#Buddhism and the #Uncertainty #Principle of #Nowness

img_0953There is no hotter topic in Buddhism these days, or New Age-y esoteric philosophy, than nowness—the Eternal Now, the Infinite Present Moment, etc.—not even mindfulness nor lovingkindness. This is at least partly due to Eckhart Tolle’s popularization of the topic, no doubt, but neither is there any doubt about where he got it, either—Buddhism and/or Hinduism…

So I’ve got two questions in relation to this subject: 1) What exactly are we talking about, anyway, and 2) why is it so popular? Well, part of the problem with this issue is that it’s never really been defined, exactly what’s being referred to, as if that should be obvious, and any discussion would destroy some of its mystery, and hence some of its power, SO: I’m going to do the same, for the time being, and head to question number two…

I think the reason that ‘nowness’ is so popular right now is because the future is so bleak. This effect is subliminal, though, and I wouldn’t expect its proponents to necessarily agree. But one hundred years ago, everybody was full of science-fiction futures, space travel and trips to the moon, with multiple payment options. Now that we’ve already done that, what does science fiction look like? It ain’t pretty, bleak and dystopian, utopia hard to find, paradise lost. Self-driving cars? Meh…

Simply put: people want to have fun, and they want it now. No one saves for the future anymore, and now there’s a philosophy to support the position. This has all happened before, of course, notably two thousand or so years ago, when Jesus himself was walking the lands of the Levant, and preaching to people oppressed by the Roman Empire, at a time when everyone knew that the world as they knew it was on its last legs, only a matter of time, just a question of when, and how, not if—and it did…

“Look at the birds of the air,” Jesus said, “they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?”

And Jesus was right about the worrying, of course, but wrong about the maintenance, more than a question of syntax or semantics. Yes, they store away in barns, i.e. nests, etc. No motherly beast of the wild drops a litter and walks away, no. She takes care of them until it’s time to part, and then they say good-bye, forever, but only then. And I do believe that her concern indeed added more than a few hours to their lives…

So that ‘Now Only’ rap has always been a bit full of BS, if someone so illustrious as Jesus Christ himself fell prey to its charms, but that doesn’t mean it’s total BS. What it DOES mean is to not be burdened by the past and not to be overly obsessed with the future, to the detriment of the present. My own personal preference is a ratio of about 10-60-30, past present future, only about one-tenth of my time and energy devoted to tidying up the details of the past and a solid majority devoted to the present…

But what exactly is this present moment, that’s so easy and fun to witness and worship? The reason that it is so poorly defined is that it’s largely undefinable. Everybody knows intuitively what it means, or thinks he knows, so never bothers to even try to define it. But there are at least two possibilities: 1) It’s like a snapshot, or series of snapshots, very specific points, analyzable and measurable, or 2) It’s like a video, NO: live streaming, a broad continuum, forever changing, so neither analyzable nor measurable…

So which is it? What’s the answer? (Could I get a drum roll here, please?) The answer is that:

I can find no Infinite Present Moment: If it’s a moment, then it is no longer present, nor Infinite. It is past, immediately. If it is present, then it cannot be defined or viewed as a single moment, but rather a continuum of sensory input, incapable of analysis or even rational thought on its behalf…

In other words, it’s much like the Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle, in which you can plot the position of an electron, or you can measure the velocity, but you can’t do both, not at the same time, anyway, one of the most famous theorems of physics, and the foundation of quantum mechanics. Thank you, Werner, for saving me a lot of work…

And the third part of that principle, by extension, is that we don’t know the trajectory, either, just as with the hypothetical Eternal Now, we can’t predict the future, since there is no past with which to extend a straight line forward. So which is better, the moment or the continuum? It depends on what you want. I think when most people refer to the Eternal Now, they’re referring to the Continuum, probably best exemplified in meditation…

Meditation is generally characterized, if not defined, as ‘mindfulness’. But is silent gazing upon an undifferentiated esthetic continuum ‘mindfulness’? I think so, but it’s certainly not ‘thoughtfulness’, since thought is not allowed in meditation, but which is also generally considered a pretty good thing to immerse oneself in. So is mindfulness the opposite of thoughtfulness? Food for thought, food for mind…

It’s ironic, though, that even if Buddhist meditation is the inspiration of much, if not most, ‘nowness’, some of its various sects are totally obsessed with the past, i.e. ‘rebirth’. and past lives But they are all into meditation…

“…tomorrow and plans for tomorrow can have no significance at all unless you are in full contact with the reality of the present, since it is in the present and only in the present that you live.” – Alan Watts.

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