There and Now?

Today’s affirmation: Reality exists in the present.

Before we get started, let’s do a quick definition:

Reality: (re·​al·​i·​ty | \ rē-ˈa-lə-tē) the true situation that exists the real situation

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary

Now that we’re calibrated, on the surface, this makes total sense. Think on this closely…

The Dharma Of It All

I need to be very clear, before progressing, that I am not a Buddhist. I’m an Omnist, which, when I come to think of it, is probably as Buddhist as it all gets without actually being Buddhist.

Seriously tho, I don’t ascribe to Buddhism as my sole religion. Instead, I use it’s very common sense practices to balance myself when I need some clarity in my thoughts.

There are many different schools of Buddhist thought. My initial introduction to Buddhism (like many here in the United States, I suppose) came via the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, who follows Tibetan Buddhism, which borrows heavily from the Mahayana school. That’s the deepest I’ll go, for today, in regards to details about Buddhist history, which is long, winding, and complex.

In regards to today’s affirmation, we need to understand some things about Buddhism, in general, because, at the heart of it, the most common goal for the Buddhist path is to reach a state of Nirvana.

To Mahayana Buddhists, Nirvana is a state of spiritual perfection in which one realizes that there is nothing outside of Nirvana. In addition to finally being free of all suffering, it’s the highest degree of reality one can enter into.

This reality as-it-is, specifically, is known as dharma, which is a foundational concept in Buddhism. It is truth, devoid of sentiment.

A Matter of Perspective

Our individual pasts are often clouded by sentiment. This can be either positive or negative. If we’re fortunate and have lived a life of relative comfort, we’ll probably remember things in a more favorable light. If we’ve suffered an undue amount of hardship, we’ll probably remember things unfavorably. Additionally, the further back we go, the more we forget about pieces of the past that surrounded particular events. For those who have more heavily weighted good experiences, we focus more on the good times and tend to forget about the bad things that may have surrounded us. For those who have experienced more bad, we focus on the bad times and may forget about little blessings that existed along the way.

Similarly, our individual futures tend to be clouded by expectation. This can be either positive or negative as well. Some of us envision our futures with hope and feel good about things to come. For others of us, we can only view the future with anxiety and dread.

Both instances, past and future, are absolutely subjective to the person experiencing it. As an example, the entire year of 2017 was a terrible one for me. In chronological order, this is how it looked when I immediately think of it:

  • Donald Trump became president.
  • My 2.5 year partnership ended.
  • My favorite cousin, who was also one of my best friends, committed suicide.
  • I lost all my teeth to a gnarly infection.
  • My mom died.
  • One of my dogs died.
  • I gained about 80 lbs from the beginning to the end of the year.

I hated, and still hate, 2017. However, when I clear out the emotion and look at things more objectively:

On a personal note:

  • I quit a 37 year smoking habit (and stayed honest to it even through all the bad stuff that happened).
  • I spent a lot of time with family.
  • I learned how resilient I could be.

On a non-personal note:

  • The Women’s March exploded into the world.
  • The Oscars, rightfully and finally, recognized a host of Black creators and artists.
  • Danica Roem became the first openly transgender person to be both elected and to serve in an U.S. state legislature – and it was Virginia, to boot.
  • Cancer deaths dropped by 25% in the United States since 1991, which saved more than 2 million lives – breast cancer deaths, alone, fell by 39%, saving the lives of 322,600 women.
  • General Motors stated “the future is all-electric” Volkswagen announced it’s intention to invest 70 billion euros and “putting its full force behind a shift into electric cars” and Volvo said that starting in 2019 it will only make fully electric or hybrid cars “the end of the combustion engine-powered car.”

So, yes, within my own world, things were bleak, however there were personal bright spots and there were even more good things that happened when we expand the scope and look at the surrounding world.

On this very day, November 11th, 2021, I find myself in one of the best places I’ve ever been in my life.

  • I’m in a warm, comfortable home.
  • I share this home with a woman I love intensely, deeply, and comfortably – and she loves me back in the same exact way.
  • I enjoy the luxury of working mostly remotely for a very accommodating employer and I make a good income.
  • I’m in good health, especially for my age.
  • I’m finally comfortable in my own skin.

This is my personal reality.

This is also my personal reality:

  • The household that I am a part of is undergoing a very difficult time, emotionally, with the terminal illness of one of its members.
  • I have been estranged from my eldest son for about a year now.
  • I’m still dealing with fallout from a failed business from two years ago.
  • This damn pandemic just won’t go away.

The fact of the matter is that “reality” is not simple. It really is not black and white. We are affected by things within our personal circles and we are also affected by things that happen that are completely outside of our control.

The reality of all of this bad that is happening within my bubble is fairly crushing. However, when I step back and acknowledge the counterbalance of all the good I have in my life, it puts things into perspective and eases my suffering.

Whether “right now” puts me at my desk, in my comfortable office, with a warm cup of coffee…or in bed with my girlfriend listening to our breathing synchronize…or standing out in the mid-autumn rain with a reluctant blonde bulldog…or teetering on a ledge fifteen stories up and considering a jump…how I accept whatever moment that arrives, how I process it, how I choose to grow from it, is all up to me.

Where am I right now? Am I paying attention to things? Am I awake? What do I actually see versus what do I feel? What is fact and what is opinion?

Yes, reality is right here and now.


A Fly In The Ointment

There’s always a fly in the ointment…sorry about that.

After all, Buddhism, above all else, seeks the ultimate truth in reality. In my opinion, in the basic tenants of Buddhism that are common between all of its various branches, it’s the most scientific of all philosophies.

So let’s take a look at science. In particular, physics…which likes to throw a wrench into so many different things, including, all too often, science itself.

I’ve recently discovered a book, The Island of Knowledge: The Limits of Science and the Search for Meaning by Dr. Marcello Gleiser, a theoretical physicist at Dartmouth College. I have more reading to do…but he drives home an interesting point.

Maybe it’s just splitting hairs, but what he says is actually true…

Now is as much an illusion as Past and Future.

Technically speaking, all of our reactions to everything we experience are “in the past”.

The time it takes for our senses to pick something up…to see, hear, smell, touch, or taste something…the time it takes for our brains to process it and make sense of what we’re experiencing…all of it is different and our understanding of what we encounter happens after we encounter it…which is in the past.

To further split this hair, we all sense things differently and at different rates. Sometimes, we may not even be able to physically sense something, such as is the case with someone who is blind, deaf, or who has experienced some form of nerve damage which keeps them from the sensation of touch. This, further again only serves to make all of our personal experiences unique and subjective.

If you’re anything like me, this may be leaving you feeling a little unsettled.

This is how I ease that unsettled feeling…

We understand that time is a human construct. It’s a tool that we’ve developed to help make sense of our world. Here on Earth, we’ve constructed time based on the time it takes for our planet to make one full spin on its axis, the appearance of the moon in the sky, and how many of those revolutions fill the time it takes to travel completely around our sun.

Using these variables, time would change if lived on, say, Jupiter…which is mostly gas and has a day that lasts about 10 hours. Furthermore, it takes Jupiter 12 of our years to completely circle the sun.

What time does for us, is it quantifies change.

Want to know another really important aspect of Buddhism?

Impermanence. Change.

And learning how to accept this along with the concept that something that looks like a paradox might simply be a case of both/and.

Published by Jonah Sheridan Fenn

Nerd herder, word wrangler, working on the next chapter...

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