There is a wise old saying "plough a field for a field well ploughed, sow a seed, for a seed well sown"...not for any reward that you might envisage at the end. In this way you dwell completely in the moment, focusing your entire being into the task at hand, capable of doing what needs to be done with your entirety; Focusing not on the end result, but being completely in the moment, so that through an accumulation of such moments , excellence in the task is created.
Now this is not an easy thing to do, because i think we all plan ahead, and all envision the end at the start, so that we know where we are going. Or we can get caught day-dreaming about something that happened in the past, especially when the task is repetitive and automatic. This is quite natural. Focusing on the result we wish to achieve can act as a powerful incentive, or remembering past mistakes and lessons can help us avoid similar mistakes in the future. A problem however arises if the dwelling mind gets lost in future expectation, or past preponderance. This problem manifests itself in shoddy workmanship, inferior craft, mistakes, fears, rushed exercise, frustrations, recriminations, and other extraneous emotional attachments that impede proper and good functioning and flow of the craft, no matter what that craft may be. Some journeys, like the life journey, or the meditative one, may find that the 'end goal' mentality or 'backward focused mind', can get in the way of us being completely present, and thus inhibit the excellence in the work or the enjoyment of life.
Martin Heidegger had an interesting take on the existentialist position, and it is a position mirrored and echoed in the works of other great existentialist and phenomenological Philosophers and Psychologists alike, such as Camus, Sartre, Merleau-Ponty, Fromm, Rodgers, and Rollo May, to name but a few....each thought, as did Heidegger, that we should exist as beings in the moment. Beings who are always aware of our own mortality, so that by keeping in mind that we are beings-towards-death, we maximize our effectiveness in the moment because we are not lost in the illusion of 'Seinsvergessenheit'..or 'forgetfulness of being'...but are always confronting the next moment in the understanding that we are mortal beings, who are incarnated in this form for a short while only. If we get sucked into the illusion of immortality because we are unable to confront the fact that at some point we will die, we end up simply drifting through life without ever really being in the moment.
In a way i think he was right, that no matter whether we are incarnated beings who have lived a thousand lifetimes, or whether we are simply mortal beings whose energetic substance gets re-absorbed into the universal energetic flow when we die, and are simply only here the once, the principle remains the same. In order to make the most of the life or incarnation you are given, you have to BE_HERE_NOW....and the best way to achieve that, is not to get caught fantasizing about some expected end result, or strolling through the avenues of your mind lost in memories that had their time already.
Of course all that we are, and all we have known, and all those we have related to, and the great panoply of existence that inter-relates and associates through all the ages, has effect upon us, and we take it all with us on this journey of the eternal moment, BUT it is only in the point of present that we have the power to effect change. even if that present moment is a thought, or a continuity of being that projects into a future we hope for, plan for, or wish for. It is NOW that we can make the changes we need, It is only HERE and NOW, that we can truly be. Pulling all the future resonances of our potential paths, and all the past associations into a pointed perspective of existence, that itself resonates and projects beyond itself.
I have often struggled with the existential philosophers and Buddhism as well on this issue, because for me i have always thought that we were here for a reason, and that the things that have happened to us have happened for a reason. In this way it was important to remember who we were, and to know where we are going. To be able to formulate plans, for a future that will enable us to shape that future according to the things that are meaningful for us. By annihilating ones ego, as one is want to do in Buddhism, it always seemed to me a trick was being missed.
It seemed to me that the ego was an important construct, that enabled the biological being to exist in the world, in a way that the 'higher-self' was unable to. Of course maybe the Ego gets in the way on occasion, but all the same, it occurred to me that without it, we were somehow less than we could be, and that rather than strip it away and annihilate the ego, all one had to do was be able to see it as a simple psychological construct, a very useful one when having to deal with the real world of other ego's; To take for want of a better description, a Meta-Perspective, and thereby, tame the ego. It further seemed to me, that in times of meditation, by drawing all that you are, into that pointed present, including your ego, you were then able to truly shed it in light of the TRUTH of it, rather than trying to deny it, and thereby setting up a fallacy of self...Although it may be that in deep meditation, the illusion of temporal discontinuity and individual separation are exposed for what they are, it is only in the acceptance of all that we are, including the illusion's and constructs that are a part of our unique perspective in existence, that we can fully achieve this higher meta perspective, and thus shed these illusions so as to dwell in the timelessness of the present moment.
I believe we have our memories and our dreams, our anxieties, sufferings, desires and visions for a reason, and that they too are part of the rich tapestry from which the true self explores itself. If we try to deny them, if we try to obviate the influence of them, we are in a way denying the reason we are here. This i have always thought diminishes us, and also diminishes the greater self of which we are a part, because it denies the pointed perspective, the unique and unrepeatable pointed perspective of the present that only each one of us inhabits. So it is for this reason, that although i love the compassionate nature of Buddhism and enjoy the existentialists, there appears to be something missing in both.
