My enthusiasm for astral travel dissipated after we left the desert and began a long road trip to the Badlands. But my experience at the commune set the tone for the remainder of our journey: I adopted the practice of wearing what I called “Now Eyes”—I rambled through my days in a state of open-eyed meditation. Moreover, I continued to play that “game” of shutting off my preconceptions and critical judgment (or, as some people would call it, my mind, my ego, my self) and instead allowed myself to get swept up in the unrational, in hippie-dippy theories, in the NOW.
Towards the end of our trip, Nigh and I camped in the Badlands. It was sticky-hot. We stripped off our clothes and rambled around Deer Haven like deer. We made plans to marry and vowed to live out our lives as recommended in Osho’s The Book of the Secrets: Move through life as a poet moves through flowers.
But after five months of living and traveling like this I was worn out. I felt befuddled (I still do). And when I returned to the city I found it impossible to continue living in the Eternal Now. It is easier to have Now Eyes when you’re living with aspiring astral projectionists in the wild, or when you’re traveling aimlessly, unattached to any specific place or person, than it is when you’re hustling in the city, when you have responsibilities and commitments. That’s not to say that I don’t believe that we should devote our lives to spreading good vibes, but it is difficult to do this while living in society. There’s a reason that spiritual communes tend to be in remote locations. It’s hard to let your spirit overflow with love while you’re trying to be a responsible citizen.
A recent Gchat I had with Nigh, when I was here in Chicago writing this article on a deadline and he was living on a (different) hippie commune:
nigh: dandelions violets sorrel rosehips cherry blossoms clover henbit lemon balm that’s the stuff that amber just said aloud. the stuff she’s putting into the mead she’s making. hows the arrrtickle?
me: that sounds nice the article is hard. but ok…the theme is attention,
so my pitch was an essay on living in the now, but basically when i describe it, it sounds like “how to walk around super stoned and why that’s fun but you can’t do it all the time”
nigh: stoned isn’t being here now talk about attention to breath
attention to where it comes in
attention to where it touches before rolling out
some say that attention between the eyebrows activates the pineal gland
me: oh ok yer right
Now Eyes are made for walks in the woods, when you can’t help feeling like you’re part of nature’s stillness, her sacredness. If you walk around in the city like you’re walking through a museum, or through flowers, you’ll get run over or at least yelled at to keep it moving already. Now Eyes are good for writing, for exploring, and for whizzing through blank stretches of desert in a rickety white Hyundai, stopping only to collect rocks that have the entire universe inscribed in their faces.
(I took off my Now Eyes, but Nigh kept wearing his. He got an image from Be Here Now tattooed on his shoulder. When we reunited, it drove me nuts that it took him four hours to eat breakfast. I suppose that as he chewed his hot cereal he was pondering that moment when we die at the end of each breath. 1 We were vibrating at different levels, for sure. I couldn’t stand it. I broke our vow, said no to 24-hour poetry. Nigh, I am sorry.)
In the Badlands, Nigh and I had a conversation about my relationship with my parents. I was worried and sad because they had stopped responding to my manic emails about how I was going to live in and for love and good vibrations forever and ever and ever, and how Nigh and I were going to trade in his car for a rainbow-colored school bus. Nigh said, “It’s all right—the guru says that you know the technique is working when you begin to feel isolated and strange around old neighbors and family.”
(Mom & Dad: I’m sorry. I probably caused y’all undue amounts of stress with my BE HERE NOW emails. It is ironic that I was spouting words about how I loved everything so much in my emails, but that these emails were surely, understandably, causing you two pain. If I’d taken a moment to consider the good ol’ past and future [two other quite interesting, quite real, experiences of time], then I might have stopped rambling about my ecstatic pleasure party sooner.)
My hippie friend Fin visited me in Chicago over Easter. He had just come from an organic vegetable farm where he’d been unexpectedly paid $600 in cash for his work.
“Six hundred dollars!” Fin said. “That’s more money than I’ve ever had! What am I going to do with $600?” (Needless to say, he doesn’t have a bank or a credit card.) I suggested that he save it for a rainy day, one of those days when he is stuck playing the flute on the side of a highway in bad weather.
“Save it?!” He laughed in my face. “For what? For the future? There is no future! It’s only NOW! Look!” He snapped his fingers. “It’s NOW! And….” Snap. “NOW!” Snap. “NOW!” Snap. “NOW!”
By the end of that day time Fin had given away a fat stack of bills: to a druggy-looking couple with a sob story, to a girl playing Taylor Swift medleys on acoustic guitar on the concrete lot outside McDonald’s, and anyone else whose needs seemed more urgent than his.
“What do I want with money?” he said. “That’s just going to weigh me down. Why would I hold on to money when other people need money now?”
Fin is right: It is more fun, more free, to live in Now, which means that when you’ve got it (money, pizza, whatever), pass it around and don’t hoard it for an elusive later. Later is later, man, seems to be a mantra for nomadic mystic kids like Fin. These principles are hard to maintain once you’ve settled down and have to pay rent. Suddenly the future is real.
I hope I have not totally turned you off, Rookie reader, to the idea of Being Here Now. I still believe it’s a good thing to practice paying attention to the present moment, and that meditation can be really helpful. And I believe that there are blessed beings out there like Nigh who find and spread real joy by living their entire lives in the Eternal Now. But I am not one of those beings. (These days I limit my time spent lying on the bathroom floor imagining infinite space to 10-minute spurts.)
Here’s some good advice I’ve gotten from two traveling lady-heroes of mine. The first piece of advice comes from my friend’s mother who was recently ordained as a Buddhist priest. Nigh and I visited her in Santa Cruz, and I wrote down what she told us when we asked her for Wisdom:
There is the absolute and the relative. The absolute: the unchanging. That we are reborn at every moment. You’ve heard that before: There is only the present, only this moment. But there is also the relative: We live our own lives, we make choices, have jobs and responsibilities. The goal is to live your life but not to forget that we are reborn at each moment.
The second one comes from Squeeze, the rebel poet who introduced me and Nigh:
SPEND THE NEXT FIVE YEARS OF YOUR LIFE AS IF THEY DON’T MATTER. AT ALL. ♦
- From The Book of the Secrets: “The outgoing breath is synonymous with death; the incoming breath is synonymous with life. So with each breath you are dying and being reborn.” ↩