Sunday, August 28, 2011
The Living Present
"I marked a passage from Nisargadatta," the man who loves me said this morning on his way out the door.
Questioner: Are you ever glad or sad? Do you know joy and sorrow?
Maharaj: Call them as you please. To me they are states of mind only, and I am not the mind.
Q: Is love a state of mind?
M: Again, it depends what you mean by love. Desire is, of course, a state of mind. But the realization of unity is beyond the mind. To me, nothing exists by itself. All is the Self, all is myself. To see myself in everybody and everybody in myself most certainly is love.
I am not in the habit of reading spiritual teachings--eastern or western, but the man who loves me gave me my very own copy of "I Am That--talks with Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj." It's a modern spiritual classic, the cover proclaims, and for days now--or maybe weeks, I've read the first eight pages over and over again.
After I read the passage above, I went back to where I'd left off and reread the section titled, "The Living Present."
Q: Between the body and the self lies a cloud of thoughts and feelings which neither serve the body or the self. These thoughts and feelings are flimsy, transient and meaningless, mere mental dust that blinds and chokes, yet they are there obscuring and destroying.
M: Surely the memory of an event cannot pass for the event itself. Nor can the anticipation. There is something exceptional, unique, about the present event which the previous or the coming do not have. There is a livingness about it, an actuality; it stands out as if illumined. There is the 'stamp of reality' on the actual that the past and the future do not have.
I didn't set out to drive through my past this afternoon. But for some reason I elected to get to the Craft and Folk Art Museum by driving down Wilshire Boulevard instead of taking The 10, and there I was going by all three of the offices buildings where I used to work. Then afterwards I drove north on Western Avenue, the view of the hills so familiar it made me feel unstuck in time--as if I might look out my car window and see myself pushing C. in her stroller waiting for the steady whoosh of the afternoon traffic to soothe her. Or I might have seen an even younger self in a discount furniture store buying a brand new couch and chair for the Low! Low! price of $89.99! because my mother-in-law was coming for a visit, and the bare living room seemed all wrong. And it might have been me wheeling a cart into the Vons, but it's not a Vons anymore--and come to think of it didn't the Korean market sign go up even before we moved? All that time travel gave me such an appetite I nearly stopped at the coffee shop where I had at least a couple hundred meals with the guy who could never understand the Mexican accents of the waitresses, and so I ordered for him. He'll take the baked potato--butter and sour cream, French dressing on the salad, please. But no, don't stop there, my younger self told my old self. Or maybe it was the other way around. So I went to the deli at the supermarket in the neighborhood I lived in after that. I wanted that carrot salad, but had to settle for broccoli salad, which was unfortunate because my present self forgot to mention to my past self that I'm a vegetarian now, and we had a little quarrel about picking out the bacon.
I had planned to go to a movie after the museum--to see the new version of Brighton Rock--based on the Graham Greene novel because it has the most villainous villain ever and I was in the mood for a villain, but when I got to the ticket window, I said, "Midnight in Paris, please." I try not to read about movies until I've seen them, and voila, it was a surprise to me that the movie was about sorrow and joy and the past and the present and the infernal wanting, wanting, wanting that we humans do. "The past is never dead. It's not even past," the protagonist tells his soon-to-be-ex-fianceé, quoting Faulkner.
It was twilight when I walked out of the movie theater, the sky a murky lavender, the streetlights already on, adding to the glow. I thought about Paris, and how I had lived there once, and my heart asked my brain, please, how I could manage to go back and live there again? But the city streets that I was driving on right then--the streets of my city had their own light in the coming dark, standing out as if illumined, and for once it seemed to me that the past was stone cold dead.