Tuesday, March 31, 2009

past and present

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We can only practice according to the past, but we can only live in the present.

For this reason, I imagine, ethicists and the religiously-inclined are constantly swatting their adherents with reminders: Make the past present, do good now, refrain from evil now ... over and over, reminders of the past.

But we cannot live in the past, no matter how hard we try. The reminders we are given either from our own hearts or from the mouths of others are constantly in conflict with this moment, these circumstances.

The conflict arises, I think, from imagining that although our practice is based in the past, we can therefore rely on the past. People instinctively know -- even when they won't or can't admit it -- that the past is irretrievably gone. It is ungraspable. Thus, to rely on it is a fool's errand. There is a past, yes. But to rely on it is to pose an endless uncertainty.

We can only practice according to the past, but we can only live in the present.

But what happens when we practice according to the past -- not rely on it, just practice in accordance with its dictates as they express themselves in our lives? Maybe it's so: The moment we consent to practice ... in that moment, the past is the present and the present is the past. Even in the midst of vast uncertainty, uncertainty dissolves.

I think this is reliable.

But I wouldn't rely on it.
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