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The meditation (introductory and intermediate) classes that I teach for the Centre for Continuing Education at the University of Ottawa are wonderful! For one thing, the students ask such great questions. One question I had from an experienced student last term was: “why practice awareness of the present moment?”.
I can’t remember the answer I gave when the question was asked but the question is still with me. One answer that comes to mind is “what else is there to attend to?”
In “Now is the Knowing” Ajahn Sumedho writes
Yesterday is a memory
Tomorrow is the unknown
Now is the knowing
Of course we can know our memories too. And memories of the past have an impact on our conciousness in the present. So being aware of the here and now doesn’t mean ignoring the past. Nor does the unknown of tomorrow mean that what goes on in the present isn’t thinking or planning – this is a legitimate function of the mind, perhaps even a characteristically human feature – that we can and do anticipate the future an act accordingly in the present.
Yet all of this (remembering, planning, thinking) takes place now – side by side with breathing, feeling hungry, worrying, tasting…. all these things that are happening in the present.
So what there is to attend to – life – is happening now. It’s actually not possible to attend to the past or the future. There is nothing else to attend to.
So perhaps the question is: “why pay attention at all?” Why not just watch spend all your time distracting and watching good movies on Netflix?
An experiential answer was once given to me by a teacher to whom I asked that very question. Her answer was to get me to close my eyes and breathe, whereupon she whacked me on the head with a slipper. It hurt just enough to give me the answer: if you don’t pay attention the result can be painful!
The other answer – the transcendant one – is that awareness is the refuge, the path to a happiness that does not depend on conditions.