As so often in July, the rest of the country is groaning under the heat. Here, in the far northwest, when a blanket of cold, wet clouds is sometimes lying over the ocean, it can be quite chilly in the morning at home. That’s when we bundle up – just for a moment – and drive up on the mountains where the air is warm and clear.
It’s blissfully warm, the air is still. A sea of white cotton, as far as the eye can reach, a shining blanket covering everything we ever knew. A few other peaks to the south also stick their heads out of this ocean of clouds. We are alone on an island in the sky in another world.
God knows how many times we’ve been on this mountain. We actually call it “ours” all the time. But today, as familiar as it is, we feel as if on virgin ground, shipwrecked on a desolate island, saved – saved from misery, from insignificance, saved from what we endlessly consider suffering in the gray hell of ordinariness. The pure white light of the sun – unfiltered, direct – touches us like a gentle but intense caress. I could cry for joy.
I look around, I hear the little scratching noises of my boots on the rock, the sounds of my clothing while I move. I see the dead rock against the featureless, dimensionless blue of the sky. There is not the slightest breeze anymore, dead echoless silence, no sounds other than from myself.
I hear my breath – my breath, this ever-present gateway to myself, this mysterious messenger of incorruptible truth. How often has it guided me to what ultimately really matters?! I hear my breath, and suddenly I become aware of the complete stillness behind my whole experience. I am the only thing moving, changing, reacting, and the backdrop seems lifeless, inconceivably timeless, frightening in a way.
I don’t stop – I move on, carefully, attentively. This is a place where paying attention is a survival skill. One careless move could have catastrophic consequences. The rock in the Olympics is rotten, and on this route a fall would be hard to survive. We’ve climbed here many, many times, so, in a way, there are no real surprises, but a surprise often comes when we mistake our unknowingly accumulated memory for what is really there. I carefully make my moves and listen to my breath.
Imagine: this feast of the senses today wouldn’t be just a repetition but the last one: no tomorrow, no next time. This is it. No more chance to review later what happens now. No use to judge what happens, no need to form an opinion – because there wouldn’t be a chance to apply it. Just imagine: no use to remember !
I resist the usual urge to shrug this off as useless, morbid sentimentality.
The state before death. What is “the state before death”? It could be the next second, tomorrow – not very likely, only possible; it can be in a hundred years – equally unlikely, but also possible. When is this: “before death”? – Isn’t it now? When is now? Isn’t it always? One now after the other. The timeless, eternal now = always.
Depending on our experience and character we tend to be optimistic or pessimistic, it only refers to our preference of deception. To live as if all would be over the next moment or to live as if it would last forever. To anticipate the end or to ignore the inevitable end. Isn’t it amazing that both views are fundamentally the same? They are both essentially unrealistic, not true. They are both strategies to gain happiness that ultimately never work. To live “as if” is a deception to begin with. The only life in real time is now.
We anticipate the deprivation. We feel in advance something that hasn’t occurred yet. And it not only has not occurred yet – in this case, when it will occur, there actually will be nobody there to experience it.
Why can’t we simply live out our life without fear of the end, without objections that are utterly useless anyway? Don’t we forget – over this anticipation – what is actually happening right now? What is so special about ‘last‘? Why do we make such a fuss about sequential order? Isn’t each moment unique and special? If we would appreciate a moment as what it really is we would indeed treat each one as if it was the last one or as if it was the first one.
There is no need to imagine this would be the last time because it actually is a last time. “Last” (and first as well) means special in the sense of sequential order, but in a deeper sense it means: unique, singular, particular, matchless, exceptional.
When we see the true nature of a moment we can see that every moment has the typical quality of being a last one. The psychological problem with “last” is that it refers to the process of counting. And what is counting other than paying attention?
You can count and actually listen to your voice making rhythmic sounds; you can count like singing a song, experiencing the flow, the melody. Or, you can really count individual objects or events, discriminating, really noticing and acknowledging their uniqueness. The only difference is a slightly shifted aim of your attention.
Is a moment really different from others when it happens to be the last one? Numbers are all numbers, they only have names, and those are different; there really is no last number. Each number is the last before the next one. However, someone can stop counting. What is so special to be “last”? Are we afraid that there will be nothing to count anymore? Or are we afraid that the counting will stop?
Only by looking back can you say: that was the last time. Only in hindsight can you see the peculiar quality of being last, but not when it actually occurs. The fact of being last is a thought about a moment, a story, an interpretation, but not the moment itself. To pay attention to that distracts from the moment. You actually miss the moment when you “think” it’s the last.
While the moment is happening it has in a deeply mysterious way no quality at all, no place in an order, no weight, no size, no meaning. Essentially there is no context at all – it is our mind that creates the context, that constructs meaning; but all our doing is merely an effect of the moment. Most of the time we are busy observing these effects instead of the moment itself.
Isn’t it wonderful that we can actually choose between the experience of anticipating the loss and the experience of having it – now?
Klaus July 18. 2008