I started studying yoga and meditation in 1969, when I was a student at San Jose State College. I've got a well-thumbed 1972 sixth printing copy of Ram Dass' "Be Here Now" book, which was published in 1971.
I haven't re-read the book for a long time. I guess the title alone was enough for me to keep in mind.
But today, when I was meditating in the morning, as I have virtually every day for the past 47 years or thereabouts, I was struck by how meaningless those words, Be Here Now, seemed to be in my present churchless approach to life.
What else is possible, but being here now?
My brain is the source of my consciousness. No brain, no consciousness. (Many would disagree, but there is no demonstrable evidence that consciousness can exist without a functional brain.)
My brain doesn't exist in the future. Or, in the past. It exists now. As does everything else in existence. So no matter what my brain is doing, no matter what form my consciousness takes, it is happening here and now.
Awareness of sensations, thoughts, emotions, intuitions, abstract reasonings, concrete perceptions -- all of this, every bit of it without exception, is happening here and now. So what's the big deal with that oft-heard adage, be here now?
Turning to the "Time and Space" chapter on page 90, there's a contradiction in Ram Dass' book that reflects how I was feeling about its central admonition. On the one hand, I read:
Begin to notice that wherever you go or whatever time it is by the clock...it is ALWAYS HERE AND NOW. In fact you will begin to see that you can't get away from the HERE and NOW. Let the clock and the earth do their "thing"...let the comings and goings of life continue...But YOU stay HERE and NOW. This is an exercise to bring you to the ETERNAL PRESENT...where it all is.
Verbiage like this used to appeal to me. But now it strikes me as New Age nonsense.
OK, the book correctly says that it isn't possible to get away from the HERE and NOW, which is ALWAYS present. But then it proposes an exercise to bring me to the ETERNAL PRESENT, even though this apparently can't be gotten away from.
For specific periods of time focus your thoughts in the present.
DON'T THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE
JUST BE HERE NOW.
DON'T THINK ABOUT THE PAST.
JUST BE HERE NOW.
(The book has a lot of capitalizations and bold-facing.)
Now I'm confused. When I think, I'm thinking here and now. If I think about what might happen in the future, or about what has happened in the past, those thoughts are happening here and now.
So why is not thinking about the future or past especially here-and-now'y? Ram Dass has just said that "you can't get away from the HERE and NOW."
There I am sitting in my chair, meditating.
I'm aware of physical sensations: my breathing, sounds in the house, the weight of my body. I'm also aware of thoughts: what I'm going to do after my morning quiet time, memories of the trip my wife and I just took to see relatives in Indiana and Kentucky.
Today it struck me more strongly than usual that any sort of Be Here Now advice is ridiculous. Again, there's no way we can do anything else. Brain activity always is happening within my cranium in a succession of present moments.
Thinking about the future is happening here and now. So is thinking about the past.
I realize the appeal of believing that stopping thoughts about the future or past somehow is more "spiritual" than envisioning what might happen, or has already happened. But this doesn't make any sense. It just creates an artificial division within us, an erroneous assumption that thinking about the future or past takes us away from the present moment.
No, it doesn't. Whatever I think about, that is happening in the here and now. Likewise, if I'm not thinking and am focusing on the sensation of my breath, that also is happening in the here and now.
Admittedly, what I'm talking about isn't anything new. This is Mindfulness 101, really: accept whatever is happening in consciousness, whether it be sensations, perceptions, thoughts, emotions, whatever. Don't reject anything, because there is no need to.
Like Ram Dass correctly said, it isn't possible to get away from the here and now. Unfortunately, he went on to say that thoughts about the future or past DO take us away from the here and now.
And therein lies a lot of wasted effort by the many meditators -- one of whom used to be me -- who mistakenly believe that stopping thoughts is a "spiritual" exercise. Thinking is just one thing the brain is capable of doing. Here and now, like everything else the brain does.
Think. Or don't think. It doesn't matter. Whatever we do, it always is happening HERE and NOW.