When we’re new to something, we hear the principles we’re being exposed to but usually do not understand or have any realization of them; perhaps, not until much later in life. Experiences sometimes do come early, yet we may walk away not comprehending the depth of what happened although visibly, mentally, and physically shaken forever by the event. It may even remain shrouded in a mental veil of mystery for many years. Numerous long term meditators can most likely recall similar experiences. It happened to me over 36 years ago, and only in the last year since I started writing this blog have I really begun to realize the value of that singular experience.
Some months before this encounter, I’d been invited by David Shultze, an economics professor at the University of Nebraska at Omaha, to join a small meditation group that was following the teachings of Chogyam Trungpa, a noted Tibetan Buddhist teacher in the Karma Kagyu tradition. I went, practiced the simple, meditative techniques David taught, found them to be beneficial, and continued to practice meditation with the group as well as at home. During that period of time, I also read Trungpa’s book called “Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism”; however, while it was eye opening, I must admit that I didn’t understand much of it.
A few months later, David mentioned to me that he was taking a week off from work to do an individual meditation retreat in his home. Since I was intrigued by his plan, he invited me to join him, so I did. The schedule was simple. We started at eight in the morning, sitting 45 minute sessions coupled with 15 minutes of walking meditation, a one hour lunch break at twelve o’clock, and continuing on until five in the afternoon, at which time I went home.
Since I’d never done a retreat like this before, pain and restlessness began in the second hour. For hours on end, this torture continued, and I even contemplated leaving but I kept on nevertheless. On about the third day, something happened that changed my effort and motivation completely.
It was in the morning about 10 minutes after we’d started the second or third session and I was fidgeting and changing my position all over the place when, suddenly, a deep, male, baritone voice boomed inside my head saying, “BE HERE NOW!” I didn’t need to look anywhere to see where this order had come from. Almost immediately, I went into a very deep and tranquil state of meditation, still very much aware and not completely absorbed, staying that way until David sounded the bell about 30 minutes later. At lunch, I told him about my experience but he could offer me no satisfying explanation. I did, at first, suspect it was a glimpse of schizophrenia, but now 36 years later, the voice has never returned nor have any others come along.
Through all this time, I’ve turned those words and the sound of them over and over in my mind, wondering where they’d come from and who the voice was, but nothing has ever come out of this effort. Certainly, this was the one experience that motivated me to continue meditating, to keep on practicing mindfulness.
Of course, while the words, “Be Here Now” were quite straightforward, the force of the instruction’s voice sent me into an altered state of consciousness, one that gave me a taste of the pristine clearness and tranquility to which we can open via meditation. In the moment of the experience, I totally surrendered because I had no time to think of doing otherwise. It just happened.
Now, all these years later, I’m beginning to comprehend a bit more what “Be Here Now” really means. Even though I’d previously read the words and instructions of respected teachers regarding awareness, resting in the moment, surrender, meditating on no object, being mindful of the present, seeing things as they actually are, I’d not really come to any lucidity on what I’d heard.
However, when I began writing for my own clarity and peace of mind last year and then started the blog called “Leaving Fear, Arriving At Peace”, that simple instruction I’d received back in ‘76 began to become clearer to me. In fact, it really dawned on me when I began to prepare a one-day workshop on aging using some of the information in Lewis Richmond’s book, “Aging as a Spiritual Practice: A Contemplative Guide to Growing Older and Wiser”. In it, he gives a short story about Ikkyu, a Buddhist teacher who, when asked by an important visitor to write down a word that truly represented his spiritual values, had written “Attention”. The guest was so astounded by Ikkyu’s response to his question, that he asked him twice more, but each time this wise teacher wrote down “Attention” before his onlooker finally comprehended that he was being taught a very important spiritual lesson.
Reading this account brought me back to my own empirical lesson “Be Here Now” from so many years before. Just as Ikkyu’s visitor learned, I now understand that no matter what our particular faith or practice, we all must pay “Attention” or “Be Here Now” to open to a real state of peace and awareness, to experience the very subtle mind whereby we go from concept into knowing. And, of course, that means surrendering to the moment, resting in true nature, just awareness, or as said in the Christian tradition, divine presence. However, I do think Mother Teresa said it quite well when she answered the reporter’s question as to how she prayed, “I just listen.”
Taking so much time to begin to understand the “Wakeup Call” I experienced so long ago, however, has been of immense value to me. It’s allowed me to gain the practice I needed to comprehend the words I experienced from that big, booming voice and come to grips with what I need to do to die peacefully when it’s my time. Also, it’s allowed me to sample various meditation techniques, read various writings on meditation, hear the words of knowledgeable teachers, and find satisfaction and tranquility in my own meditative practice. It has even caused me to return with a new understanding to the words of my own Christian upbringing, “Know Thyself” and “Father, Into Your Hands, I Commend My Spirit”. Thus, “Be Here Now” has become a valuable, empirical lesson, pondered for decades, which has caused me to age wisely, no matter all the trials and tribulations of this lifetime. In conclusion, as a fellow traveler on the journey of aging, I encourage you to take each empirical lesson on “Attention” and let it simmer just as you would let a very fine wine age into pristine excellence. Its taste, you’ll never regret.