Arbeit macht frei

In my meditation this morning, I asked for a transcendant experience of reality, right here and now.

It didn’t happen.

One of the great unspoken lessons that I learned from toddlerhood through grad school, not to mention from the culture in which I’m steeped—a lesson I absorbed most deeply is that it is dangerous to live for the present. That shortsightedness is the most common cause of dissipation and a life that is empty and unfulfilling. That the best thing I can do with this moment is not to dance or sing or try to live it to the fullest, but rather to invest in the work that I need to lay the foundation for a better future.

I learned. I’m ascetic. I fast and I exercise like a demon. I’m careful to a fault about what I eat, and obsess chronically about the effects of my actions on myself and others.

“Be Here Now,” wrote Ram Das, and a generation later Eckhart Tolle echoed, “The Power of Now”. This is spirituality packaged for Westerners because it is only people so well-educated in the Protestant Ethic (with deep Jewish roots) that need this message. It’s my experience and the report of anthropologists that Africans and Asians know much better how to have a good time than do we of European culture. 

My problem is that I go into my meditation in a spirit of work, rather than play. Meditation is its own reward, and not a means to an end. If I meditate because I think I should, I’m missing most of what meditation has to offer.

But how can I change the habit of my orientation toward sacrifice and work? Maybe I can trick myself into believing that what I really need to do is to practice enjoying this moment.

So I can do it better someday.

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