I cannot deny creation or the entire creative process that i am a part of, it can be savage, and brutal, and cause the most intense suffering, but it can also be beautiful, and numinous, and the font of the most incredible Joy. It cannot be simply a fabricated chance that this great process of which we are a part exists and that i exist in it, and act in it as a purposive agent. If compassion must exist, and if it is the case that suffering must be minimized, then let it occur in this plane of existence also, let the light of Compassion shine forth into every corner of creation, and allow transcendence to exist, HERE and NOW.
By always working towards eliminating physical suffering, by working to eliminate psychological suffering, by creating sustainable systems that encourage and embellish, by working with the reality of the world as it exists here and now, i think we can create the kind of compassionate existence we all had in mind at the start. Not as some end goal, but simply because it is compassionate to do so. By principle we obviate suffering, we seek to diminish it in every avenue of our existence, and co-existence. Doctors, engineers, population demographers, teachers, nurses, etc....whatever the gift, the ability to diminish suffering is real in THIS plane of existence.
As a parent, that choice is real as well. We are called upon as parents to project into the future, so as to create paths of contentment down which our charges can travel, so that their own suffering might be diminished. We are not called upon to deny our ego's and annihilate them in favour of some transcendent self, rather we are called upon to accept these artifices, recognizing them as artifices , for sure, but real useful artifices that allow us to project into a future, draw from a real past, and pull all that we are into a fully empowered present moment, so that we can be effective for those who depend upon us to lead them along a path of least suffering.
Was this not the same for the enlightened sages of the past, were we not just children to them also. did they not also wish to lead us along a path of enlightenment, avoiding the pitfalls of suffering. They did not do this, by annihilating there ego's, and adopting lofty heights, but instead dwelt with those they sought to teach, existing with them in the moment, and helping them to transcend their own perspectival limitations. Your children, are dependent upon you, to focus your attention daily upon the things that they cannot see, because of their own perspectival limitations; They are dependent upon your ability to draw from your past experiences (lifetimes), your own ability to project into the future, maybe even sensing the bow waves of future resonance with your true self, and use your mask (ego) that you have constructed in this existence so as to be physically and socially effective, to efficaciously create and formulate workable solutions and paths of contentment for them, so that they may be able to avoid undue suffering. You can only do that effectively if you bring to bare all that you are, all that you have ever been, and all that you project as a future self, into a pointed and effective present, and i think also that means having an effective ego, even if you do recognize that it is a socially constructed artifice. It is an artifice of necessity in the world we live in, as much as we who have more spiritual inclinations would like to deny it...
We all of course, seek meaning in our lives, and if we do not find it, it is the nature of human nature to simply create it, for it is the way we come to understand the world, the way we navigate through this thing we sense, and make sense of. If you believe that we are here for a reason, or even if you simply believe that we create the reason we are here, we all have a history, we all project a future, and we all construct ego's that act as buffers to the world. When we effectively pull all of that into a powerful present moment, denying none of it, but accepting that none of it is the complete answer either and that it exists as a systemic whole, i think at that moment we begin to create effective choices, from which the compassionate disposition can begin to formulate paths that lead away from suffering for those we love. Even if it is but one child or two, or the world entire that we are in love with, we still need to BE-HERE-NOW, not in denial, wishing to annihilate some constructed artifice or another, but as all that we ever were, whether that be 1000 incarnations or simply 45 years, all that we ever wished to be, in some resonant future incarnation, or simply as a projected self in this lifetime, so that we can express that love effectively, fully embracing the totality of who we are, and allowing that to be in the moment, sometimes, in someone else's moment!...then i think we are effective.
So recognizing that we are here now,and that we seek to guide and help those whom we love, so that they can avoid suffering in this world, and ok, maybe helping them to find there true self, so that they can release themselves from the snares of Samsara :P...seems to me to be the heart of the compassionate person.
The wish, to not just spiritually enlighten, but shine that light in every sphere of existence, which means the physical as well, presupposes a recognition that in order to be effective in the here and now, it is necessary to take on the mantle of suffering ourselves also on occasion. For just like other faculties of being, Suffering has born greatness on its shoulders, for without suffering, the great lesson of self sacrifice would never be enjoined, and as a parent, or as someone who loves greatly, self sacrifice is often the greatest expression, and often the hardest expression of that love.
So be all that you are, including the suffering that you have born, and learn the lessons well, so that you may help others to avoid those pitfalls, and also help those you love. Embellish your own compassionate natures through empathic understanding of the suffering of others. For if it were not for personal suffering many would not understand the suffering of others, and the well spring of compassion in this plane of existence would be diminished. Everything is connected for a reason, and the denial of qualities of existence or the denial of existence itself, simply diminishes the fabric entire, of which we are all a part, whether that be as a personal expression or some idealized spiritualism.
So Being Present, isn't in the end a denial of history or some resonant future, but rather a culmination of a collective unity of being, a continuity of purpose, that manifests itself completely in the present moment, so that by focusing all that you are, have been, and will be, into that pointed present, then releasing your mind from the shackles of expectation, or being of 'no mind', as Zen Buddhists might describe it, one is able to "plough a field for a field well ploughed, and sow a seed, for a seed well sown".
© Richard Michael Parker 2009