I've got a fondness for Buddhism, and it's sister faith, Taoism. I especially like how Buddhist and Taoist teachings emphasize the here and now, this present moment.
For example, Buddhist "guiding teacher" Rodney Smith says in his book, Stepping Out of Self-Deception:
Spiritual fulfillment can be defined as a complete abiding in the here and now.
This is a refreshing philosophical antidote to sacred and secular then-and-there'ness. Both religious dogma and materialistic advertising promise that we'll be truly content only if we obtain something in the future and/or in another place.
Jesus awaits in heaven. A guru awaits on some astral plane. The new car awaits at the dealership. A great meal awaits at the recently opened restaurant.
Smith divides our human perception of reality into two spheres: a timeless Vertical Universe and a past/present/future Horizontal Universe. The present is where these spheres bisect.
If what I've just said doesn't make sense, perhaps these quotes from Smith's book will help convey what he's getting at:
From the horizontal perspective, the present is a moment between time past and time future, a deprived moment on its way to some other time.
...The vertical perspective of the here and now is very different. Since the moment is not being squeezed between the rock of the past and the hard place of the future, it is open and expansive.
...Within the horizontal, we like to imagine we are somewhere we are not. We go on excursions in time, and through our imagination create a better place than the here and now.
...The vertical universe is empty of separate content and void of meaning, but this absence of purpose is not meaningless or despairing. Because it is not going anywhere, every moment is complete.
Recently my wife and I ate at a vegetarian restaurant where the food was very good. Accordingly, the place was very busy. Our server's name was Carl.
When we were done with our meal, and I was feeling an urge to leave the restaurant so I could get going on some important activities (like blogging), Carl was nowhere to be seen.
This bothered me, because he'd been attentive to our needs up to that point. Now, where the heck was he when I wanted the bill? Soon after my mind emitted that thought, Carl zipped by our table, looking in the other direction.
This happened several times. Carl was a difficult waiter to flag down. But my Horizontal Universe was firmly in a desired future moment where the bill was given to us, I handed Carl a credit card, and we were out the restaurant door.
Recognizing how impatient I felt, I took a few deep breaths and tried to settle into the present moment. I did more watching and less wanting. I noticed how Carl seemed to be responsible for most, if not all, of the tables in the small restaurant.
He was simultaneously trying to take the orders of newly arrived patrons, deliver food to those who had already ordered, and settle up the bills of people like us who had finished eating and were ready to leave.
Getting in touch with my Vertical Universe felt good. I still wanted to get Carl's attention, but I wasn't frantic to do so. And I understood better what was going on here and now in the restaurant.
Almost certainly we weren't being ignored by Carl. He was just super-busy and was giving his attention to people who hadn't eaten. Our stomachs were full; there really wasn't anything important I had to do; I could wait a few more minutes to get the bill.
Here's the thing, though --- which I suspect Rodney Smith is going to address in the chapters of his book that I haven't read yet.
We can't live entirely in the here and now. Nor can we live entirely in the there and then. The present moment does indeed encompass both of these seemingly contrary dimensions of human experience.
I wanted to pay our bill and leave the restaurant. That was an entirely appropriate desire.
If I just sat placidly at the table like a stone Buddha, eventually Carl would conclude that I'd either had too much to drink or was suffering from some sort of mental illness. But I also didn't need to get all frantic about not getting Carl's attention immediately.
So I mostly agree with the notion that fulfillment is complete abiding in the here and now. (I prefer to leave off Smith's modifier, "spiritual," because it doesn't seem necessary to me.)
However, part of the here and now is our thoughts about there and then. Meditation and similar mind-training practices can help us develop the ability to switch freely between the above-mentioned vertical and horizonal perspectives.
Sometimes it's good to be centered in the stillness of the present moment. Sometimes it's good to be moving purposefully in the direction of some past or future moment -- remembering or intending something.
Remember my t-shirt slogan: "There Are No Rules" (including that one)