I was lying on the floor of my little hut in Thailand suffering from one of the many tropical fevers to which I seemed to succumb, and I saw, for the first time in my life, that nothing truly mattered. I found myself directly in the moment. Given the fact that as a Buddhist forest monk I was not under any worldly responsibilities or obligations at the time, and was of no particular use to anyone, or beholden to anyone, and that there was nothing important that I was doing so that anyone would miss me; I had nothing to lose except my life.
What was interesting, however, was that my life, which was now unimportant regarding typical worldly duties, became unimportant in a fundamental way as well. It was as if all of my past worries had to do with a projection of what I thought was expected of me by others, a huge egocentric fantasy of how important that I thought I was at one time. But then suddenly, I realized, feverishly laying there dripping with sweat, that nothing and no one is truly important in the broader scheme of things. What is it that truly dies other than our fantasies of what and who we are?
When we are not in the moment, we are caught in either yesterday or tomorrow. These realms are fictitious because the past is merely a memory and the future a mental projection based on that memory. Neither is real. Therefore, when we are not in the moment, we are, in a manner of speaking, unreal.
What does it mean to be afraid? It is never possible to be afraid of the present, because the present only insists that we act, never that we worry. There is no time in the present to worry. Projecting our future based upon our past, however, is to be afraid, because this is an attempt to secure ourselves and can therefore be chockfull of worry. Fear always has to do with the future, and living in the past and future is unreal as we attempt to prove that we are in fact real, that something real is making its way through the mythical past and future. And nothing is.
If you can't see this immediately, this preposterous fairytale projection of images stored in our minds, then you cannot help but feel overwhelmed by circumstances at times. As long as things go according to schedule, according to our fantasies, things are fine, but when Mother Nature gets real and your life is messed up accordingly, regardless of your well thought out plans; that means that you have forgotten that images are merely images, and considered them real. Then there is the reckoning when the real raises its head.
What is it like to live without projections and memories; without the past and the future? Have you ever tried it? It's scary. You will find no footing there, and only a prevailing sense of insecurity. This sense of insecurity is real, however, because what we try to secure, which is ourselves, is unreality.
But we are under the illusion that we are real, and therefore dedicate our entire existence to protecting our bodies and the bodies of our loved ones; a theme that all the problems of life revolve around. Birth, death, marriage, careers, illness, power, money, prestige, they all stem from our basic insecurity regarding ourselves and our attempts to fill our bottomless pits of worry.
The trick is to put away seed corn for next year without worrying whether or not there will be a next year. How to get on with this life we are chained to and make a go of it without life becoming a noose around our necks. Without overreacting and attempting to make life out to be more than it is, or happier than it is, or worse than it is. Life is merely life, to be lived honestly, with eyes wide open and living each moment as if it were the only moment. Because it is.
And I understood all of this once, lying in a little hut in Thailand. And I came to understand as well what the older monks would tell me; that I could find out everything about the important things in life, right here, in the middle of a Thai forest.
E. Raymond Rock of Fort Myers, Florida is cofounder and principal teacher at the Southwest Florida Insight Center, http://www.SouthwestFloridaInsightCenter.com His twenty-eight years of meditation experience has taken him across four continents, including two stopovers in Thailand where he practiced in the remote northeast forests as an ordained Theravada Buddhist monk. His book, A Year to Enlightenment (Career Press/New Page Books) is now available at major bookstores and online retailers. Visit http://www.AYearToEnlightenment.com