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Wednesday, 12 March 2014 13:12

Spring beckons, but don’t forget the moment

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op beckmanBy John Beckman • Columnist

After the hard winter of sub-zero temperatures, heavy snows and power outages our region and much of the nation has seen in 2014, I'm pretty sure that there are a lot of people desperately hoping for an early spring. For them, the end of winter — with frozen pipes, cars in ditches, wet muddy clothes and way too much “emergency living” — cannot come soon enough. 

It's not just the usual lot of spring-fevered gardeners and farmers chomping to get the first peas and mustards in the ground, or the hikers, birders and climbers looking for a chance to enjoy their hobbies with fewer chances of freezing to death. People in the construction and landscaping/grading business are likewise hoping for a stretch in the weather when the ground is neither frozen solid or too soupy to work, if you can get to the job to start with. 

 

Between travel hassles, high heating costs and cancelled work and school days, there are likely plenty of folks ready to trade in this whole winter mess for daffodils and bluebirds tomorrow. It seems the only ones who are enjoying this season are the skiers, snowboarders, the folks in the snow removal business and a few kids who don't like school and relish the extra time off.

I'm guilty myself of dreaming of the days of not having to move piles of firewood all the time or slog through inches of half-frozen glop to get something accomplished only to guess whether the windy mountain road home will be easily passable or slicker than goose shit on wet grass. I've got seed catalogues stacked up by my chair and must admit to often looking ahead to long sunny days in T-shirts and flip flops picking baskets of cucumbers and fresh tomatoes for a sandwich in the shade. 

Sometimes when I catch myself wishing away today for an imagined easier tomorrow, I pause and ask, “Isn’t time moving fast enough without pushing it?” It already seems like another weekend comes along every couple of days for a lot of us. Do we really want the pages of the calendar to come wildly flying off like they do in the old cartoons? Isn't there a rule somewhere that says we're supposed to enjoy and savor each day, indeed every moment, instead of always rushing to the next concern and planning days ahead?

When life moves too fast we miss things. If we choose to focus on the future with the present moment, then we lose the intricacies an opportunities the moment has in itself, gone forever.  It's hard to think this way when your sliding down the driveway headed to clear the store shelves of milk, bread and batteries, and easy to forget the sweltering heat, crowded roads, the yellow jacket and copperhead hazards of that day we're dreaming of. By denying winter it’s due, we give up those fleeting scenes and feelings only available a few times each year, the subtle changes that happen in what we experience and look at everyday but often fail to see.

These aren't new thoughts. Translations of the ancient Buddhist text describe “an awareness of the present” which roughly translates as “mindfulness” (sati and smirti, if you prefer the Sanskrit) and include this concept as part of the path to enlightenment. 

If the old texts of antiquity are not your cup of tea, you might look to the writing of British philosopher (and Episcopalian priest) Alan Watt who moved to California in 1951 and is credited with bringing Eastern religious concepts to the masses of Americans with his book, The Way of Zen in 1957. He developed quite a following in the San Francisco area with his long-running program on Pacifica Radio and taught at a variety of colleges, including Harvard, where he worked to relieve the alienation brought on by Western society and promoted the realization of one’s own spiritual identity. 

For a more current view of some of these thoughts, one can turn to bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert and her popular book Eat, Pray, Love, (2006) which chronicles her year-long world travel in search of bringing these three elements into her life. For those needing more psycho-science (and fewer paragraphs) in their diet, the 2008 article in Psychology Today, “The Art of Now: Six Steps to Living in the Moment” provides suggestions for incorporating mindfulness into your everyday life and it’s use as a therapeutic tool to provide a richer life experience and reminding us that “Mindfulness isn’t a goal, because goals are about the future ….”, and that’s not what today is all about.

Next time you're out shoveling snow in the cold to get to work, defrosting pipes for a shower or sliding around the highways just trying to get home, remember to soak up the beauty, subtleties, and ephemeral moments rushing by in your life that will never pass again and cannot be captured and saved for later. Spring will come again and again, but today is only for these moments now, and the Zen is there. Even in winter.

John Beckman is a builder, farmer and occasional writer who lives in Cullowhee. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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