Merode Altarpiece (Detail)
The Cloisters, New York
Sometimes I think we spend so much time revering the past, interested in the past, because we've made such a mess of the present.
I remember my teacher Betty Brown saying, "What is the truth of this moment?”
It's a call to be here as I am, now, and to live.
Yet I seem so determined — as we all are — to live through some contemporary resurrection of one dead teacher or another. You see, even here, I bring up Betty, who has been dead some years.
It's true that we are filled with what has passed; everything that brings us to this point is already over. I am a peculiar intersection of a past that will never come again, and a future that is completely unknown. I hold on to the past as though it was what had value; and I imagine the future, even though what will take place is always impossible to imagine.
I'm always cherishing lost things and believing in what can't happen.
If I turn my attention into the present, I need to fold both of these corners of being inwards towards now. In doing so, I gather the edges of the fabric of consciousness towards me, so that I am more familiar with them; it doesn't mean that I discard the past and the future, but rather that I bring them so close to one another within me that they touch.
They touch right here, now, in this moment that I am here. Can you feel it? This is what always takes place in us, forever. It's a kind of coming together rather than being lost in reminiscence or imagination.
The body is a great help for this. It really provides a center of gravity for now. But I have to let it do its job by inhabiting it, by being in relationship with it without any demands or expectations.
I can't exercise my way into now; I can't meditate my way into now. I can't emote my way into now. But if my body, my mind, and my feelings all fold together so that the various corners of my being are touching, it creates a little pouch of awareness that can contain whatever comes to it and hold it there, gently, flexibly.
Who knows what could happen then? It's a completely different premise than the one I usually use to understand my life. The idea is to create an empty space with these parts and then sit there within it. What will happen? I have no idea. I don't even need to know; all I need to do is be here.
This folding of the self, of awareness, inwards towards now is not a now of outwardness— it isn't born of what takes place outside me. No, the folding and the gathering begin within, as though there were a natural silken thread inside me that pulls all these parts of myself together, independent of outside influences.
It's a beautiful thing, this; like a flower that closes its petals to conserve its nectar, instead of opening them to be robbed by the bees. Not that the bees don't deserve what nectar they can gather; but why give them anything more than what's necessary?
That's what I need to do with the outward world, give it what is necessary; and the rest turns inward towards God, who needs much more than just the material.
Lee van Laer is a senior editor at Parabola Magazine.