The moment: a slice of time of uncertain length, liberated. A sampling of the river, defined not by length but by its content and significance. The internet says a moment can be 90 seconds long. I don’t think it is so easily boxed in. Moments stretch, bend, and turn back on themselves. Time is relative; a moment can feel like, and therefore be, forever.
We live in a stream of moments, overlapping like the scales of a fish. As you read this, you are in one, or perhaps many. Moments are abundant, but so many pass, not fully experienced, like food eaten in a hurry, chewed too fast and swallowed, its depth of flavor and complexity not tasted.
In order to function and survive, we depend on analyzing the past and planning the future. Our time-conscious brain is one of our greatest assets as a species. It is a calculator, constantly processing information. It chatters endlessly, like a catbird at dusk, babbling to itself about what has been and what might be. It is distracting and exhausting.
Our ability to plan actions over time has made us a very accomplished creature. Our ability to mull over and analyze the past allows us to learn. But this attention to other times must be borrowed from somewhere. It must be withdrawn from Now.
My own mind tends to occupy a multitude of different times at any moment. I can scarcely get through a shower without thinking about rearranging my house plants, or if I am saving enough in my retirement account to afford to live when I’m 73, or if I’ll even live that long, or if I should paint my front door light blue or burnt sienna.
My brain loves to marinate in the past, in soothing baths of guilt and what-ifs, of past joys and achievements. Always borrowing essence from this moment.
And so we drive ourselves back into the moment — into an undefined nugget of time in which all else melts away and we exist in full attention to our selves and our surroundings. We seek a place where the future cannot afford to exist and the past is of no importance; where there is room only for Now.
We seek freedom from the time we have created, in pursuits that immerse us, for a moment, in complete presence. It is the work of musicians and Zen monks. It is in the making and loving of art. We find it in skiing, mountain climbing, meditation, bird watching, running, sky diving, reading, singing, dancing, sex, drugs, religion. And surfing.
As the dancer spins, her mind is so focused it is empty. The chattering mind is quiet and gives over to the body, to a surrender so complete it is commanding. As the climber pulls himself up the rock face to reach the next hand hold, a thousand feet of air below, the innate terror of death forces him into a moment of full and true existence, the grit on the stone crystalized in vibrant detail, the knuckles acting free of any thought. Absolute presence.
For surfers, the moment is in the wave. As a wave is caught and the surfer drops into a long, deep, arching bottom turn, the whole world disappears. It has to. There is no space for taxes, oil changes, or lost loves. All that exists is a human being and a collapsing ocean wave. Instinct screams: flee, preserve yourself! This is all terribly wrong, dangerous and ridiculous.
And something greater steps in, takes the chattering mind in a gentle hold, wraps it in its loving arms, and whispers, “Quiet, little one. Be still.” The wave begins to hollow and form a great swirling liquid tube. The surfer finds herself in the most fluid and dynamic place in the world — a place that exists only in this moment. And there it is. Inside stands a human, being.