The Zen of Hanging On

By James Wallace Harris, Thursday, September 24, 2015

This essay will be one of those that my friends think I’m going a little squirrelly.  But anytime I point to something that can’t be touched, I do seem a little crazy. I’m actually trying to capture a fleeting feeling—a single emotion I felt when hearing an old song.

The conventional Zen wisdom is one of letting go. We are taught to be one with the moment and learn to quiet our chattering mind. The lesson being that we miss the Now because we’re not there. Our thoughts churn out virtual never-never-lands instead of focusing on the beauty of existence. We live in our heads instead of reality. Our souls are like a drop of water floating down a stream that passes through an ever changing landscape. We hang onto memories of past sceneries or imagine future sights, ignoring the current vista.

Becoming one with Now is a lovely way to exist in reality, but I’m going to be contrary here, and explore the virtues of hanging on. All animals live in the moment. For some reason reality decided to evolve Homo sapiens who are capable of stepping out of the Eternal Now. It’s impossible to paint the Sistine Chapel or the build the Curiosity Mars rover without being able to ignore the moment. It is true we throw most of lives away in mental delusions, but it’s also true that some of those air castles we build in our heads get erected in reality. But I’m not talking about that kind of hanging on.

This morning while I was doing my morning exercises “Be My Baby” by The Ronettes came on the stereo, a song that first imprinted on me fifty-two years ago. By conventional Zen wisdom I should just listen to Ronnie Spector and enjoy the song for what it is in the moment. The powerful feelings I experienced when I was eleven years old and “Be My Baby” was chemically etched in my neural pathways don’t exist anymore. Or do they? Is it possible to exist now and then?

Living in the moment is being a one-dimensional point traveling through a four dimensional reality. The Zen of hanging on is constructing a four dimensional being. Our awareness of reality lives in the moment. Time is an illusion. The past and future don’t exist. We build the past with memories and the future with speculations. One meditation technique is to watch our thoughts, usually with the goal of quieting them. Our thoughts appear to be constant chatter that dribbles out of our brain. But if your soul can step back far enough, that chatter reveals patterns. Our diarrhea of mental babble has it’s own hard reality.

The Zen of hanging on becomes one of seeing ourselves from the fourth dimension. Living in the moment is eternal. We can’t know birth or death. But we are a finite creature with a beginning and end. We can only see that by hanging on to the residue of past moments and the most rational extrapolations of what we might become.

I don’t know if any of this will make any sense, but I felt compelled to write it before I allowed myself breakfast. It’s merely an explanation of why I believe “Be My Baby” keeps something from the past existing in this moment. To hear the song now flicks on a chemical sequence in my head that shapes my sense of the moment. From that view, the past still doesn’t exist, and the song long ago hardwired something that my present self can always experience. On the other hand, does my fourth dimensional sense of self, using all those memories I’ve hung onto, sculpts a bigger view of myself that includes the past?

Another way to ask that: Is our past a complete illusion, or something we continually reconstruct in the moment with artifacts we’ve hung onto?  Yes, one kind of past no longer exists, but don’t we create another kind, that does have a reality in the moment? Aren’t the things we hang onto the colors in which we paint our personality?

JWH

6 thoughts on “The Zen of Hanging On”

  1. Probably time for a bit of everything, Jim. If I spend a bit of time each day “living in the now” it rests my brain for a better appreciation of the cognitive day. And even if some days I’m able to live quite a lot “in the now,” (physical activity and social life) I still need a bit of time for some good reflection on it or a good read or something. I don’t want all one or the other.

    1. I know what you mean Becky. I have friends that stay constantly busy. They can schedule a half dozen or more events in one day. I need to space out my activity time and contemplative time. I love reality, but I also love reflecting upon reality.

  2. Here’s one friend that doesn’t think you’re squirrelly at all. I’ve had similar thoughts but come to the conclusion that we have the ability to have memories for a reason. Especially the type of memories you’re talking about–visceral memories that take us back to moments in our past. I choose to enjoy those moments. Realizing that they probably have been altered significantly by my life between then and now doesn’t bother me either. I often find myself thinking about how those experiences inform my current experience. Thanks for making me re-visit my thinking about visits to the past.

    1. Maybe I didn’t mention enough of my squirrelly characteristics. Sometimes I want to make playlists of all those songs I loved because I’m afraid I’m going to lose them. I often reread books or see old movies again because I want refresh my fading memories. Often I care more about my artistic experiences and their memories than memories of real events in my life. I can remember very little about my father, and I never knew him very well. So I’ve substituted writers like Jack Kerouac, Robert Heinlein and Philip K. Dick for him. Especially Kerouac, who was almost the same age as my father, and they died within a year of each other, both suicide by alcohol. So I guess my father’s thoughts and feelings from reading Kerouac’s books.

      I hang onto a lot of shit. But thanks for not thinking of me as squirrelly.

  3. Not squirrelly , but insightful! Living in the “now” is kind of a new agey thing. When we live in the now, it’s all the past and how it’s made us who we are and that is the “who” that is living in the “now”. The two are inexplicibly intertwined. You can’t have one without the other.

  4. Thanks James for bringing this up, It is lovely to be such a music lover that way we can trigger a lot of our past memories with each song and enjoy them in such a nice way that we don’t need to force our limited brain resources in the Now.

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