Friday, February 1, 2019

THE LITERARY MINDFULNESS OF T S ELIOT

‘We must be still and still moving.’
T S Eliot, ‘East Coker’ (from Four Quartets).

Thomas Stearns Eliot OM (1888-1965)
Whenever I am in London—and it is quite often these days as my wife and I have a son living and working there—I usually stay in South Kensington, very close to Gloucester Road Tube station. I am familiar with the area and its hotels, shops, restaurants and churches. 

One such church, where I have attended services a couple of times, is St Stephen's Church, Gloucester Road. It’s a traditional Anglo-Catholic parish—‘bells and smells’ Anglicanism, if you will, but I like it. My favourite modern poet T S Eliot, pictured, was a churchwarden there for 25 years.

I first read the poetry of T S Eliot when I was at high school. It was compulsory reading. (In June 1964 Eliot said to the American comedian Groucho Marx, whom he admired, that he [Eliot] had no wish to become compulsory reading.) Anyway, I fell in love with Eliot's poetry almost 50 years ago and I have loved it ever since. How often have I said to myself interiorly these lines from 'The Hollow Men' ...

We are the hollow men

We are the stuffed men
Leaning together
Headpiece filled with straw. …

... as well as these and other lines from ‘The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’:

Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherized upon a table …

         

I grow old ... I grow old ...
I shall wear the bottoms of my trousers rolled.

Shall I part my hair behind?   Do I dare to eat a peach?
I shall wear white flannel trousers, and walk upon the beach.
I have heard the mermaids singing, each to each.

…   …       …


St Stephen's Church, Gloucester Road, South Kensington

T S Eliot played a key role in the transition from 19th century romantic poetry to 20th century modernist poetry. Like many writers he explored the nature of time and eternity and, in so doing, one get glimpses of the nature of mindfulness. Now, if you had mentioned the word ‘mindfulness’ to Eliot when he was alive he would probably have asked, ‘What is that? Being mindful of others?’ Be that as it may, mindfulnes
s is explored in his poetry in the context of time and eternity. Take these lines from Burnt Norton’ (No 1 of Four Quartets):

...         …       …

At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is,
But neither arrest nor movement. And do not call it fixity,
Where past and future are gathered. Neither movement from nor towards,
Neither ascent nor decline. Except for the point, the still point,
There would be no dance, and there is only the dance.

...               
Only through time time is conquered.

...         …       …

T S Eliot memorial plaque,
St Stephen's Church,
Gloucester Road, South Kensington
There is indeed a ‘still point’. It is the ‘stillness’ between the inbreath and the outbreath and between one heartbeat and the next. It is palpable and non-palpable. It is a timeless moment and yet it is also a moment of time, or rather a moment in time, as well. The still point involves no actual physical movement forward or backwards—there is just stillness. There is no past and no future but just the eternal now. Everything is contained within the eternal now. All duration—or time—is total and complete in the eternal now. There is an eternal quality about the now. It is forever new. The present moment has its unfolding in the eternal now for it is nothing other than that which presents itself before us in and as the now, which embraces past, present and future. It is in the eternal now that we have our presence. Indeed, the eternal now is omnipresence and we are immersed in it. We live, move and have our be-ing-ness in the eternal now. These ideas are explored in the first few lines of ‘Burnt Norton’:

Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.
If all time is eternally present
All time is unredeemable.

         

Words move, music moves
Only in time; but that which is only living
Can only die. Words, after speech, reach
Into the silence. Only by the form, the pattern,
Can words or music reach
The stillness, as a Chinese jar still
Moves perpetually in its stillness.
Not the stillness of the violin, while the note lasts,
Not that only, but the co-existence,
Or say that the end precedes the beginning,
And the end and the beginning were always there
Before the beginning and after the end.
And all is always now. …

English Heritage blue plaque,
3 Kensington Court Gardens,
Kensington
Mindfulness, which is the art and practice of being fully present and choicelessly aware in the eternal now, from one moment to the next, involves no words, no speech, no music and no movement. Mindfulness is stillness. There is no judgement or interpretation of the context, internal and external, of one’s moment to moment experience of life. The only movement, ever onwards, is the movement or flux of life itself. In Eliot’s words, ‘all is always now.’ So, forget the 'burnt-out ends of smoky days' ('Preludes'), the 'butt-ends of [your] days and ways" (The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock’)—and start living mindfully.

