The neuroscientists have reported in. They estimate our brains experience and consider the brief period we think of as ?now? as three seconds long, and of course it is always vanishing into thin air right before us. That is to say, ?now? is a slippery little sucker. It's a moving target. There it goes again. And again. And again.
Daniel Kahneman is a psychology professor at Princeton. He won the 2002 Nobel Prize in Economics and wrote the best-seller, Thinking Fast and Slow. He writes, ?There are about 20,000 of these 3 second moments in a 16 hour waking day. This is what life consists of, a sequence of moments. Each moment is actually very rich in experience. If you stop someone and ask, ?What's happening to you right now?,? a great deal is in fact happening. There's mental content, there's a physical state, there's mood, there might be emotion. Many things are happening.?
The word ?mindfulness? is everywhere these days. It means different things to different people. I know it carries some baggage - maybe it strikes you as a fuzzy new age concept. You might even want to roll your eyes when you hear it. Let me explain in a sentence what it means to me: Mindfulness slows ?now? down. To elaborate, it's taking some deep breaths, bringing your mind to a crawl, and just being open and still for a bit. Mindfulness lengthens the concept of ?now,? reining in its elusive nature.
Our days have become blurry, running into one another without the routines and old habits of coming in and going out, the familiar markers of work and school, labor and sabbath, weekdays and weekends. The iPhone had already taken a wrecking ball to boundaries, but as Yale professor Laurie Santos puts it, this quasi-quarantine we?re under has accelerated the erosion of the boundaries between the imperative of getting stuff done and all the other moments in our lives.
In this context, mindfulness, that idea of stopping and clearing your consciousness every so often, is perhaps more important than ever. It's a way to listen to the Divine speaking, maybe not in words, but to tune into God's constant broadcast into the silence of our minds, if indeed we can endeavor to silence them for a time.
Just a quick mindful moment of meditative quiet is a way of resetting ourselves from our default posture of always leaning forward into the next moment, which we seem to do even when we?re happy. Failing to take joy in our pleasant moments seems really dysfunctional, but, if you are like me, we tend to do it a lot, hardly enjoying and absorbing the good things that come our way, instead continually moving the goalposts out ahead to the next thing.
Mindfulness pushes back against this tendency. It tells us we can?t become happy; we can only be happy. This is all to say if we want to live into all the miraculous ?nows? we?re given, we just have to start doing it. We can't keep telling ourselves a story about what set of circumstances must become true in the future for us to receive the joy God puts on offer to us. We can only experience and realize it now.
Here's an idea: When something good happens, when you sense the presence of a bit of joy, stop and be mindful of how you feel in it. You might even want to click a picture of it - not a real one - we have enough of those, but one just for your mind. Lift up your hands to your eyes and click. Feel the shutter open and close and grant the moment sufficient attention to be captivated by it.
You've given me 20,000 ?nows? today. Help me to mine at least a few to linger in, to slow their fleeting ebb. May I bring my mind to bear on these bountiful and miraculous gifts, thinking not, what else must I do, attend, or worry about, but instead just this: I am here, God, in Your spectacular ?now.? Amen.