“Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment” - NYT Opinion

 
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29 November 2016 05:00
 

I still have to think about this idea of “living in the present moment” (expression is not necessarily the best, because no matter what, I can only live in the present, even when I worry about a future doctor visit, I still live in the present, it’s just that my attention is not focused on the visual sensation of the blue sky, but on a worrisome thought), but in the meanwhile, what do you make of this article “Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment”, by Ruth Whippman, from nytimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/opinion/sunday/actually-lets-not-be-in-the-moment.html ?

 
sojourner
 
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29 November 2016 06:31
 

I agree that ‘be in the moment’ is possibly overly-distilled-into-catchprase-form advice, and doesn’t capture a lot of the tradition it came from. It’s kind of like constantly saying to someone “Pay attention!!”. I mean yes, that is almost always good advice in some sense, but it’s extremely vague at best. Pay attention to what? You can pay a lot of attention while robbing a bank, that doesn’t mean robbing a bank is a good thing to do so long as you’re doing it mindfully.


I think the confusion is that there are more or less two things that people tend to mean by being mindful (although hypothetically it could mean paying attention to anything.) One is to pay attention to your ‘self’, as a reified ‘self’, interacting in the world. If you’re thinking anxious, freaked out thoughts, notice you’re thinking anxious, freaked out thoughts. This is confusing because it’s almost opposite from the advice you’d get in other places, that it’s ideal to be ‘one with the moment’. When people talk about mindfulness in this sense, they don’t mean ‘be one with your anxious thoughts’, which most of us are really good at doing anyways, ha ha! It almost means observing them from ‘another’, sort of disembodied third person point of view where you are in fact keeping track of cause and effect and whatnot.


On the other hand I think that being ‘totally one with the moment’ leans toward being more metaphysical in nature. Because yes, there’s no obvious reason why being ‘fully aware’ that you are washing dishes should be any better, in theory, that doing it in a glazed over state. I don’t think verbal logic necessarily leads to a ‘reason’ as to why ‘being in the moment’ should be such a good thing to do. At best I think you could call it a relaxation technique wherein you’re not worrying quite so much about the future by meditating on the present, but we are in fact human and we do have to think about the future a lot of the time. I think at this level mindfulness points to a quality of attention that can be ‘discovered’ this way. I think, for example, that there is very little if any difference between pure love and pure one-pointed attention - and why wouldn’t walking around in the world in a state of pure loving happiness feel better than walking around stressed out and scattered? If you want to go even deeper into metaphysical ideas, I think there is a theme in mysticism that God or ground of being or consciousness is what lies behind all sensory data, so that if you really pay attention you eventually have an ‘Aha!’ moment about “Wait, what am I paying attention to? What’s really here?” and kinda come into contact with this. But again, those are more metaphysical propositions.


I have been thinking of this with a stressful situation that’s been going on for me this week. My doctor told me to come in for a procedure later in the week but told me, in the meantime, if I have any severe pain to go straight to the ER as that could mean impending death, pretty much. Obviously a very small chance or they wouldn’t have sent me on my way for now, but still, I’ve had a lot rattling around my head this week. And I kind of see all these different types of attention happening. I don’t want to be totally ‘in the moment’ at a granular level, because I can be out of tune with my body anyhow and right now I need to know if I’m in pain, not go “What an interesting series of fleeting sensations that appear and disappear!”. Then again, getting lost in anxiety is not really a good thing either so it is better to attend to that experience more as rising and falling sensations. And that knowing which is which kind of flows from a broader field of attention, a general awareness that I’m a human being with, in broad strokes, a goal to live and learn and grow spiritually while I’m alive, and that some things are conducive to that and some aren’t. But I do think one is talking about, in some sense, different ‘fields’ of attention there and a natural organization to those fields, and simply saying “Be in the moment!” with no further explanation leaves a lot out.

 
 
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29 November 2016 07:06
 
NL. - 29 November 2016 06:31 AM

I agree that ‘be in the moment’ is possibly overly-distilled-into-catchprase-form advice, and doesn’t capture a lot of the tradition it came from. It’s kind of like constantly saying to someone “Pay attention!!”. I mean yes, that is almost always good advice in some sense, but it’s extremely vague at best. Pay attention to what? You can pay a lot of attention while robbing a bank, that doesn’t mean robbing a bank is a good thing to do so long as you’re doing it mindfully.


