Past darkened fields, houses whispery with sleep, I drive to the office: a sliver of moon in the sky, a cup of black coffee on the dash. No monk, I’m in love with monk’s hours, when the only distraction from being alone with myself is me.
On the drive, I listen to a talk by the meditation teacher Jack Kornfield. The heart of spiritual life, he suggests, is to live in the present. Yet the clutter of our lives blinds us to how unique every moment is. To be fully present, he says, is the only way to appreciate life. But we take this moment for granted. We know we’re going to die, he says. But we take this life for granted.
I started getting up early because I wanted time to write, to meditate: no ringing phones to remind me how important everything is, no lover’s arms to help me forget. Four in the morning was like a distant, exotic island the tourists hadn’t discovered yet.
But it takes only one of us to spoil things, to put the island on the map. Many mornings, I’m too busy to meditate. I find every excuse not to write. I’m hungry. I’m horny. Look at all that mail to answer. . . . Just a small hotel.
I pull into the parking lot, eager to get to my desk. But remembering Kornfield’s words, I pause. Can I be here for a moment with the lonely wind, the huge oak, the ugly trash heap on the other side of the fence? For weeks, I’ve grumbled about the trash. It overflows the dumpster, stinks up the neighborhood. I try now to regard it dispassionately, as if it were just a feature of the landscape: scrap wood and insulation and empty pizza boxes, detritus of progress; somebody else’s hotel.
There’s a halo of gauzy light around a distant street lamp, but the parking lot is dark and slightly menacing: thugs in the bushes, demons in the alleys of my mind. Still, I make myself stand here a moment longer. Eternity isn’t out there, I remind myself, somewhere in the future, stretching endlessly in all directions. It’s here, now, as a moment, as what is: a moment in eternity.
The night stares at me, night with its secrets. I stare back. For a shimmering moment, the moment is . . . perfect. The parking lot. The moon, thin-lipped and distant. Even the trash.
This moment, I realize, with all its ludicrous and painful imperfection, is as perfect as any other. It doesn’t need to be improved; I don’t need to be better. The insight makes no sense from the viewpoint of my ego — yet, for a moment, I’m not here at all. It’s as if my personality is the water in a tub, and someone has pulled the plug, and instead of a naked man yelling for a towel there’s just the moon. The wind.
I fumble with my keys, unlock the door. By the time I get to the top of the stairs, the moment is forgotten, my worries waiting for me like hungry pets. Do I scorn politicians for breaking promises? How often have I vowed not to take this life for granted? In the mirror, I promise to honor this precious existence. Read my lips.
At lunch time, I walk outside. Something’s different, but it takes me a while to realize what it is. The trash is gone. That stinking trash I thought would be here forever.