How much do you think about the past or the future? How present are you in the moment in front of you?
These kinds of questions are familiar to anyone who practices mindfulness or any kind of meditation.
The Power of the Now is a consciousness that has spread through the writings of Ekhart Tolle. In the Now you are fully present. It is an inner connectedness with God (or some may want to say Being). That presence is essentially you and at the same time inconceivably greater than you. (Practicing the Power of Now, p. 21)
Tolle goes on to say that to the ego, the present moment hardly exists. Only past and future are considered important. The more you’re focused on time – past and future – the more you miss the Now, which is the most precious thing because that’s all there is. Now is the one thing that remains constant and that takes you beyond the limited confines of your mind. As you become an observer of your mind and your reactions you are free of “psychological time,” which is an identification with the past and continuous compulsive projection into the future.
If you become excessively focused on the goal, the Now is no longer honored. It becomes a means to an end, with no intrinsic value. Your life’s journey is no longer an adventure, just an obsessive need to arrive. “You life then loses its vibrancy, its freshness, its sense of wonder. The old patterns of thought, emotion, behavior, reaction are acted out in endless repeat performances, a script in your mind that gives you an identity of sorts but distorts or covers up the reality of the Now. The mind then creates an obsession with the future as an escape from the unsatisfactory present.” (p. 37)
Frankl would agree with much of this. For example, he says that we cannot make happiness the goal. It is only the side effect of doing what’s meaningful. And yet there is something quite different about Frankl’s approach.
Consider the following quote of Frankl: Human existence takes the form of historical existence. (The Doctor and the Soul, Frankl, p. 27) Frankl contrasts an historical view on life to a “presentist” existence that cares only for the present moment and ignores history.
What’s missing from Tolle that Frankl emphasizes is not only history but also words like conscience, responsibility, opportunity, calling, invitation, challenge, demand and “task quality” of life. In other words, I don’t hear the component of a living, breathing, dynamic relationship and communication with God. Even when Frankl puts this in secular terms, he speaks of the human being as a unique creature, open to fulfillment of meaning and values that life brings to him. He is not only conscious. He is also responsible.
For Frankl, the Now is the meaning of the moment. No moment is ever the same. Each moment in life has its own challenge, its own unique meaning. We have changed from who we were just a moment ago and we are therefore addressed anew each new moment. Each moment of life is a once-in-eternity opportunity. Something about it cannot be repeated or replicated or found anywhere else. Every moment gives us the experience of being alive, of having life given to us. Every moment is something to be eternally grateful for, to embrace as precious!
The Hebrew word az (then) is used to describe both past and future. The Medieval commentary Maharal (Gevurot Hashem Ch. 47, p. 185) explains why this is so, saying that az refers to the “now which is beyond time.” Thus, it is used both in the context of past and future tense. Since past and future and different, the same word could not be possibly used to refer to both. But it is not a simple description of time. It is beyond time, and therefore the inclusion of both past and future indicate a quality of something beyond both. This is a bit philosophical, so let’s get back down to earth.
It is true what Tolle says that all we really have is this moment. But it is not a moment that ignores the past or the future. On the psychological level yes, we want to be free of the obsessive holding on to the past and anxiety about the future that causes us to lose out on life. But at the same time we have to know that when we are connected to the Creator of the Universe we are connected to all of past and future in this moment of the Now.
In the meaning of this moment I take all of my past and all of the potential of my future, and it’s all there. Because in this space that opens up to me of pure potentiality I bring with me the full granaries of the past to serve me now, whether or not they served me then, and I bring the potential of the future to which I am destined. I am more than just conscious of God. I am with God in this journey.
What is the meaning of this moment for you?