nowhere to go, nowhen to be


Our sangha was listening to Stephen Batchelor’s dharma talk from Upaya Zen Center the other evening.  It was, for the most part, a fascinating take on the raft metaphor.  Then in the Q&A, Batchelor slew that mythic worm, The Present Moment, which he referred to as a concept that Buddhists today have become overly attached.  I could have cheered – well, I did.  The idea that we can swing away from our mental meanderings and plop into a single moment in time has to be one of the most misleading and damaging concepts ever perpetrated in Buddhopsychology.

Most people I’ve talked to confound “present” moment with “pleasant” moment.  So, it’s quite understandable that given a choice between the dark places the mind goes to and finding that “wonderful” moment, we would want to strive for the latter .  It’s where we hope to be nourished, find compassion, or be comforted.

Reality, however, is not as cooperative; some “present moments” are unpleasant, painful, wearing, or boring.

And, here we are anyway.  Whether we like it or not.  That’s the truth of having nowhere to go.

It’s in the “I-didn’t-mean-this-kind-of-present-moment” that practice can be a way of avoiding what is going on and we start doing things that amount to scouting around for a different “present moment.”

Even Thich Nhat Hanh (synonymous with the teaching of being in the present moment) writes

Thay Day 1 copy

The more deeply we penetrate into life, the more we see its miracles and the more we see its heartbreaking and terrifying events. Have you seen the life of a spider?  Have you lived through a war?  Have you seen torture, prison, and killing?  Have you seen a pirate rape a young girl on the high seas? (from The Sun My Heart)

Experiences come as a package deal.  Highs, lows, and in-betweens; good, bad, and who-the-heck-knows.   That’s the reality of having nothing to do and no other moment in which to do it.

Thank you for practising,


6 thoughts on “nowhere to go, nowhen to be

  1. Thinking of a story from “One Bird One Stone” where a monk was asked by a drunk homeless man “What is it like to be enlightened”. The monk’s reply was “Depressing”. There’s the present moment for you. I assume the present moment for that monk was one of compassion.

    I use the comparison to watching a movie. There is a time when you know it is a movie and other times that you are fully engrossed. Which is the present moment”. Are you fully engrossed in “your” movie or do you know its a movie. People get the comparison but I end it with “Which would you prefer”. Not realizing it is a movie is not as much fun but more realized then the other. True ignorance is bliss.



  2. Hi John,

    I agree that the monk must have felt compassion seeing someone who really needed to take stock of his present moment rather than worry about what enlightenment is – which is then enlightenment anyway!

    >>Not realizing it is a movie is not as much fun but more realized then the other. True ignorance is bliss.<<

    I liked your comparison. Did you mean the above? I would have thought not realizing it is a movie might me more fun but not as realized as the other.

    True ignorance is bliss – until we see our ignorance. 🙂

    Good to "see" you here!

    • Oh yeah, maybe my wording was clunky and reversed. I mean that when one is completely engrossed in a movie to the point that the “real” world is out of perception, that person is enjoying the present moment and still tumbling around samsaric life.

      The absolute is not yet enlightenment. We may see the movie for what it is (awareness in the present moment) but not be enlightened. When we manufacture our reality to be a “happy moment” we aren’t breaking free of samsara, we are just finding a loophole and manipulating it. That is realizing the absolute, which is a step in the right direction but many “teachers” present that to students as enlightenment.

      i think….


      • >>enjoying the present moment and still tumbling around samsaric life. << I really like this. Very evocative image.

        One of things I get very sensitive to are teachings (and communities) that appeal to the "just sit enough and it will be fixed". It seems a twist on the "fake it 'till you make it" theme. I can certainly "fake" feeling positive in some situations but I have to do the other work which is to look at what's feeding the unhappiness.

  3. I’m okay with the “present moment,” except when I’m not – which is most of the time. Really, I’d much rather distract myself with the blogosphere, a good book, a bookstore, the detritus in the gutter, or almost anything, than look directly into moment mind.

  4. and sometimes, I “entertain” myself with several of those at once! After spending many years intoning “present moment, wonderful moment” I’m grateful to discover my teacher, the Present Moment, is as mythic as a naga – and likely as powerful if I get caught in its coils.

    Hope you’re feeling better, Barry.

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