Be Here Now
Recently someone emailed me the following question:
Hi Roger, I’ve got this friend who drives me nuts because every time I do something stupid, he pipes up with this cliché, ‘be here now’, which seems totally meaningless to me, and totally annoying. So, I’m listening to your audiobook and you referred to it in the context of mindfulness. So I’m wondering what your take on ‘be here now’ is? (Enjoying the book by the way).
And my reply?
Absolutely, ‘Be Here Now’ is indeed a cliché – but meaningless it definitely isn’t. But from my point of view, the glibness ‘Be Here Now’ arises from its overuse in combination with the lack of understanding of most who use it – which leads to it becoming the vapid bromide your friend has been annoying you with.
As glib and trite as it seems, like most clichés, it encapsulates a potent truth.
Because when we dissect it into its three elements, we see that ‘be here now’ is actually an incredibly efficient directive.
Be: To ‘be’ is existential – consciousness of immediate existence in body and mind.
Here: To be ‘here’ is to be in, or at this place. Nowhere else – in this body, as it is, for better or worse. And in this mind, for better or worse.
Now: Now is not later, nor is it before. It’s immediate, and in this moment.
When we put all these three elements things together, the seemingly glib throwaway platitude of ‘be here now’ actually becomes a profound reminder of what’s important.
Be … here … now
After all, what else can we do?
What’s happened in the past is gone. The only place it exists is as memories and slight alterations of our DNA – both of which will gradually fade away if we refuse to give them our attention.
What will happen later is a mental fiction. As such, it’s not worth thinking about – our inbuilt instincts will deal with it when it comes.
The only place we have absolute power to influence the direction and tenor of our life is in this very instant – in the choices we make right now, and not an instant later.
And they are indeed choices. That is, we consciously decide to do this, or that, in the moment the choice is presented to us.
But here’s the rub.
The ability to be able to make these instantaneous choices requires mindfulness. And mindfulness needs a relatively uncluttered mind, as ‘present-focused’ as possible.
A mind that is preoccupied with worrying about what’s coming and fretting about what’s past, or filled with the psychic mess of emotional reactions, cannot make those choices. Which is why a lot of accidents happen when people are experiencing stress – their mind is so cluttered with the flack of high emotion, they are oblivious to the moment they are actually in. As such, they’re effectively blind deaf and dumb.
Mindfulness is when there is enough space in the mind, that we are fully experiencing each moment our body is in, as it happens. And to have that space in the mind requires that our mental attention be in the same place as whatever our body is immediately aware of, instead of bumbling about in the virtual un-reality in our head.
In other words, we need to ‘be here now’.
Which is what we practice when we meditate.
We sit, and at first our attention is flitting about like a monkey in a room full of bananas – imagining this, worrying about that, and so on.
And in our daily life, we largely allow it to do this as our habits run our lives for us. We drive the car, and do our work, and gossip and do social media, while all the while, thinking about other things at the same time.
But now we’re meditating – we’re aware that our monkey attention has darted away so we take command of it and gently sit it back down on the breath. In other words, we enact conscious choice. We don’t force it – we just encourage it to remain there.
But the monkey attention being a creature of habit – it doesn’t feel comfortable sitting still. So it darts away and grabs hold of the nearest banana it can find – a worry, a memory or a fantasy.
And again, in the meditating mind, we’re immediately aware of where it has gone. So we practice conscious choice again. We take hold of our attention and we return it to the breath.
This simple act of practising being immediately aware of what our attention is doing, and making a choice to change what it does is an incredibly powerful act.
It slowly trains our attention to be in sync with our conscious, and momentary awareness.
As I write, I’m reminded of a man I met in one of the monasteries I trained at. He was a British guy, who’d been brought up in the slums of Leeds. As a youth, he’d been abused in terrible ways, and so lived in a constant state of rage. As such he was intensely violent.
‘…I used to go out every Friday and Saturday night looking for a fight. It was the only way I could find relief from the pressure of the rage I lived with every second of every day …’
Luckily, he began practicing meditation, and eventually travelled to Thailand to enter a monastery and practice mindfulness and meditation. When I met him, he’d been practicing for a couple of years. And he had this to say:
‘… I went back home a few months ago, to purposely put myself back into the places where I used to get into fights … the pubs and clubs and bad streets where it was still going on. I wanted to see if all the training I’d been doing was having an effect.
And all my friends, they were all still at it, beating the hell out of each other, or being beaten. But it was amazing how different I felt. A bloke would start winding me up, trying to get a rise out of me, and where before I’d have been at him in a flash, this time I felt quiet, detached in a moment, just before the rage kicked in. And though I’d feel the violence starting to rise in me, in that calm space just before, I had the time to deny myself permission to put it into action …’
Inspired by this proof that meditation and mindfulness was healing him, he came back to Thailand to continue his training, which is when I met him.
So you see, ‘be here now’, as glib and seemingly banal as it appears to be, is actually a life creed – a reminder of what’s most important. .
To learn to ‘be here now’ gives us the ability to consciously direct and navigate our way through life, rather than just drifting with whatever wind or storm is blowing.
‘BEING STILL – MEDITATION THAT MAKES SENSE’, Roger’s new book, is available now.
(The audiobook includes all the exercises, as well as ebooks of Being Still, to fit any device.)