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28 July 2001 | Draft

Making (the) Present and Thriving in the Moment


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Presenting the Future (Part 2, 2001)

Ways of making (the) present

In contrast to the above, what traces remain of processes associated with making the present? How is the present moment made and celebrated? The following carry aspects of this focus:

Happenings: These are a major social attractor, especially for young people. The way in which the term remains non-specific stresses the unforeseen nature of the experience. Some artists even seek to create such experiences -- although in doing so may edge into a form of commodifcation. Some of the ambiguity of the relationship to the moment is evident in the organization of parties and raves. Claiming that a happening is spntaneous is now part of the commodification of happenings.

Making love: This remains the most accessible approach to creating the present -- for those for whom it is possible. But curiously there is now confusion between the euphemism of "making it" and any form of social achievement in society.

Home-making: This complex process continues, necessarily, to be creatively focused on the present moment -- when it is not a form of slavery to obligations and past choices.

Shamanism: Current interest in shamans is a partial reflection of the ability of shamans to invoke the mystery of the moment. This is evident in other forms of trance, even charismatic speaking in tongues.

Making music: Certain forms of music and song seek to reframe the present (cf Coleman, 1996) -- although others forms may well be essentially a victim of commodification and imitation.

Making magic: The widespread interest in magic may focus very much on invoking the spirit of the moment. The ways in which the features of the present can be selected to enhance this have been well articulated by the Renaissance figure Marsilio Ficino (1433-99) who headed the Florentine Academy (motto: Laetus in Praesens [Joy in the Present])

Public relations spin: This technique of image building for the moment is effectively a form of modern magic -- usually deployed for dubious ends. However it is indeed a means to spin present reality.

Escapism: It might be argued that any form of escapism is a means of creating an acceptable present. In this sense tourism and the leisure industry offer major opportunities -- most of which are increasingly packaged and commodified. They may also be understood as symptoms of fear of present experience, especially when distance from that experience is ensured by photography.

Narcotic drugs: Use of a variety of substances, including alcohol, clearly offers a major opportunity for many to experience the present free from the commodification otherwise imposed upon it. Ironically this can only be achieved by purchase of these substances as commodities.

Ways of thriving in the moment

Beyond descriptions of such approaches to making the present lies the more essential experiential reality of how people thrive in the moment. How are people nourished by the moment? What range of meanings can be given to living in the moment -- as opposed to living in the past or for the future?

There are many poorly acknowledged ways of being in the present:

How do people learn to recognize the value of such experience? Are such experiences an echo of spontaneous experience as a child -- demeaned by education and socialization processes? How inaccessible have such experiences become in a consumer society? Is it the case that they are only rendered inaccessible by skilled neglect? Are they indeed a natural birthright that is traded for dubious products that claim to offer more? The (Updated) Last Whole Earth Catalog (1974) carried on its cover the phrase: "We can't put it together; it is together". Does this partially reflect the nature of experience in the moment as something that is a natural given that can only be defined artificially as absent?

Future survival and quality of life is repeatedly defined in terms such as:

Almost nothing is said about how these are to be experienced moment-by-moment in the living reality of the present. Complex systems are presented by major authorities as credible possibilities for the future. But how does an individual or a group weave appropriate checks and balances and feedback loops to ensure thrival in the moment? What makes a moment "nourishing", whether food can be obtained or -- as is a reality for many -- when it cannot? What kind of "shelter" offers a sense of home and protection, whether a physical dwelling is available or -- as is a reality for many -- when it is not? What kinds of "learning" sustain meaningful personal and community growth, whether schools are available or -- as is the reality for many -- when they are not?

It is curious how over the centuries it is music, song, dance and story-telling -- and humour -- that have sustained people and cultures in the most adverse of material circumstances. This has been as true in the repressed Celtic cultures as in Eastern Europe. It was most strikingly true in the case of slaves imported into the USA. How is it possible for singing to be so nourishing of the spirit and yet to be so neglected by those planning for the future? Is it not curious that so many people around the world -- especially young people -- are now dependent on music to survive the day?

