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Donald Clegg: Dare to fill your now with something new

Donald Clegg Correspondent

My summer reading list last month opened a discussion of the Good Life, which I’d like to continue, inquiring into its prime property, time.

Since each life is a fleeting flash here – our only time – I’d like to consider a particular attitude toward that instant of light.

All of us live exactly the same time, no matter how short or long our lives. That is, we live solely in the now, and it is the quality of each now that determines, to a large degree, the lens through which we view both what has been, and what will or might be.

This “now” business is a bit of a paradox that you might try to solve by saying, “Hey, party on,” but then its two illusory heavyweights – past and future – weigh in on your prospective Bud commercial.

“Illusory” because you can’t point to them. I can’t locate, “This is the past, this is the future,” and yet my experience tells me that both exist. Yes they do, but only in the now, for all of us.

The gift and curse of being human is being aware of being aware, i.e., self-consciousness. The gift is hope for the future, the curse fear of it, and how we respond in the now creates our past. Which, of course, we can examine the same way: hopeful for the good we find; fearful of … the less savory bits.

Practicing a meaning-full now builds a richness of yesterdays, rewards and informs us in the present, and makes our tomorrows more bearable – and, hopefully, more hopeful.

The meaningful practice of the now over the years also yields the acquisition of a rich store of knowledge and a deep well of experience. And knowledge plus experience equals wisdom, the reward and wealth of living well enough, long enough. Wisdom is congruent with the Good Life.

It should be of both mind and body: a bountiful inner life, and heightened adeptness and prowess through the somatic practice of good work in the now. Put together enough nows, and your experience, knowledge and skills can span decades, developing into something you’d never dreamed of at the start.

I know that my pot roast, brief moments of the garden, and a few handfuls of paintings are perfect – the fruit of both body and mind – but if I wake up tomorrow, I have the requisite abilities, honed over many years’ trial, error, success and failure, to try to do them one better, should I care to. My hands know what to do with brush, spade and spoon, and by now, even mediocre efforts are worth harvesting.

“The best time to plant a tree is either 10 years ago or right now.” Old bromide notwithstanding, you have only now. You have no idea how long your present moment will extend into the future.

Get started on whatever stands for perfect pot roast for you.

Looking out my studio window I see our linden trees, some six or seven years old. They’re actually doing some good now: useful shade, a bit of privacy, pleasing to look at, and an ever more bountiful crop of leaves to go into the compost pile in the fall.

But we’ve been in our home for almost 19 years; why didn’t I put them in sooner?

Nonetheless, I’m glad I planted them, since those years would have passed anyway, still treeless had I not. And I’m happy, too, for the things I started in even earlier nows, and if I were told I’d be coming to an end tomorrow, I hope that I’d start something new today.

I’d like to make more than a hortatory case for “something new every day,” but I realize it’s not an easy task. That is, to do something new is to live in the moment, not to just go through the motions.

It also means living a life of risk.

Trying something new isn’t easy. Trying something new that’s difficult is even harder, harder still if you know that it’s a tough go.

Ignorance sometimes is bliss, if it gets you about something you know is impossible, until you’ve done it.

It’s so easy to cruise through our moments, avoiding the strong likelihood of failure that comes from stretching. But like John Lennon said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.”

You might as well try to make the “other plans” part of the present. At worst, you’ll just fail, but at least you gave it a go.

Time’s going to tick by, anyway, yielding a past that can only be considered in the present moment. Fill each of them to the brim.

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