“In “The Merits of Home-Leaving,” which is the title of Chapter 86 of his book Shōbōgenzō, Zen Master Dōgen praises his young monks for their commitment to a path of awakening and explicates the granular nature of time: the 6,400,099,980 moments that constitute a single day. His point is that every single one of those moments provides an opportunity to reestablish our will. Even the snap of a finger, he says, provides us with sixty-five opportunities to wake up and to choose actions that will produce beneficial karma and turn our lives around.”
~ Ruth Ozeki, A Tale For The Time Being
#01, How long is NOW?
I am obsessed with the Dōgen’s number (I am even thinking of getting it tattooed) that I first came across when reading the book mentioned in the opening paragraph. I remember how I tried to imagine it all, but never really had time to sit down and look at it in more details. So let’s look at it together, NOW, shall we?
Let’s start with some maths (sigh)…
A day has 24 hours, which adds to 1440 minutes, (24 x 60), which makes 86400 seconds (1440 x 60).
So when we accept Dōgen’s figure as representative enough for the purpose of establishing the duration of the present moment (now), in each second, there is 74075 present moments (6400099980÷86400).
To establish how long does the present moment lasts would require opposite division, 86400÷6400099980, which would make a pretty small number, 0.00001349978 of a second to be precise. Almost unimaginable. Unmeasurable by our brain. Unnoticeable.
#02, From now to know
I am in love with mathematics after reading Jim Holt’s book, Why does the world exist?.
I am trying to live as mindfully as possible and if you have been through some books, websites about living the best life, you must have come across the idea of “LIVING IN THE NOW”.
I guess there’s some kind of obsession with that amongst certain circles, but let’s not go too far here. It’s a pretty neat concept, but for people like me, hard to understand. Thank God for the mathematics though, it can help to explain many things. Apparently it’s kind of a religion and as far as being religious goes, I’d say to love mathematics might as well be the most beautiful way of being it.
I struggled to grasp the whole “EVERYTHING IS HAPPENING IN NOW” concept for a long long time. Only after reading the book from Ruth Ozeki and the one about how our world came into existence (which is advertised as an existential detective story and it really is) I started to understand it.
First of all, let’s look at the way we process what is happening.
We have certain amount of senses (we are taught that the human body has five senses: sight, hearing, touch, taste and smell. But many neurologists identify nine or more senses, and some list as many as 21) and through these we interact with the outer and internal worlds. But the thing is, when we actually sense something, when our brain translates the sense’s sensation into a feeling, recognisable experience, the event has already happened, so we’re constantly behind THE NOW, as we need time for our neural paths to get the information from receiving sensors into our beautiful brain.
So then, how it is even possible to live in the now when we’re constantly behind it?
I guess it’s about the way we look at time. We have been taught that time is linear. Which it doesn’t seem to be (check the first paragraph, apparently time is granular).
We all can mind-travel in time. Recall past events, dream about future ones. Isn’t that also part of our living, inseparable from our attempts to be constantly present with our feelings? Is it really bad to rewind, or to fast forward? How is that experience different to the one we’re describing as the present when every presence we observe is actually a past by the time we have a chance to realise it?
So I am not too keen on advocating living in the now. If you’d say, living in the closest proximity of now as we can, then yes, perhaps. But no one lives in the now. No one, not all the time. Actually, make it never. It’s our separating of the past, presence and future that somehow makes the presence the automatic winner here. But what if they cannot be separated?
#03, Embracing the time / Frame of reference
NOW is AN IDEAL.
An unreachable, yet poetically beautiful concept. So I understand why people love it as an idea. It’s kinda cool and, I’d say, trendy at the moment.
But here’s a heretic thought.
This is the most beautiful statement I read about the life and living to the fullest. It’s from another book, with absolutely stunning title, The Two Kinds Of Decay, by my friend Sarah Manguso and it has nothing to do with now. Funnily I understood it much later on after I read her book.
“This is suffering’s lesson: pay attention. The important part might come in a form you do not recognize.
You might not know to love it. But to pay attention is to love everything. To see the future as brightness.
Everything that happens is the last time it happens. We see things only as their own fatal brightness, and there is nothing after that brightness.
You can’t learn from remembering. You can’t learn from guessing.
You can learn only from moving forward at the rate you are moved, as brightness, into brightness.”
And that’s that.
You don’t need to know how long is now.
How to explain it.
It’s much simpler.
Know that, whatever happens, happens only once.
Nothing happens again in exactly same way.
Every moment is the paradox of birth and death, we’re simply living and dying at the same speed.
Speed of love. Speed of life.
I personally think, knowing this, the inescapable fact of life being unrepeatable is much easier way of appreciating your own being here as the most beautiful mystery than any attempts to describe how to live in the now.
Then you love everything.
THEN YOU LOVE EVERYTHING.