Various traditions offer clues on how to thrive in the moment. People may be encouraged to undertake quests in search of secret understandings guarded appropriately (in a manner increasingly reminiscent of the proprietary attitude of those who have acquired patents on life sustaining drugs). In the western tradition the Holy Grail provides an interesting example. Clues to the quest always point elsewhere -- despite emphasis placed on the essential ordinariness of its mystery that implies that it is immediately accessible if one knew how to look, rather than where.

Thriving in the present may be more an art form than is implied by the many recommendations for unimplementable changes to bring about a better material world sometime in the future. Many of the newer sports (surfboarding, hang-gliding, etc) may effectively be triggering other ways of thinking to enable people to successfully surf the flow of the moment.

Perhaps thriving in the present could be enhanced by insights from aikido / T'ai chi and present ***************

Challenge of making (the) present and thriving in the moment

Before moving on to how the future is to be given birth in the moment, it is therefore important to stress again the challenge for people to survive and thrive in the moment. How is the present to be made or experienced? Note the challenges in this question. To what degree does one acccept that the present is indeed a pre-sent experience and to what degree is one free to reframe that experience -- to re-pre-sent it otherwise? This is not an either/or situation. Like a sculptor one can either treat the pre-sent to a greater degree as a material to be worked with in the moment -- or one can place greater emphasis on giving new form to creative imagination. But in addition to the implications of the "making" metaphor, there is also the degree to which one can oneself "be present". All these touch on one's identity in the moment and how one appreciates oneself in relation to others -- the issue of self-esteem. It is no coincidence that "respect" in the moment has an especially strong meaning in gang cultures in slums.

How are people nourished in the moment -- whether physically well-fed or starving? This paper does not directly address the widespread dramatic issue of physical hunger and malnourishment. But it is curious that the physical aspects of this issue are completely dissociated from any other aspects of nourishment. Boredom is however one of the most soul-destroying features of life in refugee camps, slum areas, prisons, retirement homes, and institutionalized environments in general -- notably for those labelled as having "no future". And, curiously, a significant response to boredom in environments where food is freely available is its over-consumption. There is a marked tendency to fill the vacuum of the moment with further food consumption.

It is therefore worth exploring whether complementary ways of nourishing people in the present moment might not radically change the amount of food that people feel it desirable to consume. Indications of alternatives are obvious in the case of entertainment and recreation -- hence the classic Roman policy of "bread and circuses". When meaningful, recreation significantly reduces the desire for food. It might be argued that there is an emptiness of the stomach that evokes the need for food in the moment, but that there is another kind of emptiness in the moment that, if not filled, seeks food as a substitute. By some, this might be understood as an emptiness of the spirit. What exactly is food for the spirit?

Interesting examples of such nourishment are evident in some instances of::

Like making love, many of the above examples may be understood as "making meaning" which, in terms of this paper, the future may recognize to be a far more complex process than is currently assumed -- as those engaged in it in the present may already do. As an exploration of the present/future interface, a curious characteristic of these examples is their ability to "bind time". Indeed the time-binding associated with nourishing the spirit may be usefully contrasted with the space-binding associated with nourishing the body.

For example, much is made of the need to transport foodstuffs around the world to nourish the hungry -- the absurdities of which have been explored in a classic investigation of the travels of a strawberry yogurt ( Curiously the initiatives towards instantaneous communications (portable phones, internet, etc) carry more of a quality of space-binding than time-binding -- they may indeed facilitate nourishment of the spirit but such access is no guarantee of such nourishment.

Are there clues from the insights of physicists into space-time? Is "nourishing meaning" effectively a nexus of space-time -- a curvature in the geometry of cognitive space? A sense of this may be suggested by the experience of a vast empty plain, with a single feature -- such as Uluru in Central Australia. Just as over-consumption may be a frustrated response to lack of "nourishing meaning", is it possible that unchecked human reproduction is a frustrated response to "making meaning"? Such lines of investigation might contribute to useful reframing of such problems as: hunger, over-population, unemployment, or depression -- if only for those experiencing them.

[To Part 3]

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