Three separate events last week caused me to think differently about time.
The first was in my Bento Group — me and eight people from around the world who meet every Wednesday. Lately a member has come in each week with a word or theme that the group discusses. This has proven to be an amazing process. When you get nine people from different backgrounds talking together about one idea, you get to see things from many perspectives.
This week we talked about time. The member who brought the idea said the more she’d used the Bento, the more now and the future had blurred together for her. Was this a good thing? She wasn’t sure. This led to a great conversation about time and the line between now and the future.
The next day this idea came up again.
I had reached out to an old mentor wanting his advice. I told him the things I was doing: the projects, the ideas. But also the uncertainty I was feeling. Was I doing the right things? He listened patiently, then asked:
Mentor: Why are you doing these things?
Me: I’m following my curiosity.
Mentor: Do you like the things you’re doing?
Mentor: Do you feel like what you’re doing is valuable?
Mentor: What are you basing that on?
Me: I’m not the only one. People I respect get value out of what I’m doing.
Mentor: Why do you feel worried you aren’t doing the right thing?
Me: Because I can’t describe what I’m doing. I don’t know how to talk about it. I can’t compare it to normal things.
Mentor: Do you want to be doing normal things?
Mentor: Then enjoy what you’re doing. As for the uncertainty about the future, don’t worry about it — be curious about it. Let it excite you.
As he said this I could feel my body try on excitement instead of anxiety. It liked how it felt.
This exchange echoed back the Bento Group discussion of how the present and future blur together. That’s what I’d been doing. Because I couldn’t articulate fully what I wanted the future to be, I was allowing the whiff of uncertainty to spoil a present moment I was otherwise enjoying.
When we can attend to the present moment fully, not only do we connect with a vivid sense of being, but we can also experience a sense of possibility — an emerging future. Collectively we can sense into what has not happened yet, a future in which we have a role to play. This experience is called presencing — a blend of presence and sensing. It means to sense, tune in, and act from one’s highest future potential — the future that depends on us to bring it into being. Through presencing we can perceive and experience the present moment without the limitations of our habitual concepts, opinions, or projections.
This leads to a state of nowness. As Hayashi writes:
Nowness is a state without struggle. We do not deny the depth of suffering and trauma that we individually and collectively carry from the past into the present. We are not bypassing the complexity or power that the past holds. Social Presencing Theater practices invite us to experience whatever we experience, without denial, and also to suspend and let go of our thoughts and concept interpretation about that experience. We let those go in order to stay with the rawness of the feeling and allow the present moment to be as it is. True creativity depends on our nowness.
She includes a great diagram showing how creativity is rooted in nowness:
Inspiration comes from nowness. The work that earned physicist Richard Feynman a Nobel Prize began when he was burned out and bored in a cafeteria and he noticed how a plate wobbled. His mind started trying to figure out why:
It was effortless. It was easy to play with these things. It was like uncorking a bottle: Everything flowed out effortlessly. I almost tried to resist it! There was no importance to what I was doing, but ultimately there was. The diagrams and the whole business that I got the Nobel Prize for came from that piddling around with the wobbling plate.
For all our great plans, for all our trying to see around corners, our breakthroughs are rooted in being true to the moment. The effort of non-effort.
Arawana Hayashi’s book has wonderful practices for increasing your presence, including this simple one:
When I followed her instructions, an ode to nowness inadvertently emerged:
Hot pink flowers soggy with rain
The rest of the world goes mute
Open your senses and close the noise
Have a great now everyone.