Yeah, it's a cliche, dating all the way from 1971. "Be here now." (I have a well-worn 1972 edition of the book.)
The book, though, actually doesn't talk a whole lot about the simple act of embracing the present moment as much as possible. Rather, it's filled with a bunch of Eastern mysticism/yoga philosophizing that I used to find appealing, but don't anymore.
What I do agree with is that now is a treasure that shouldn't be frittered away by paying undue attention to the past and future.
Sure, we have to be aware of what's happened in the past and what might happen in the future. That's a big part of being human. Memories and anticipations are part of our present-moment awareness. Meaning, everything we experience is now -- because we can't exist in the past or future, only now.
I need a reminder of this. So frequently I say to myself, "Don't know. Live now."
Why do I add don't know? Wouldn't live now be sufficient to keep me centered in the present? Perhaps. I just find it helpful to keep in mind that what I think might happen, which is the foundation of both my disagreeable worries and pleasant hopes, is often (or usually) markedly different from what does happen.
Right now Oregon is under a snow state of emergency issued by Governor Kate Brown. The National Weather Service is forecasting between three and eight inches during today and tomorrow in the Willamette Valley, where I live.
This is a pretty big deal for holiday travelers, since snowfall will be much greater at higher elevations where passes in the Coast Range and Cascade mountains are. It's also worrisome for my wife and me who live in a rural area with a steep driveway and roads that aren't plowed.
Also, last February the Willamette Valley suffered through a devastating ice storm. Our electricity was out for twelve days. That wasn't fun, to put it mildly.
So it's understandable that when some significant snowfall was forecast in the next few days, and maybe into next week, I started getting PTSD-like anxiety about our electricity going off again, with all of the hassles that entails.
However, i'm finding that reminding myself, "Don't know. Live now," is helping to keep that anxiety at a manageable level.
After all, the National Weather Service is saying that because the approaching front isn't a solid mass of precipitation, but unstable air made up of a bunch of cells, snow amounts can vary considerably from place to place, even if those places are close to each other.
In short, what's going to happen the next few days is uncertain -- which is how life often is. Or even, usually is.
Back in February my wife and I were watching TV when the electricity went out at about this time of night. We just finished watching several episodes of Ted Lasso before we took a TV break to do some other things, like me finishing this blog post.
It's quite unlikely that our electricity will go out tonight, since it hasn't even started snowing at our house yet. Thus I might as well live now, enjoying our evening, rather than worrying about what could happen electricity-wise.
I've done everything possible to prepare for snow and cold weather. Vent covers are in. My AWD Subaru with its winter tires is parked at the top of our driveway. I bought some extra groceries last week. So why not relax into don't know?
Don't know is a marvelous thing to keep in mind. Most of us dislike not knowing. We prefer to believe that we have a good idea of what will happen, because that relieves our anxiety about the unknown. But actually I feel better when I embrace don't know rather than push it away.
In 2017 I wrote a blog post about this, "Wu chi" and "don't know" go nicely together.
It's funny (I mean, interesting) when you read a book and only one sentence sticks with you. I figure that if I remember it after many years, that sentence must have a significant meaning for me.
A meaningful sentence I recall from one of Huston Smith's books came from a Zen practitioner: "I have a new koan: I could be wrong."
I'm wrong all the time. So I can totally identify with this sentiment.
Lately I've been enjoying using a similar idea as a sort of mantra when I'm going to sleep at night and find that my mind is overly filled with thoughts of what be coming next in the world of politics, my own life, and other aspects of reality I care about.
It feels really honest and refreshing to silently repeat those words inside my head. Don't know replaces the guesses, predictions, suppositions, hopes, anticipations, and such that otherwise would be rambling around my psyche.
Now, I'm not saying that looking into the future is bad. We human beings have a marvelous ability to create visions of what might be that are far beyond what other animals are capable of.
It's often useful to fashion scenarios of what Time may bring us after the present moment. However, predictions of what will happen beyond a few minutes, or even less, often are widely off the mark.
That's why don't know appeals to me so much.
Those two words remind me to remain open to anything and everything, really. No matter how confident I am that this or that will occur, the universe typically doesn't operate precisely (or even generally) in accord with my view of what will be.
Naturally don't know applies to grand cosmic anticipations as well as small mundane ones.
Religious believers, of whom I used to be one, typically have a clear sense of what will happen after they die. Heaven, God, afterlife, soul travel, reincarnation -- whatever it is, something predictable awaits.
But actually, they don't know. No one knows. Which is to say, as the above-mentioned Zen practitioner said: We all could be wrong. And likely are, when it comes to supernatural suppositions.