Being present in the moment is a topic that has been on my mind recently. In a way, it is connected to the question of how I can be happy in my life amidst all the difficulties and challenges we are facing as individuals, in our relationships, as families, as societies and as the human species as a whole.
As you might have guessed, I’m a very reflective person. I reflect a lot on what is going on, and on how I fit into and contribute to these larger going-ons. Also, I am a person who is quite keen on, both, ‘doing the right thing’ and ‘doing things right’. So my inner reflections are almost exclusively dominated by questions on how I should act or, conversely, why the way I behave is not the right way – as it never is. If driven to the extreme, the way I live life almost as a whole – grace to the circumstances I was born into – can be seen as wrong. To say it in a harsh way: my way of life is built on the suffering of others, historically. The question is how much I can change about this and how far this prevents me from living my own life in a fulfilling way.
I cannot carry the weight of the world on my shoulders and I cannot change much about how the world works. This is not saying that I should look away and just live my life in the pursuit of personal fulfilment and happiness in a totally egoistic way – as I am part of the larger whole I still need and want to be aware of what makes things worse and what potentially makes them better. I want to be conscious about what is going on and understand the dynamics and patterns that form what I could call ‘the world’ – and my part in it. I need to find my place in the paradox of being an individual in a larger whole.
I often get stuck in these reflections on what I should do or how I should behave. I lose touch with the present and seem to exclusively live in these reflections. I am currently attempting to shift that and be more present to what is presencing (to use a word I learned from McGrilchrist and that he traces back to Heidegger) itself to me at the moment and responding to that from the wholeness of my being, which includes all the reflections I have been having – but now not in a hypothetical way but in a way that is relevant in this moment at this place (however narrowly or widely you want to interpret this in terms of timespan and wideness of space – what is relevant will presence itself to us).
I realise being present is not easy. I’m used to be in my head, to be lost in my thoughts. Through my work on embodiment, I am starting to find a way to be more in my body to connect to the present and become aware of and be sensitive to what is going on in this moment. Only when I’m present to this, I can respond to it. And of course the response is not random, but shaped by my reflections, my reading, my history, my understanding of the world, and by what is present. But it is not any longer a disconnected understanding of the world that leads to a hypothetical ‘how you should act’. It is an understanding of the world that, together with what is present, lead me to act in a way that responds to what matters. And the way I act is not always right and correct, but it is authentic and alive.
And yes, there is still the burden we carry as white, westerners, men, humans. And we need to deal with that. I try to deal with it in every present moment, rather than only hypothetically in my thoughts.
A friend recently shared a quote from the book Arctic Dreams by Berry Lopez (Lopez 2014), that I thought is very relevant here:
No culture has yet solved the dilemma each has faced with the growth of a conscious mind: how to live a moral and compassionate existence when one is fully aware of the blood, the horror inherent in all life, when one finds darkness not only in one’s own culture, but within oneself. If there is a stage at which an individual life becomes truly adult, it must be when one grasps the irony in its unfolding and accepts the responsibility for a life lived in the midst of such paradox. There are simply no answers to some of the great pressing questions. You continue to live them out, making your life a worthy expression of leaning into the light.
Leaning into the light, or leaning into the present as if it matters, is what I’m trying to do.
Reference: Lopez, Barry. 2014.Arctic Dreams. Random House.
As I did not write last week, here two snippets from my paper museum. Both are on the topic of truth.
First, some wisdom by Ursula K. Le Guin, from Four Ways to Forgiveness:
No truth can make another truth untrue.
All knowledge is part of the whole knowledge.
Once you have seen the larger pattern,
You cannot go back to seeing the part as the whole.
Then another bit of Iain McGilchrist’s Magnus Opus The Matter with Things:
So, how would the right hemisphere conceive truth? Rather than conceiving it as a thing, it would experience it as a process, one that, in this case – not just for now, but in principle – has no ending. More importantly, it would see that truth is a _relationship. Instead of seeing a subjective realm and an obiective realm which should as near as possible mirror one another, it would see a constant reverberation between two (never completely distinct) elements within our consciousness – thoughts and experiences – whereby they ‘answered’, or co-responded to, one another; this ever better accord, or attunement, would be the evolving truth. It would be intrinsically incomplete, but constantly in the process of completing itself; and uncertain, though constantly approaching nearer to certainty; incapable of being grasped except through embodied being, through a consciousness that is in the flesh and engaged in the world. We would find out what was true only by testing it on the pulse of experience whether it corresponded with the totality of our experience, not just with one (cognitive) part of it. Because of this it would be unique and necessarily many-stranded._
Emphasis in the original.
Why have I added these to my Paper Museum? Truth is an interesting concept and I resonate with both Le Guin and McGilchrist in how they describe truth (in the case of the latter, the quote only reflects the ‘right-hemisphere’ perspective on truth, but that is the more interesting and less appreciated one). I have a natural science background and for me truth has really been about an as-perfect-as-possible representation of an objective reality. The problem is that all our so called ‘truths’ often fall short of being consistent with the individually observed realities, in many different ways. This alternative approach to truth opens an avenue to see truth as something evolving and ever-changing, without changing its importance or truthfulness.
References: - Le Guin, Ursula K. 2011.Four Ways to Forgiveness. Hachette UK. - McGilchrist, Iain. 2021. The Matter with Things: Our Brains, Our Delusions, and the Unmaking of the World. Perspectiva Press.
If you are in the UK or willing to travel to the UK, Nora Bateson is offering an in-person Warm Data Lab training Hawkwood Centre for Future Thinking.