Life may be movement but there is always that ‘still point’ which is to be found everywhere and between one moment and the next. To use a Biblical phrase, the still point is ‘the refreshing’ (cf Is 28:12 [KJV]). Unceasing movement is tiring—even exhausting. We need to find that still point which, paradoxically, can only be found in the midst of the unceasing movement. So, get quiet, calm the body, and feel the stillness—or, as Dr Norman Vincent Peale wrote, ‘Sit still, be silent, let composure creep over you.’ Do you want to be calm? If so, practise calmness. Practise stillness. Practise quietness. Practise silence. You see, the very truth of your be-ing is calmness, stillness, quietness and silence. A good way to start—and finish for that matter—is to sit stil and get the body calm. If the body is calm, your mind will soon be calm. Be still.



Most have heard, sometime or other, these lines from the final stanza of ‘Little Gidding’ (No 4 of Four Quartets):

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.


However, the lines that follow take up once again the idea of the still point:

Through the unknown remembered gate
When the last of earth left to discover
Is that which was the beginning:
At the source of the longest river
The voice of the hidden waterfall
And the children in the apple-tree
Not known, because not looked for
But heard, half heard, in the stillness
Between two waves of the sea.
…   …       …

Gloucester Road Tube station,
Gloucester Road, South Kensington
The stillness between two waves of the sea. The voice of the hidden waterfall. The source of the longest river. Powerful imagery.

Find the stillness within you—indeed, within all things. The still point is to be found everywhere because it is everywhere. Mindfulness, in my humble opinion, is the best way to find that still point. Listen. Observe. Watch. Be alert. Remain choicelessly (that is, non-judgmentally) aware. Be fully present from one moment to the next.


Notes
1.    The line, 'Every moment is a fresh beginning,' comes from Eliot's play The Cocktail Party
2.   BBC Radio 3 has aired Dear Mr Eliot: When Groucho Met Tom, a musical fantasy woven round the real-life meeting of T S Eliot and Groucho Marx in June 1964 after a three-year correspondence. 


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Tuesday, January 8, 2019

SELF-IMPROVEMENT IS A MYTH!

At this time of the year many people make or have already made a resolution, which is often short-lived, to embark upon some sort of self-improvement program or to give up some bad habit. Now, don’t get me wrong. I am all for personal transformation, but there is a right, and a wrong, way to go about it, both in thought, word and deed.

Alan Watts
One of my all-time favourite spiritual teachers Alan Watts, pictured left, in his book The Wisdom of Insecurity, has this to say about the wrong way to embark upon self-improvement:

I can only think seriously of trying to live up to an ideal, to improve myself, if I am split in two pieces. There must be a good ‘I’ who is going to improve the bad ‘me.’ ‘I,’ who has the best intentions, will go to work on wayward ‘me,’ and the tussle between the two will very much stress the difference between them. Consequently ‘I’ will feel more separate than ever, and so merely increase the lonely and cut-off feelings which make ‘me’ behave so badly.

The reason the good ‘I’ can’t change the bad ‘I’ is because they are one and the same. Worse still, both ‘I’s’ are illusory. When I use the word 'illusory' I am not saying these 'I's' do not exist. They do exist—but only as self-images in our mind. The 'I's' are, however, illusory in the sense that they are not what they appear to be. They appear to be 'solid,' 'fixed,' and 'permanent,' but they are not. Nevertheless, all the 'I's' and 'me's' in your mind are brought about by thought, and they have no reality in and of themselves. They are, as the Indian spiritual philosopher J. Krishnamurti used to say, the product of thought which divides. They are certainly not you, the person that you are.

