The modern saying, “Be in the moment,” is true and wise, but very difficult. How easy to be “in the moment” watching a butterfly’s flight or a striking sunset, or the season’s first snowfall. But how difficult to be in the moment when we suffer wracking physical pain or learn of sad news or are in the throes of grief. We are told to bear pain and sorrow stoicly and impassively, that it will pass. Jesus on the cross, we are led to believe, suffered in silence and presumably remained “in the moment.”
It begs the question: If being in some moments is better than being in other moments, should we aspire to be in the moment at all? Or is it that we have nothing but the moment? No past will redeem this moment, and no future will reprieve us from it. Such a realization is not comforting to the sorrowful but neither is it comforting to be condemned to the moment only. Or, as Sartre puts it, to be “condemned to live.”
The injunction to live in the moment has been wrongly taken to be based on the pleasure principle, a sensual ground. Accordingly, it signals us to live to enjoy pleasure (however sanitized) because of duty or time or pleasure, whether sensual or aesthetic. This is a misinterpretation of the animal’s apparent lack of self-consciousness. So we subvert our own self-consciousness, fooling it with pleasure.
We must renounce the self as center for all moments, even the tragic and sad ones, especially these. For the real tragedy, echoing Unamuno, is the sense of immortality betrayed, unproven, elusive, undermined by the notion that immortaility is the moment. As the Japanese Zen master Takuan put it:
This day will not come again
Each minute is worth a priceless gem.