Sep. 23rd, 2013

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Life might not have a purpose or ultimate significance but it is not devoid of satisfactions, temporal and transitory though they may be. I have, in the past, refuted claims made by religious believers that in the absence of hope for an eternal reward in a spiritual afterlife, my earthly life must be terribly depressing and meaningless; why, I ask in return, should any experience, even a human lifetime, lack meaning just because it doesn't go on forever?

It's easy to see why such claims might be made, though. As has been observed by both Mark Rowlands in The Philosopher and the Wolf and Sam Harris in his speech at the 2012 Global Atheist Convention - and no doubt by others as well, though I'm not aware of specific examples - humans as a general rule are rather poor at what's called living in the moment. I know I certainly am very bad at turning off that part of my brain that's busy thinking ahead to what I'm likely to be doing hours, days, weeks, months ahead; and perhaps even worse at turning off the part that loves to dredge up my past failures and use them as a club with which to beat my present self. It takes effort to simply be aware of the present, to just experience each moment as it happens without the baggage of the past and of possible futures.

One of the great sources of pleasure in my life these days is working on developing our vegetable garden. Now, this is obviously an activity in which I engage with a view to the future rewards of harvesting fresh, home-grown produce. It's hard not to look forward to the day when I can just wander out into the backyard and come back to the house with virtually all the ingredients I need for a delicious soup, stew, salad or other culinary concoction. So there is certainly an element of anticipation involved in the pleasure of gardening; in a similar vein, as I have observed in previous posts, the pleasure of cooking also contains no small measure of anticipation of the pleasure of eating - but in both situations, the present enjoyment of the requisite activity cannot be wholly dependent upon the anticipated result. It would be quite possible for me to be the kind of person who loved eating but had no interest in or talent for cooking - in fact, I used to be that person. I am also only just getting over my all-encompassing cluelessness as a gardener, even though I have for a long time been appreciating the delights of fresh - market-sourced - produce. So I think it's fair to say that I do, in fact, enjoy the processes of cooking and of gardening for their own sake as well as for their repayment potential.

Still, I'm unhappy to admit that all too often, it takes an effort of will to really immerse myself in the enjoyment of doing something. A couple of days ago I ventured out into the garden with a pitchfork, a small shovel and a handful of potatoes that had been making valiant efforts to put out shoots within the confines of our root pantry. It was the work of maybe half an hour to dig over the garden bed with the fork, hollow out some holes and plant the spuds; and I can't help but think that it should have been a pleasant and satisfying half hour of physical activity on what was a beautiful early-spring day, with the weeping cherry tree blossoming nearby and the rest of the backyard an explosion of various shades of green. Yet even grubbing around in the soil, surrounded by beauty and bathed in sensory delights, aware of being alive in the midst of so much other life, I still couldn't quite switch off my all-too-human tendency to think myself out of the moment, to what I might be doing later in the day, to all the things that still needed to be done that I hadn't done already, even to wonder whether I might be enjoying myself more if I had been gardening for half my life and really knew what I was doing.

Yes, I do find it very difficult to live in the moment, to just be. Even at the point where I actually succeed at losing myself in some activity, my traitorous mind finds a way to question it, to draw me back from the edge, as if I'm somehow afraid of enjoying myself too much...or worse, that I'll have such a good time that I might never be able to repeat the experience - I'll reach the peak and that will be it for me for the rest of my days. These are completely foolish thoughts, of course - I don't know what's going to happen or how I might feel tomorrow. I can only make an educated guess and goodness knows I've been wrong before. In any case, I am not discouraged from making the effort to appreciate my existence moment to moment - I think it's worth putting the work in to savour the small pleasures in life just as much as the greater ones; because as far as I know, I only get this one chance to do that.

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dormant_dragon

October 2013

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