Yes, despite appearances to the contrary, and our own misbelief, these ‘I’s” do not have any separate, independent, discrete and permanent existence from the person each one of us is. The great Scottish philosopher David Hume came up with what is known as the ‘bundle theory,’ which postulates that our mind constructs hundreds of waxing and waning selves. None of these selves ever come together as a single unified entity. They are no more than a bundle of thoughts, feelings, perceptions and sensations. Neuroscience has shown that Hume, along with a considerable number of other eminent philosophers, was right.

Alan Watts explains how the phenomenon of self occurs:

The notion of a separate thinker, of an ‘I’ distinct from the experience, comes from memory and from the rapidity with which thought changes. It is like whirling a burning stick to give the illusion of a continuous circle of fire. If you imagine that memory is a direct knowledge of the past rather than a present experience, you get the illusion of knowing the past and the present at the same time. This suggests that there is something in you distinct from both the past and the present experiences. You reason, ‘I know this present experience, and it is different from that past experience. If I can compare the two, and notice that experience has changed, I must be something constant and apart.’

Over time our sense of self hardens, but it is never more than image—self-image—in our mind. And the bottom line is this: ‘I’ can’t change ‘me.’ You see, the ‘I’ that wants to stop smoking or drinking is the ‘me’ that wants to keep smoking or drinking. What’s more, all such ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’ are in the past. They are all the result of past thinking and past conditioning. They can never result in the attainment of something in the now, let alone the future. When we work and rely upon only our ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s we will never, never succeed in our endeavours. As William Temple, a former Archbishop of Canterbury, said, ‘For the trouble is that we are self-centred, and no effort of the self can remove the self from the centre of its own endeavour.’

The only program of self-improvement that has any chance at all of being successful is one where the person that each one of us is makes a decision to invoke the power of one’s own personhood. That power is not of self; it is a ‘power-not-oneself.’ Self can’t change self, for all our mental selves are in and of themselves not only powerless but also contradictory and in opposition to each other. Hence the need to rely upon a power-not-oneself
the power that comes from being a person among persons.

P F Strawson
Now, what is a person? Well, the well-known English philosopher P F Strawson, pictured right, wrote much on the subject. Strawson articulated a concept of ‘person’ in respect of which both physical characteristics and states of consciousness can be ascribed to it. Each one of us is a person among persons—a mind-body complex. We are much, much more than those hundreds of little, false selves---all those waxing and waning ‘I’s’ and ‘me’s’—with which we tend to identify, in the mistaken belief that they constitute the ‘real me,’ that is, the person each one of us is. Only the latter is ontologically real. Personal freedom and real personal transformation come when we get real, that is, when we start to think, act and live from our personhood as a person among persons. We need to get our mind off our ‘selves’ and rise above them if we are to get real. And remember this: there is no human problem that is not common to other persons among persons.

Now, here are the steps involved. You begin by making up your mind and make a decision to do X [X being whatever positive thing you wish to see actualized in your life]. Great power arises from the making of a decision. Then nail that decision up in your mind and don’t look back. A big part of not looking back means that when any thought, feeling, perception or sensation arises that is to the contrary of the doing of X, you proceed to reaffirm and thus strengthen your original decision and resolve to do X by performing some action—the important word is action—that is not only consistent with the doing of X, it will actually help to bring about X. In the words of the American essayist and minister Ralph Waldo Emerson, ‘Do the thing and you will have the power.’ The power is in the doing—the power of the person that you are. It’s the ‘act as if’ principle taught by the great American philosopher and psychologist William James, pictured below. He said, ‘If you want a quality [of personhood], act as if you already had it’ [emphasis added]. Now, who must act? You, the person that you are, must act.

