Living in the Now

If there is one thing that middle-aged men and women can agree on, it’s that their memories of childhood are powerful. For me, just a whiff of orange blossoms can bring back waves of emotions long buried under a lifetime of clutter.

But if your experiences growing up were painful, some of those memories can haunt you and hurt you decades after they should have faded away. Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now deals with this subject very effectively. But not all of us have read the book, and even after reading, we forget. A bitter memory creeps in. We slip, we fall, and damn it, it hurts all over again.

And twice in as many days, I have met people who are, from time to time, literally prisoners of their memories. Did you think, as I did growing up, that life would get easier and easier? Did you think that middle age would be free of problems and that the sweet golden glow of retirement would begin to loom bigger and brighter? It’s not working out that way for me.

I am in no way any kind of expert here. I’m looking at my eleventh month of unemployment and had almost convinced myself that I was an expert in pain. But I have a couple of friends who have been dealt more than their fair share of trouble. When you see friends in pain, you want to help, you want to do or say something that somehow would make it hurt less, but often that isn’t what they need. Often all they need is someone to listen to them and perhaps provide a shoulder to lean on.

Nonetheless, I think Tolle’s advice is useful. No matter what kind of hurts and difficulties we are dealing with right now, they can be lessened if we remember that the past and the future are illusions. When we feel longing for that idealized past or that shining future, we are imagining constructions to which we are comparing the present. But the present is real, and it is alive. We are alive right now, and we need to focus on that.

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