You're missing the very moment you think you're in.
“We’re living in a perpetual present tense. And we are waiting.”
That’s the tag line from Megan Craig’s opinion piece titled, Time Isn’t Supposed to Last This Long. While I'm certain the article has resonated with countless readers, for me it turned into an unwitting spiritual lesson.
In the practice of Buddhism, there's a concept known as "klesha." Kleshas are obstacles to one's own awakening, and they fall into three main categories: craving, aversion, and ignorance. Ultimately, all our troubles are said to fall into one or more of these three categories.
If you look at it from this point of view, the article's tag line expresses all three kleshas:
1. "We are waiting." The klesha of craving. We crave something we don't have. We crave for things to be normal again. We ache for people to be healthy. We miss going to the movies. We want to travel, gather, embrace. We want, we want, we want.
The statement "We are waiting" points to all that craving.
2. "We are waiting." The flip side of craving is the klesha of aversion. We are waiting for this all to be over. We're fed up with wearing our masks everywhere. We're frustrated with the chaos and the conflict. We're impatient with the same ten vetting questions over and over. (Have you had a fever or cough in the last fourteen days?) And we're furious with friends and family members who have "fallen for the lies" on the other side (this applies no matter which side of the argument you're on).
The statement "We are waiting" points to all that aversion, too.
3. "We’re living in a perpetual present tense. And we are waiting.” If we refer to the present tense as a complaint, as something we can't wait to get rid of, then the klesha of ignorance has beguiled us. We cannot be present if we're waiting for the present to end. It hasn't even begun for us. We're missing the very moment we think we're in, and we don't even know it. This is the definition of ignorance.
Anam Thubten, my Tibetan teacher of the past twenty-one years, has said that just knowing you're in the grip of a klesha is enough to liberate you from it. You don't really have to do anything. Just notice you're in its grip--the feeling of anger or greed or whatever--and it begins to dissolve in that moment. I'm sure that's true, but I think a certain level of spiritual evolution is a prerequisite for that to work.
I'm not at that level yet. So what I do to free myself from the many kleshas that run my show is to continually return to the body. Notice the quality of my breath. Tune into my feet on the ground. Soften the jaw, the back of the neck, etc. It's a reliable technique and it has been a mainstay in helping me navigate the challenges of life in this time of extended self-isolation.
There's a story told in the stunning animated Pixar film, Soul. A young fish approaches an older fish and asks him, "How do I get to the ocean?" The older fish says to him, "It's all around you. You're already there." To which the young fish replies, "No, this is just water. I want the ocean."
My friends. We are here. We're in a vast ocean, teeming with life, challenge, growth, decay, and wonder. And all we can do is complain about how boring the water is.
Time to wake up and taste the salt.
May all beings benefit. May all beings be happy and free.