William James
For example, if your decision is to give up smoking, and a thought arises that a cigarette would be nice right now, you immediately do something that is consistent with being a non-smoker. For example, you go somewhere, or mix with someone, where smoking is simply out of the question. Forget all about so-called will-power, for there is no such thing. The ‘will’ is simply your ability to make a decision; it has no power in and of itself. We will always do whatever is our strongest want. It’s want-power—fortified with enthusiasm—and not will-power that we need. Another problem with so-called will-power is this—it is simply the imposition of one illusory ‘self’ over another. It’s the old problem all over.

One more thing, motivation is essential for successful personal transformation. Motivation is motive plus action, the latter being the doing of all that is necessary for X to actualize. What is your motive for doing X? (There may, of course, be more than one such motive.) Your motive must relate to you as a person. For example, if you want to give up smoking, your motive may be to be a healthier person or a wealthier person (as smoking is, among other things, damn expensive). Keep your motive upfront in your consciousness. Your motive is your want-power. For all intents and purposes they are one and the same.

So, remember this. Self can’t change self, because self is image inside a person, but the person each one of us is can indeed change—and change for the better—if we want, that is, really want, change more than anything else and are prepared to go to any length to get it.

Note. This post was first published, in substantially the same form, as ‘The Myth of Self-improvement’ on January 11, 2015.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

THE JOY OF RUNNING MINDFULLY

‘There is something magical about running; after a certain distance, it transcends the body. Then a bit further, it transcends the mind. A bit further yet, and what you have before you, laid bare, is the soul.’—Kristin Armstrong.


I have been jogging for over 40 years. I’m also into mindfulness in a big way, as my blog shows.

Some say that jogging is the shortcut to the cemetery, but I’m still here. Indeed, although I have no way of knowing whether this is true, I strongly suspect that if I had not jogged all those years I would have died years ago as a result of other bad lifestyle choices I made. Despite those bad choices, I kept on running throughout the years, my heart is strong and healthy and I have an athlete’s heart rate—at 63 years of age. I jog three times a week, for 30 minutes on each occasion, making sure that my heart rate is between 75 and 85 percent of my maximum heart rate. I don't run as far, or as fast, as I used to, but I remain fit. Further, despite the warnings of some physiotherapists and chiropractors that I would do damage to my ankles and knees as a result of my running, X-rays and scans reveal that no such damage has occurred in my case. (I've always run in good running shoes. Maybe that has helped. Who knows.)

Source: Shutterstock.com.

One of the great things about running is that, at its most basic, it’s just one foot in front of the other. The repetitive nature of the activity is akin to numerous mechanical activities and makes running ideal as a vehicle for meditation. Instead of listening to the sound of a metronome, your body becomes one, so to speak.

The phrase ‘mindful running’ is gaining wide acceptance. Well, why not? Mindful walking has been around for a long time. Mindful running simply means running mindfully, that is, running with awareness of all that is involved in your running from one moment to the next. As you run, you are present to all of the action within you and outside of you that relates to your running.

Your awareness of anything else is not so much non-existent but diffuse. By that, I mean you are aware to the bare extent necessary of, for example, passing motor vehicles, the occasion siren or bird noise, but you do not direct the focus of your attention and awareness to those sorts of things. On the contrary, you remain fixed and focused on such things as the act and pattern of your running, the sensations engendered by your running (for example, your posture, your heart rate, heartbeat, the pattern of your breathing, the sensation of your feet hitting the ground one at a time, and so on), and the feel of the surface upon which you are running include its flatness or steepness as the case may be. You are aware of the hill that you are climbing, of the various little holes in the road surface, of the driveways you cross over, and so on. In other words, you are fully present while you run.

Source: Getty Images.

Mindful running is like all mindful activity. You are mentally and physically connected with the activity. You listen to, and are one with, the activity of your body and mind. Should thoughts, feelings and sensations unconnected with the immediate activity of running enter your mind—as they will from time to time—you simply let them go. You give these little distractions no power and, without force, bring the focus of your attention and awareness back to the activity of running and all the sensations involved in that activity as they arise from moment to moment. Your running then becomes a mindful meditation in and of itself—and a very powerful one at that.