I think the confusion is that there are more or less two things that people tend to mean by being mindful (although hypothetically it could mean paying attention to anything.) One is to pay attention to your ‘self’, as a reified ‘self’, interacting in the world. If you’re thinking anxious, freaked out thoughts, notice you’re thinking anxious, freaked out thoughts. This is confusing because it’s almost opposite from the advice you’d get in other places, that it’s ideal to be ‘one with the moment’. When people talk about mindfulness in this sense, they don’t mean ‘be one with your anxious thoughts’, which most of us are really good at doing anyways, ha ha! It almost means observing them from ‘another’, sort of disembodied third person point of view where you are in fact keeping track of cause and effect and whatnot.


On the other hand I think that being ‘totally one with the moment’ leans toward being more metaphysical in nature. Because yes, there’s no obvious reason why being ‘fully aware’ that you are washing dishes should be any better, in theory, that doing it in a glazed over state. I don’t think verbal logic necessarily leads to a ‘reason’ as to why ‘being in the moment’ should be such a good thing to do. At best I think you could call it a relaxation technique wherein you’re not worrying quite so much about the future by meditating on the present, but we are in fact human and we do have to think about the future a lot of the time. I think at this level mindfulness points to a quality of attention that can be ‘discovered’ this way. I think, for example, that there is very little if any difference between pure love and pure one-pointed attention - and why wouldn’t walking around in the world in a state of pure loving happiness feel better than walking around stressed out and scattered? If you want to go even deeper into metaphysical ideas, I think there is a theme in mysticism that God or ground of being or consciousness is what lies behind all sensory data, so that if you really pay attention you eventually have an ‘Aha!’ moment about “Wait, what am I paying attention to? What’s really here?” and kinda come into contact with this. But again, those are more metaphysical propositions.


I have been thinking of this with a stressful situation that’s been going on for me this week. My doctor told me to come in for a procedure later in the week but told me, in the meantime, if I have any severe pain to go straight to the ER as that could mean impending death, pretty much. Obviously a very small chance or they wouldn’t have sent me on my way for now, but still, I’ve had a lot rattling around my head this week. And I kind of see all these different types of attention happening. I don’t want to be totally ‘in the moment’ at a granular level, because I can be out of tune with my body anyhow and right now I need to know if I’m in pain, not go “What an interesting series of fleeting sensations that appear and disappear!”. Then again, getting lost in anxiety is not really a good thing either so it is better to attend to that experience more as rising and falling sensations. And that knowing which is which kind of flows from a broader field of attention, a general awareness that I’m a human being with, in broad strokes, a goal to live and learn and grow spiritually while I’m alive, and that some things are conducive to that and some aren’t. But I do think one is talking about, in some sense, different ‘fields’ of attention there and a natural organization to those fields, and simply saying “Be in the moment!” with no further explanation leaves a lot out.

I always enjoy your thoughtful responses…and I hope your procedure goes smoothly and brings peace of mind.

 
Antisocialdarwinist
 
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29 November 2016 08:03
 
Connectome - 29 November 2016 05:00 AM

I still have to think about this idea of “living in the present moment” (expression is not necessarily the best, because no matter what, I can only live in the present, even when I worry about a future doctor visit, I still live in the present, it’s just that my attention is not focused on the visual sensation of the blue sky, but on a worrisome thought), but in the meanwhile, what do you make of this article “Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment”, by Ruth Whippman, from nytimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/opinion/sunday/actually-lets-not-be-in-the-moment.html ?

The gist of the article is that washing dishes, for example, is a drag, so you’d be happier thinking about something more pleasant while you’re washing them. The problem with that line of thinking is that it assumes washing the dishes is necessarily a drag. If dishwashing feels like a drag, you’re doing it wrong. The “draggyness” of dishwashing—the unpleasantness of drudgework in general—is a subjective illusion. If you were really in the present moment, you would not fall prey to the illusion of unpleasantness. You would be entirely absorbed in the act of washing dishes rather than imagining what a drag it is to be washing them.

 
 
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29 November 2016 12:11
 
hannahtoo - 29 November 2016 07:06 AM

I always enjoy your thoughtful responses…and I hope your procedure goes smoothly and brings peace of mind.


Thanks Hannah. I am vaguely alarmed to find that my first response to even a vague threat of death is to get focused on how I can set myself up for success in my possible next life, ha ha! “What should I be meditating on that will beam me to some happy place with decent schools?”. Then I am like, oh my god I really am like some crazy parody of the Target Christmas woman, ha!


