Standing on the balcony of our highrise apartment looking out across the Mediterranean Sea, as I often do these days, struggling with thoughts for now and then. Words are powerful and can convey so much but only when the words are grouped in perfect sequence. I always have a lot that I would like to share, but I seldom have the confidence that I know that perfect sequence. It helps that I’m inspired by this view, by this country I now call home, and always by the idea of ideas. The high bar for me is that when I write I truly desire to share thoughts that are as beautiful as the sunrise. Often however, my thoughts are more like war torn battle fields illuminated in the sunrise. There is a tangible inspiration from these illuminated awakenings that sometimes spur me on despite my lack of confidence. A sunrise metaphor is my goto for a starting point and philosophically speaking, it is my preference. The dawning of a new day and the hope it represents is that today will be better than the day or days that came before it. The sunset, by contrast, represents the termination, the end of all that once was. The sunsets on everything that is now and forever gone. Though I’m certain all the conservatives will agree nothing good comes from the future. Conservative mids know all the best days are long gone, there’s, they will tell you, was the best generation. The world is going to hell in a handbasket, they often say. The best of days have all been sunset. While the future in the eyes of the conservative holds nothing but the doom and end of life, certain death. I’m going to disagree with all of those conservatives and present the dawning of the day. The hope each morning brings about a better day. The past — which has proven to be ugly, full of hate, violence war, separation, bigotry, religiosity, and which is filled with death, war, murder, killing — is gone. This new day comes with the possibility of a future better than the icky old days and those nasty old ways. A collective phewy on tradition.
Can you see that battle ground now? The war torn fields fully illuminated by the beautiful sunrise? If you can please accept my humble bows and read on.
In the late 1980’s I had just ended a six year contract with the United States Navy and I was busy rediscovering civilian life. I’m reminded of those days, especially the last six months of service in the Navy, today as we are now day 17 of the chinese pandemic lockdown. It’s the mental difficulty for being confined for long periods of time in a small area and a lot of unusal stress just as it was when onboard Navy ships. One morning on the ship, I had just finished reading Alan Watts book, The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are, the night before. In this book, Watts works with the following Hindu concepts: that all is ultimately Brahman or God; that our lack of understanding this is because of the magic of maya (Mara in Buddhism); and that figuring it out is lila, a playful game. He likens the game to Hide and Seek in which God, who is all, hides by pretending to be all the various things in the world including each one of us. However, Watts says, “when the game has gone on long enough, all of us will wake up, stop pretending, and remember that we are all one single Self, the God who is all that there is and who lives for ever and ever.” Anyway, I was standing on the 4th deck balcony of the tower looking out at the Indian Ocean. I recall the beauty of the water, the sky, and the clouds. I had just stepped out of the final preflight briefing that had been very intense. Today the strategy and the flight missions were especially more dangerous: aircraft fully armed, and we were going into day 9 of the war with Libya. The view made me stop and recall the game, “lila.” For a moment as I stood there I thought, “wake up. Game over.” I love this concept of the future being so much better and a lot more fun. It makes each and everyday into a notable, perfect and obvious illusion.
Most of the USA baby-boomer generation embraced a lot of those far-east cultures such as Hindu religions, Buddhism and Taoism. Too many wars, and a history of too many egomaniacal, narcissistic men turning country after country into populations where men are used as war-tools for killing and as objects to be slaughtered, tortured, and forgotten on the battlefields. Even though those eastern cultures had treated life and men just the same as the modern day Saudi Muslims and Italian Christian religions, we sort of loved the Hindu and Buddhist messages better. A Buddhist sunrise came for me one morning while I was taking out the garbage. Standing at the trash bin, I was looking at the city of Dallas in the distance. I could clearly see the skyscraper high rise office buildings as if they had majestically sprouted up out of the ground into the glorious blue sky. It was two years later from that morning when I was standing on the ship’s tower balcony. I could still recall the sensation of fear for being killed and the dread for the lives I would be destroying that day. As I stood there looking at the city so far away, with a memory that still seemed so close by, In my hand I held a framed picture intended for the garbage. It was actually a framed letter. I had the letter matted and framed and had kept it hanging above my rack on the ship, and in my living room when I wasn’t on ship. This morning it was time to embrace the future and let go of that past. The letter was from my mother’s minister. The minister of a christian church had written to me because he wanted to let me know that he and my mother had decided to kick me out of their church. Apparently I was no longer worthy of their love, nor of their Jesus’. As I tossed the framed letter into the bin, that mental battlefield was vivid in the sunrise. It was ugly and disturbing. And as I write this today I can tell you this was the third time since the day I physically tossed it into the garbage that I’ve thrown that letter away, and hope this will be the last time.
Now is a difficult concept in some ways. The aggregate adds to the difficulty for the majority of us. Aggregates are one of the tools Mara uses to keep us blind to reality. When I think of aggregate as a bad thing I use the word car as a tool. When we think about a car we imagine the thing we use to go places. That’s the aggregate concept of — car. The reality of — car is it is metal mined from the ground but hundreds of people, rubber from trees cultivated by hundreds of people, plastics processed from oil pumped from the ground by hundreds more people, copper, aluminum, sand, cotton, etc. We seldom imagine how everything we use in our every day from the food we eat, house we live in, clothes we wear, car we drive, etc. are the result of everyone and everything on this planet. When we think of — now many times we aggregate the awareness of the current political scenes, the global economy, the various wars, day of the week, time of the day, etc. This isn’t what now is. Now is not an aggregate like –car. It’s much more than that. Now isn’t a bunch of stuff all at once combined as an aggregate. What now is? You cannot define it. As soon as you apply a word or a thought to define or describe it, you’re already wrong. Maybe this will place your mind on the correct path; It’s the sound of one hand clapping.
Then, is also an interesting aggregate. We can often use — then to refer to what has already happened. And we can often use — then to refer to what is yet to happen in the future. Whichever way it [then] gets used, the narrative of the future and the past is where it is critical for understanding now. If there’s a means to nudge a person onto the path of discovering the illusion of — now and — then it’s eastern philosophy which has often discovered the way. The idea for guiding each person to discover the illusion and awaken to the understanding of reality is wholesome and sound. When someone tells us the answer to a complex question we will often reject the answer and question it. But, when you discover an answer on your own the awakening is an epiphany and will change you forever. One path that I find amazing is the concept of — then when referring to the past. The past isn’t something that doesn’t exist anymore. It cannot not exist anymore. It’s impossible to be both present and nonexistent. So we cannot think or say there was a past but instead we have to realize there is a past. The same must be understood with the future. We cannot think or say there will be a future or that the future is not yet. Clearly and quite obviously there is a future. The correct narrative, or the reality if you please, is that — everything is now. Enjoy this journey.