I do not listen to music or an audiobook when I am running, although I am aware that many do. You cannot do two things at once. Forget all about so-called ‘multitasking’, for there is no such thing. There is only ‘switch-tasking’, that is, toggling from one task to the other. Follow the advice of Saint Paul who said, ‘This one thing I do’ (Phil 3:13 [KJV]). Zen says the same thing. When you’re washing the dishes, just wash the dishes. Do nothing else. Think of nothing else. Just wash the dishes. Ditto when you’re running. Just run—with choiceless awareness of what is happening inside of you both psychologically and physiologically. You have enough to do just doing that. So, my strong advice is—get rid of as many external distractions as you can. That way you can focus on the activity of running and the sensations engendered by that activity.

Source: Pressmaster.

When you run mindfully, you are aware when your breathing becomes laboured or too fast. Ditto your heartbeat. Listen to your body and make the necessary adjustments in the pattern of your running. Obviously, you have to maintain a general awareness of what is going on around you. For example, if you are running on a road, close to the gutter, you need to be aware of the imperfections in the road surface that might cause you to stumble. You also need to listen to the sound of any motor vehicles coming up in the rear, and so on. As I say, there is enough to do in simply running mindfully. You cannot assume that others will look out for you. It annoys me when I see runners and even pedestrians listening to their earphones and being totally oblivious to what is going on around them and close to them. That sort of behaviour is tantamount to lunacy.

You may not be into running or jogging, but some sort of aerobic exercise is extremely important. Find something you really enjoy that is especially good for your heart—and do it regularly and mindfully.

Note. You should consult your physician or other health care professional before starting running or any other fitness program to determine if it is right for your needs.


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Tuesday, November 6, 2018

MINDFULNESS REDUCES ANXIETY ASSOCIATED WITH BREAST BIOPSY

A brief session of guided mindfulness-based meditation may help women undergoing a stereotactic breast biopsy to feel less anxious, according to a recent study published in the Journal of the American College of Radiology.

Large-core needle stereotactic breast biopsy, sometimes just called ‘core biopsy,’ is used to sample tissue deep within the breast and is done with only local anesthesia. High distress before and during the procedure is uncomfortable for patients and can contribute to appointment cancellations, incomplete procedures, complications, and longer procedure times, the study authors write.


‘A stereotactic breast biopsy is a procedure that has a high frequency and is really stressful,’ said lead author Dr Chelsea Ratcliff, an assistant professor of psychology at Sam Houston State University in Huntsville, Texas. The study, albeit a small one, suggests that short-term mindfulness meditation can be effective in such a setting. However, Dr Ratcliff has said that the study needs to be replicated and expanded.

Journal reference: Ratcliff, C G et al.A Randomized Controlled Trial of Brief Mindfulness Meditation for Women Undergoing Stereotactic Breast Biopsy.’ Journal of the American College of Radiology, online October 12, 2018. DOI: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jacr.2018.09.009.

Photo credit: Presence St Mary's Hospital.

Sunday, October 7, 2018

ERNEST HEMINGWAY AND THE ART OF MINDFUL LIVING

Ernest Hemingway went out in style—with a double-barrelled shotgun. In saying that, I don’t wish to be seen to be making light of suicide. In my own family, I lost a grandmother, a great-aunt, and a great-grandfather, and possibly one or two others as well, to suicide. Those left behind after the suicide of a family member or close friend ordinarily struggle with a particularly difficult grief, yet I learned long ago that it is always wrong to pass any form of judgement on the deceased in relation to their decision to end their life.

In his final years Hemingway was beset with physical and psychological troubles and was not helped by an American government that incessantly trailed him with FBI agents, in both Cuba (where he lived in the 1940s and '50s) and the United States, and which in 1960 basically told him to denounce the Castro regime and leave Cuba or face the consequences, namely, being declared a traitor by Washington authorities.