ASD - I agree that this is certainly one way you could interpret “in the moment”, but I have to say, if my social media feed is any indication, this is not how all people interpret it. And I do get that, without any further instruction, it starts to seem a bit “What am I doing this for?” after awhile. If you’re bored and hate doing paperwork, for example, you can be sitting there really, really getting into the story of how you are bored and hate doing paperwork, and technically you are ‘in the moment’ in a sense. That’s why I do think at least a bit of additional instruction is necessary for that catchphrase to make sense. You can cling to thoughts ‘in the moment’ for example, or get lost in storylines ‘in the moment’ - I think if you take even an introductory class in mindfulness, though, they will usually address this type of thing and be a bit more specific about maybe how one wants to be in the moment.

 
 
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29 November 2016 15:43
 
Antisocialdarwinist - 29 November 2016 08:03 AM
Connectome - 29 November 2016 05:00 AM

I still have to think about this idea of “living in the present moment” (expression is not necessarily the best, because no matter what, I can only live in the present, even when I worry about a future doctor visit, I still live in the present, it’s just that my attention is not focused on the visual sensation of the blue sky, but on a worrisome thought), but in the meanwhile, what do you make of this article “Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment”, by Ruth Whippman, from nytimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/opinion/sunday/actually-lets-not-be-in-the-moment.html ?

The gist of the article is that washing dishes, for example, is a drag, so you’d be happier thinking about something more pleasant while you’re washing them. The problem with that line of thinking is that it assumes washing the dishes is necessarily a drag. If dishwashing feels like a drag, you’re doing it wrong. The “draggyness” of dishwashing—the unpleasantness of drudgework in general—is a subjective illusion. If you were really in the present moment, you would not fall prey to the illusion of unpleasantness. You would be entirely absorbed in the act of washing dishes rather than imagining what a drag it is to be washing them.


That certainly reflects my impression from just scanning the topic.

It suggests the growing requirement so many seem to have that they be passively entertained through external sources—that they need to be fed their entertainment and have little means of taking a proactive posture about such matters.

 
 
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29 November 2016 17:48
 
SkepticX - 29 November 2016 03:43 PM
Antisocialdarwinist - 29 November 2016 08:03 AM
Connectome - 29 November 2016 05:00 AM

I still have to think about this idea of “living in the present moment” (expression is not necessarily the best, because no matter what, I can only live in the present, even when I worry about a future doctor visit, I still live in the present, it’s just that my attention is not focused on the visual sensation of the blue sky, but on a worrisome thought), but in the meanwhile, what do you make of this article “Actually, Let’s Not Be in the Moment”, by Ruth Whippman, from nytimes.com: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/opinion/sunday/actually-lets-not-be-in-the-moment.html ?

The gist of the article is that washing dishes, for example, is a drag, so you’d be happier thinking about something more pleasant while you’re washing them. The problem with that line of thinking is that it assumes washing the dishes is necessarily a drag. If dishwashing feels like a drag, you’re doing it wrong. The “draggyness” of dishwashing—the unpleasantness of drudgework in general—is a subjective illusion. If you were really in the present moment, you would not fall prey to the illusion of unpleasantness. You would be entirely absorbed in the act of washing dishes rather than imagining what a drag it is to be washing them.


That certainly reflects my impression from just scanning the topic.

It suggests the growing requirement so many seem to have that they be passively entertained through external sources—that they need to be fed their entertainment and have little means of taking a proactive posture about such matters.

Yep!
Here we are now, entertain us.

 
 
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29 November 2016 18:04
 

Really? Sounded to me like the author was actually accusing mindfulness of being a way to avoid more serious topics - not thinking about politics because you’re thinking about soap suds. I don’t actually agree with that criticism, but I don’t think she was saying “Grrr, mindfulness is booooring!”.

 
 
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29 November 2016 23:39
 

In Trioonity, the only way to truly be in the moment and at one with the world is to decompose.

All wakeful states have a duration and hence a latency or delay. The real caution is to not spend your life at 400 ms from now as in excessive self-narrating. 25 to 50 ms from Absolute Now is the real sweet spot.

 
 
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30 November 2016 10:13
 

NL,

Hope your procedure goes well!

