There is some interest in some circles about ancient calendars and texts and the end of the world happening these days. Now I do not wish to comment on the accuracy of such predictions but simply to see what such an interest can reveal in some people. There is a lot of uncertainty and instability in the world today, stemming from human tragedies, economic problems, the difficulties between different views of culture and values, tension between religions and within religions, and from storms and natural disasters. And there are always uncertainties in our personal lives. Things change. People close to us get ill or move away. This can make us feel very insecure. One way of dealing with not-knowing and with the fundamental unease that is at the basis of our existence is to seek something outside, or someone stronger than us, to steady us on this uncertain ground. So we provide an explanation for things we cannot understand and that explanation, even if it means the end of the world, seems preferable to not knowing why some things happen. It is a radical way of dealing with the fact that, at a fundamental level, there is a groundlessness inherent in our existence. It is also an extreme variant of our common, everyday way of working with the unsatisfactory nature of individual moments – we “lean towards” something in the future, and this distracts us from this moment and how it actually is. What we are trying in our practice is not to focus on any future, “better” or “more secure” moment, but on this one, even if it is not as we would want it. The best way to prepare for the future – or the “end of the world” if you like – is to care for this moment and then the next moment. There are enough distractions in the world today, including these spiritual or mythical ones, pulling us away from noticing where our life is, now.
Meanwhile, here we are, missing the fullness of the present moment, which is where the soul resides. It’s not like you have to go someplace else to get it. So the challenge here is, Can we live this moment fully? When you ask a group of people to spend five minutes watching their own breaths moving in and out of their bodies, just as an experiment, they discover that their minds are like bubbling vats, and it’s not so easy to stay on the breath. The mind has a life of its own. It carries you away. Over a lifetime, you may wind up in the situation where you are never actually where you find yourself. You’re always someplace else, lost, in your head, and therefore in a kind of dysfunctional or nonoptimal state. Why dysfunctional? Because the only time you ever have in which to learn anything or see anything or feel anything, or express any feeling or emotion, or respond to an event, or grow, or heal, is this moment, because this is the only moment any of us ever gets. You’re only here now; you’re only alive in this moment. The past is gone, and I don’t know what’s coming in the future. It’s obvious that if I want my life to be whole, to resonate with feeling and integrity and value and health, there’s only one way I can influence the future: by owning the present.
Jon Kabat Zinn