Hemingway refused to denounce the Castro regime. He had declared his solidarity with Cuba in January 1959. He wrote that he believed completely in the 'historical necessity' [sic] of the Cuban Revolution. He knew that the Castro regime was far from perfect but he had also lived through the years when, for all intents and purposes, the American Mafia, in cahoots with the CIA, ran Cuba. At least Castro got rid of the Mafia from Cuba, even if they went elsewhere, and he gave the Cuban people universal health carea damn good thingand a decent education system. (No, dear reader, I am not a Commie. I simply believe in giving credit where credit is dueand putting the boot in as well when that is necessary.) 

Anyway, Hemingway and his fourth wife Mary left the Cuba they loved for good on July 25, 1960, leaving behind thousands of books, personal papers and memorabilia. Hemingway found his own solution to his troubles on July 2, 1961. Even on that last fateful day, the dreadful J Edgar Hoover’s agents were located just 150 metres from his house in Ketchum, Idaho.

Fidel Castro and Ernest Hemingway.
Havana, Cuba, May 1960.

Local fishermen erected this monument
in memory of Hemingway at Cojímar,
a town east of Havana.

My wife, youngest son and I were recently in Cuba for a holiday. It was a great trip and we travelled all over Cuba. I loved the people, the architecture of the buildings, the mountains and valleys, and the music. The hotels we stayed in were grand and we also stayed with some delightful Cuban families in their own homes. The people we met were happy for the most part, despite many problems, made much worse by the American embargo. That the latter continues to this day, after almost 60 years, is a disgrace. It does not speak well of the United States. 
The embargo, which has been condemned by the United Nations with overwhelming support every year since 1992, has been called a sustained act of genocide against the Cuban people—and it is. The accumulated cost of the embargo to Cuba over almost 60 years amounts to close to 934 billion United States dollars.

The Cuban people, especially in Havana, revere Ernest Hemingway, and while we were in Havana we went to Hemingway’s former home and farm Finca Vigía (now a museum), the Hotel Ambos Mundos, where he resided in 1939, the hotel La Terraza de Cojimar at Cojímar, the little port town 9.6 km east of Havana where Hemingway kept his fishing boat, the Pilar, which was the inspiration for the village Hemingway depicted in The Old Man and the Sea, and the restaurant-bars El Floridita and La Bodeguita del Medio, where Hemingway ate and drank (mostly the latter, its seems). In all these places, and many others, there are photos and other memorabilia recalling Hemingway’s presence in Cuba. Books or parts of his novels were written on the island. Copies of those books, as well as many biographies of the man and his life in Cuba, can be purchased in Havana book shops and elsewhere in Cuba.

Entrance to Finca Vigía

My wife and son outside Finca Vigía

Yours truly at the top of the tower at Finca Vigía

Hemingway’s writing style has been much written about and discussed. A former journalist and war correspondent, Hemingway is the master of the short, unadorned sentence, direct speech and simple dialogue. He uses no unnecessary words. His vocabulary is often tight but expressive and charged with meaning, even when reduced to only a few words. Sentences tend to be arranged in sequence rather than in a logical pattern. Take, for example, this exchange from chapter 10 of For Whom the Bell Tolls(Some of that novel, which arose out of Hemingway's own experience, was written in Cuba.)

‘What are you going to do with us?’ one asked him.
‘Shoot thee,’ Pablo said.
‘When?’ the man asked in the same gray voice.
‘Now,’ said Pablo.
‘Where?” asked the man.
‘Here,’ said Pablo. ‘Here. Now. Here and now.’
‘Have you anything to say?’
‘Nada,’ said the man. ‘Nothing. But it is an ugly thing.’