 
 
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30 November 2016 11:20
 

Thanks! I actually just had a flatline alert, and got to see a bunch of people rush into my room, but as I wasn’t hooked up to a machine at the time I think I’m ok and the machine needs treatment, ha ha!

 
 
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30 November 2016 16:06
 
NL. - 30 November 2016 11:20 AM

Thanks! I actually just had a flatline alert, and got to see a bunch of people rush into my room, but as I wasn’t hooked up to a machine at the time I think I’m ok and the machine needs treatment, ha ha!

Eek!  Still no one wants to hear that sound.

 
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03 February 2017 17:11
 

Just recognize the conceptualizing mind.

 
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24 February 2017 19:02
 

A random musing that occurred to me after my last retreat. At first, I loved the concept “be in the moment”. Recently, it really started to rankle, and I couldn’t figure out why. I realize now that it’s because Buddhism is not really about “being in the moment”, to my mind, because as others have noted, its impossible not to be in the moment. Whatever is happening is happening right now, clearly. So unless Buddhism is a shoulder shrug “Hey, it is what it is” philosophy, it’s actually about how to be in the moment.


Unfortunately, I see “Be in the moment!”, in a pop culture sense, actually being used to promote something like a sensory addiction, where being with a constant stream of sensory information is supposed to be awesome in and of itself. And I have really not found that to be true. If you’re a sensate type to begin with you’ll probably like it as well as you like any sensory information, but in general I think this is not what Buddhism points to - I’m tempted to say it’s about finding a deeper truth ‘behind’ the moment as you see it more and more subtly and the mind quiets more and more, but that’s probably too dualistic. But I think, at least initially, it’s more about “investigating the moment” than just “being in it”. Probably you want to phase out that subject-object framework eventually, but I think in the early stages of quieting the mind that captures it a bit more accurately.

 
 
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13 March 2017 02:34
 

Thanks for the interesting article…  I was particularly struck by the article’s concluding reference to studies suggesting that “mindfulness meditation” seems to perform “no better, and in many cases, worse” than any number of well directed alternatives including basic exercise.

Sam’s “Waking Up” book delves a lot into the topic of consciousness.  In his 2012 talk in Australia on “death,” he speaks of life as “an emergency,” … for, he says, “we all know” … “the day is coming,” and yet seem to allow SO MUCH B.S. into our minds and our lives that would only make sense to tolerate if we are assuming we are going to live forever.

In a rather different book, I recall a line about washing dishes that claimed that doing so could be meditative IF “the goal” was to wash dishes, but not if the goal was “to get the dishes washed.”

Sam talks about how our minds are “always ‘solving a problem,’” and that it is possible “to drop the problem…if only for a moment.”  there are ways to really live in the present moment… the reality of your life is always now… there is probably nothing more important than that to remember if you want to be happy ... we are continually hoping to become happy in the future, and the future never arrives… we are always solving a problem, and it is possible to simply drop your problem, if only for a moment and enjoy whatever is true of your life in the present… it requires a change in the attentiveness you pay to your experience in the present moment.”

Elsewhere, maybe in this forum, I have wondered about “the goal” of consciousness.  I see a lizard basking in the sun or a bird literally soaring in the sky and I wonder… do they “know” how cool their lives are?  If art happens in the cosmos and there is no consciousness to see it, was it beautiful?  Is that really “my goal,” to “be be be the soccer ball” (to paraphrase chevy chase in caddy shack) or “be” the hands washing the dishes? 
My consciousness, such as it is, seems to me to be the REAL gift in my little life.  WHY would I want to devote a ton of energy to trying to unplug it?  I can hear Buddha laughing and dismissing my question as coming from a naïve grasshopper. 
I recently saw John Oliver’s interview with the Dalai Lama.  Apparently the kid who was chosen to be his successor has been kidnapped by the chinese?  The Dalia Lama seemed to matter of factly state that he might be the last dalai Lama. 
On the one hand, is making a fuss going to change anything?  On the other, doesn’t ANYTHING actually “MATTER”?  I think Sam, myself, and many others would prescribe “meaning” to consciousness in that if the universe were “dark (devoid of consciousness)” then what difference would it make in what manner the rocks in space collide.  AND, I think it was a podcast with David Deutch, where David supposes that consciousness is the only thing that can trump physics.  He gives an example of a champaign bottle and the “physics” of what make the cork pop…  but recognizes that the most significant factor is the intentions of the conscious beings in the proximity to the bottle… and he argues (“successfully” ) to Sam, that eventually when tiny atomic “knitting machines” are created… which can knit not only more of themselves but ANYTHING else, then THE thing that will matter most in that corner of the universe will be the information available to the atomic knitting machines.
In a radio interview (available on youtube) from 2014, where Sam is flogging his book, he talks about how people are often “captive to this automaticity of discursive thought every moment…”  He also talks about drugs as a sort of short cut to recognizing some of the things that are possible in achieving escape velocity of from the drudgery of one’s own mind…but suggests that repeatedly ingesting drugs is not the best forward strategy, but that mindfulness is.
It seems reasonable to assume that most of our cousins (other apes) are also “conscious,” and that presumably to a lesser degree so are other mammals and many other life forms as well.  Maybe I am falling into a subjective bias, but I am inclined to believe that consciousness IS what makes for “meaning,” such as it may be. 
A friend of mine who has made a career of computer consulting said “when you think about it, time is all you have.”  John Bradshaw (a would-be priest; author; shrink) said “what you love is what you give your time to.” Which seems a nice thought but is probably inaccurate.  While we can do things (and give of) our bodies, the “meaning” and “intent” for our lives does seem to take place in our consciousness.  For all of its singular significance, it is a little surprising humanity doesn’t devote more attention to the contents of our consciousness than we do.

