it wasn’t enlightenment, it was ego.
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