Hemingway's study in Finca Vigía


Hemingway's study in Finca Vigía
Vestibule and room where Hemingway
received his family and friends at 
Finca Vigía

In Hemingway’s famous short story ‘The Killers’, the author makes effective use of tight, machine gun-like exchanges such as the following to create an atmosphere of impending doom:

‘What's he going to do?’
‘Nothing.’
‘They'll kill him.’
‘I guess they will.’
‘He must have got mixed up in something in Chicago.’
‘I guess so,’ said Nick.
‘It's a hell of a thing.’
‘It's an awful thing,’ Nick said.
They did not say anything. George reached down for a towel and wiped the counter.
‘I wonder what he did?’ Nick said.
‘Double-crossed somebody. That's what they kill them for.’
‘I'm going to get out of this town,’ Nick said.
‘Yes,’ said George. ‘That's a good thing to do.’
‘I can't stand to think about him waiting in the room and knowing he's going to get it. It's too damned awful.’
‘Well,’ said George, ‘you better not think about it.’

His themes and ideas arise from and out of the story and its imagery, as opposed to being thrust upon the reader as is the case with many writers. The emphasis is on action rather than introspection (although the latter is there as well). His aim, in his own words, is to record 'the way it was'. He is a master of mindfulness, recording what happens more-or-less as it happens or as it happened not that long ago. Even when one of his characters recalls something that has already happened, the remembrance of the event generally takes place in the context of the character remembering in the present moment what has already happened. That is the essence of mindfulness, along with remembering to stay present in the present moment, from one moment to the next, and remembering what is present.


Some of the 8,000 books in
Hemingway's library at Finca Vig
ía 

The 'Pilar' aFinca Vigía

Listen to these words from chapter 11 of For Whom the Bell Tolls. Hemingway contrasts the directness and immediacy of life itself, experienced mindfully, with an experience of life that falls short of that:

You only heard the statement of the loss. You did not see the father fall as Pilar made him see the fascists die in that story she had told by the stream. You knew the father died in some courtyard, or against some wall, or in some field or orchard, or at night, in the lights of a truck, beside some road. You had seen the lights of the car from down the hills and heard the shooting and afterwards you had come down to the road and found the bodies. You did not see the mother shot, nor the sister, nor the brother. You heard about it; you heard the shots; and you saw the bodies.

In chapter 13 of the novel, the combatant Robert Jordan, a young American fighting in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, and Maria, a young woman who has been captured by the Fascists, have just made love in the heather. Shortly thereafter, we get these words from Hemingway, words that are more openly philosophical than is usual for him:

You have it now and that is all your whole life is; now. There is nothing else than now. There is neither yesterday, certainly, nor is there any tomorrow. How old must you be before you know that? There is only now, and if now is only two days, then two days is your life and everything in it will be in proportion. This is how you live a life in two days. And if you stop complaining and asking for what you will never get, you will have a good life.
 A good life is not measured by any biblical span.


My wife and son at La Terraza de Cojímar

Hemingway lives on at La Bodeguita del Medio

A life-size bronze statue of Hemingway
at the end of the bar in El Floridita

Each one of us is an inlet and an outlet of life's self-expression. Life is forever renewing itself, and expressing itself, as the present moment—from one moment to the next and ever onwards. Life is this moment and life is the reality of our very selves. We are the action of life that is always taking place. We live in the eternal now—the present moment forever renewing itself. The past? It exists only as a present memory. The future? It exists only as a hope. 

Life is endless movement—from one moment to the next. Any meaning we find must be found in the moment-to-moment experience of the eternal now, which is that ‘present’ which is forever renewing itself in and as each new moment. Eternity—the eternal now—is not the present time plus all the past and all the future, nor is it a postmortem experience. It is a present—indeed, ever-present—reality. In truth, there is no time after time after time. The eternal now transcends time altogether. There is a ‘present’ in the present as well as a ‘present’ beyond the ‘present’. Of course, in a very real sense the eternal now and the so-called temporal now are one and the same! Everything is—here now! Life is eternal, and we are alive in eternity—now! Well, at least we should be.

So, cherish this present moment. It is more than enough, even though it is so fleeting and ephemeral. Nevertheless, seize the moment—and live.