EXCERPTS FROM Sam Harris discusses mindfulness, drugs, religion, etc. (2014 RadioNZ Interview)
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Szjg8I-5PYs  :
(especially from around minutes 33 on… it’s all good stuff but some of the stuff from 26:00 on are pretty great)-
It is only after some considerable training that you can then be aware of thoughts themselves… as mere objects of consciousness
The goal is to be simply aware of the exact character of experience in each moment..
Without grasping at what’s pleasant and
pushing away what’s unpleasant
And when you can do that… an immense feeling of peace is just there to be enjoyed intrinsic to the nature of consciousness .. it is not contingent upon good things happening…
It is just contingent upon you no longer grasping at the pleasant and pushing away the unpleasant and worrying about the future and ruminating about the past and being captive to this automaticity of discursive thought every moment…


EXCERPTS FROM : https://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/26/opinion/sunday/actually-lets-not-be-in-the-moment.html?_r=0    :
a multibillion-dollar spiritual industrial complex…
“Living in the Moment” has monetized its folksy charm into a multibillion-dollar spiritual industrial complex…. does the moment really deserve its many accolades? It is a philosophy likely to be more rewarding for those whose lives contain more privileged moments than grinding, humiliating or exhausting ones. …
What differentiates humans from animals is exactly this ability to step mentally outside of whatever is happening to us right now, and to assign it context and significance….
Our happiness does not come so much from our experiences themselves, but from the stories we tell ourselves that make them matter….
Although some of the studies did show that mindfulness meditation or other similar exercises might bring some small benefits to people in comparison with doing nothing, when they are compared with pretty much any general relaxation technique at all, including exercise, muscle relaxation, “listening to spiritual audiotapes” or indeed any control condition that gives equal time and attention to the person, they perform no better, and in many cases, worse.
So perhaps, rather than expending our energy struggling to stay in the Moment, we should simply be grateful that our brains allow us to be elsewhere.
Ruth Whippman is the author of “America the Anxious: How Our Pursuit of Happiness is Creating a Nation of Nervous Wrecks.”

5 minute “meditative talk” by Sam Harris on “It is always now” :
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=T3JzcCviNDk

 
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14 March 2017 16:57
 
vastless - 13 March 2017 02:34 AM

Thanks for the interesting article…  I was particularly struck by the article’s concluding reference to studies suggesting that “mindfulness meditation” seems to perform “no better, and in many cases, worse” than any number of well directed alternatives including basic exercise.

 

I found that bit rather suspect. Say what you want about mindfulness, it is nothing if not research oriented. There are mountains of studies on the various measurable effects, and the author not only waves that away as if this is the final word on the matter; but also references a study that I couldn’t locate using the description she provided. The only study I could find that somewhat matches her criteria concludes that:

 

CONCLUSIONS: Meditation programs, in particular mindfulness programs, reduce multiple negative dimensions of psychological stress. Stronger study designs are needed to determine the effects of meditation programs in improving the positive dimensions of mental health as well as stress-related behavioral outcomes.


Which makes me wonder about whatever study she’s referencing.