Be here now: “Gerry’s” Dharma Lesson
A Dharma lesson from a Zen Center poignantly shows how in the midst of a lesson on being present, our mind wrestles with the past. Here’s a technique to “Be Here Now”.
I HAVE a guest, let’s call him Gerry*, staying with me, and he said this morning, “Hey, it’s Sunday… let’s go listen to the Dharma lecture at the Green Gulch Farm Zen Center.” (We were too lazy to get up early enough to get there to sit zazen and hear the lecture afterward.)
After a winding ride up and then partially down the small mountain that is prominently positioned here in marvy Marin County, we parked the car about a quarter mile away from the Zen Center and trod to it over the muddy path, dodging puddles and rain.
Contemplation hung with the mist and covered everything.
The bald-headed abbot sat square and large on a slightly raised platform and delivered the lecture. Two things punctuated my mind:
- Be present. Today is not yesterday. Today is not tomorrow. Today is where you’re at. Be with today. To quote Ram Dass, “Be here now.”
- Whatever has your full focus is “famous” to you. This comes from a Zen poem, the meaning being that the things that you make meaningful, you can be fully present with.
Along the walk back to the car, Gerry said,
“I wasn’t present too much during the lecture, but was off in the weeds with Marlene*.”
I nodded knowingly because he appeared distracted, and I knew of his struggles to come to terms with being let go by a woman he truly felt he loved unabashedly.
“Funny that at a Dharma lecture about being present, like to ‘be here now’, you weren’t”, I said. He looked at me sheepishly. “The thing is”, I continued, “that’s par for the course… it’s the very thing every mind needs to deal with when trying to be present. Past and future and everything contained in them compete for our attention like a crying baby.”
“Yeah, that email Marlene sent last night just pulled me back into it all…didn’t think I’d ever hear from her again”, he said.
“Did you want to be distracted by thoughts of her?”
“If you had a way to tune her out, would you do it?”
“What’s helpful, then, is to choose a technique designed to keep you present when there are distractions acting out like crying babies inside your head.”
“What do you mean… what kind of technique?”
“Well, here’s one thing that I do, and I’ll apply it to your situation. Marlene comes into your consciousness and pushes the poor Abbot out. You rather listen to the Abbot, but Marlene is insistent. Here’s what you do: Face Marlene and tell her that there will be plenty of time for her later. Pick her up in your arms and carry her to a place that you know she will like. Hug her goodbye and tell her again that you’ll be together soon. And then turn around and enter the present moment. If she returns, don’t get upset; simply do it again.”
“That’s really cool”, Gerry said. “I think that might work.”
I smiled at him and simply said, “It’s worth trying.”
*Note: Gerry and Marlene are fictitious names assigned to truly real people.