Thursday, April 11, 2013

What we lose when we're not present

"Thought is made up of accumulated knowledge in the form of images and associations, and it seizes an experience only to make it fit into categories of the known...  The image awakens an immediate reaction, and this always repeats -- so there's never anything new."

I underlined this passage in Salzmann's book on Gurdjieff several days ago, after a particularly frustrating experience painting: I had wanted the painting to be abstract, but my mind kept adding brush marks that turned it into something identifiable, familiar. But of course, this human tendency to familiarize the unfamiliar also applies to the political arguments roiling around us: we all tend to get set in our ways, and squeeze whatever facts we see into the old familiar boxes.

Yesterday, sorting through photos of my father-in-law, I discovered another example of this phenomenon. Woody went through a difficult period after his wife died, with a number of medical issues spread out over several years, and you can see in the pictures from that period that he grew increasingly inward and crotchety.  You can also see that after his hip surgery his outlook improved considerably; that by the end of his life he was almost radiant with joy. But sadly, once I had grown used to the cranky old man, that was what I expected to see: it was really only last month, when we went east for my niece's reception, that the reality of his joyful affectionate nature made it past all the stored images I had in my head.

So today I ask you this: who, or what are you not seeing?  What preconceptions and expectations have blinded you to reality, to the newness, the growth and possibility that are always there waiting for us?  That is, ultimately, the benefit of the presence to which Jesus calls us so boldly in the Gospel of Thomas:

"You have learned to read the face of earth and sky,
but you do not yet recognize the one standing in your presence,
nor can you make sense of the present moment." (Logion 91)

The solution, as Ram Dass puts it, is really to Be Here Now.

Are you?

Can you?

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