Once, soon after starting a job at an office I walked around the office’s interior courtyard during my lunch break to stretch after being confined in my cubicle all morning, and I noticed little placards on everyone’s desk that read: Be Here Now.
I’m a sucker for that kind of sentiment. I loved the Nike campaign: Just Do It. But I’m also a little skeptical, and I wondered if the workers legitimately adopted the mantra after some paradigm-changing motivational session or if they just placed the cards on their desks in case the boss walked by.
It’s strange that Life, with all its realness, its colors and smells and textures can still bore us into a kind of sleepwalking existence, while a cheap, predictable, 25 cent video game can pull us in and engage us. We need to be reminded to Be Here Now.
Being is ubiquitous, like water to a fish we don’t notice that we are always feeling it. That it is always happening around us. But, like the character in the video game, strange objects are being thrown at us, intimidating obstacles appear in our path. But we rarely notice the wonder of these interactions. Barrels are deflected off our body armor. Bills are paid or avoided. Allies and enemies enter and leave our screens. And yet, life makes us look for the nearest distraction? Something to offer us easy engagement.
Somehow it seems we might be more engaged with playing a game of our life than actually living it. If you could offer someone a game that perfectly represented their lives it’s hard to imagine that they wouldn’t become instantly obsessed with it.
For most of us, the game of our life isn’t high-adrenalin like Grand Theft Auto where bullets are flying, cars are crashing and pedestrians are dying beneath our tires. So, how can Being be so intensely exhausting and yet so disinteresting?
If we were to view the world through our character’s eyes, how long would we be amazed at the way the world appears to his senses? We would pay attention to the work he was doing until we would begin daydreaming about what we are going to have him cook for dinner. We would be fully engrossed in filing his forms at work until we found ourselves planning how we are going to firm up his floppy abs?
Wouldn’t it be fascinating to watch over someone’s shoulder and to partake in whatever mentality they are experiencing at that moment? To be a voyeur in an ordinary life might be as compelling as in the life of a rock star, an influencer or a daredevil, because all lives are ordinary and all lives are great. But some lives and the bodies that live them would be more focused and driven and engaged.
Might not some viewer/game combinations that we step inside be more engaging than others? Is it the game that is engaging? Is the player character and her characteristics, skills, abilities and disabilities and what she brings to the game what makes it engaging for us? Is it some combination of the player and game along with some kind of mysterious magic?
When I walk my dog past the shops and office buildings of my neighborhood I sometimes see the same guy with his back to the window, studying spreadsheets long after all the other offices are vacated for the evening. My first impulse was to pity him for thinking that he’s chained to his desk. For not having a life to get to. But now, I think that whatever he’s doing on those spreadsheets might be a heroic act to someone who is glad he works late. I don’t know what is on his mind. He might be staying late to avoid going home. He might be staying late because he knows that his work matters to someone desperately waiting for him to make his final calculations and press “Submit.”
The game of receiving each moment and discovering what it wants from us and what it can teach us seems worthwhile. And maybe it’s impossible to live like this all the time. But then again it seems like it’s impossible to be anything all the time. It seems like in each of us there is always a negotiation with the moment. Are we going to double down on the moment. Are we going to pass? The moments just keep coming, hurling objects at us, presenting us with obstacles… until the final obstacle comes for us.
Sam Harris reminds us in his mindfulness app that, “There will be a last time for everything. There will be a last time we hold our child. There will be a last time we kiss our loved one. There will be a last time we hang up the phone after a conversation.”
He’s reminding us to occasionally remember this, to occasionally remember to be present.
And again, later, to remember to be present.
And to make it a habit.
Be Here Now…
Does Being Here Now mean that you can sit back from your computer screen and admire the relaxed way your dog is stretched out on he floor beside you. He feels your attention and sits up with urgency just in case you’re ready for a walk?
“Be Here Now,” he might say if he could.
Life is coming at us from all sides it seems. The barrels coming our way are relentless and cleverly disguised as not barrels. How you do anything is how you do everything.
In this game there is no need to scale the floors to get to the highest level whilst a gorilla hurls barrels in your direction. You have to plan what’s for dinner. You have to worry about whether the check cleared. You have to be concerned whether a government is going to redistribute your wealth appropriately. Maybe that’s the lesson, to find the “play” in the barrels of cooking of dinner, of finances, of taxes of Being with someone you love.
Applying play to life.
Identifying barrels while not identifying with barrels.
As my dog and I come around a corner a good hour after quitting time we pass by the window where our diligent office worker peers into his spreadsheet. Maybe he has photos of his family taped to his cubicle for those moments when he needs to remind himself of his purpose. Maybe he has a photo of a beach with a boat anchored in the sunset. Maybe he needs nothing but the knowledge that a job well done is enough to have made his day well-lived. Maybe discarded somewhere in a bottom desk drawer is a worn and wrinkled placard reading: Be Here Now.