Sunday, May 12, 2013

Journal of a Soul 18

The Nub of it is the Now of it

Metaphors intrigue us just as life does.  We forge them in the smithy of our soul in an effort to explain the seemingly incomprehensible, i.e., life in all its vagaries and vicissitudes.  "Nub" or "Knub" ( a less frequent spelling) refers to the core or essence of something.  My alliterative title refers to the nub or essence of life or of existence.  The major lesson from every spiritual tradition under the sun is to live in the NOW!  Hence my pithy and alliterative title: The Nub of it is the Now of it.

Oak sapling growing in our resource room at school
As I said many times in these posts and in other blogs elsewhere, the goal of life can be expressed many ways, viz., self-actualization (Abraham Maslow, Carl Ransom Rogers and the Humanist School of Psychotherapy in general), integration (Anthony Storr, Ronnie Laing, Rollo May, Irvin Yalom), individuation (Jung),  and self-realization (Hinduism).  While we could spend days on end reading the writings of all these scholars and exploring their different emphases on what they consider to be the essence of life, we may, I believe, boil it all down to what my title succinctly states:  THE NUB OF IT IS THE NOW OF IT.

Not for the Faint-Hearted

However, the NOW OF IT is not for the faint-hearted.  It is very much for the courageous.  To live in the now requires courage and, indeed, great courage.  It requires a togther-ness and holism which can only be acquired through what today we call MINDFULNESS. If I were to recommend any single book to read with respect to courage it would be Paul Tillich's wonderfully enlightening little book The Courage To Be, wherein our author sees the courage to be, or what I call the "aude essere," as the only antidote to all the myriad theses of meaninglessness handed out to us today as easily as those advertisement leaflets in the high street.

Let's give some practical examples:

(i) I recall having to sit for hours on end in the casualty department of Beaumont Hospital in January 1993 when my father was left lying on a trolley.  He had just had a major stroke and his mind was completely confused.  There was no use being anywhere except in that situation.  Even as I type these words I feel the "nowness" of that situation etched onto my memory.  From the meditation or mindfulness practice I had being doing, I remember saying to myself:  "Be here in the NOW; go with it; stay here; don't run away!"

(ii)  At the dentist:  I have found the same advice applicable to the dentist's chair which many people fear.  There is such a thing as the aesthetics of pain.  Pain can be horrific and sometimes but very rarely sublime.  Now I speak here in a practical and pragmatic sense of real pain and fear experienced by everyone in the street.  I had a tooth next to a wisdom tooth extracted very recently.  The dentist said:  "I won't lie to you, there is a possibility that the wisdom tooth will come out with the bad one.  I'll have some hard work to do here!"  I remember saying to myself practically the same words as in point (1) above: "Be here in the NOW; go with it; stay with the experience; notice all the movements of the instruments!"  Indeed, I felt absolutely no pain though I could feel all the movements of the dentist's instruments:  the expanded openness of my jaw bones, almost locked in place, the movements of the various instruments and the tearing sound as the tooth broke loose from the jaw bone leaving two shards behind which he then told me he needed to extract.  I felt an instrument lever those two shards from the jaw bone.  Staying with it in the Now of It lessened the crisis.  

Schooll boys doing their house exams
(iii) Taking a rough class.  I am a Resource Teacher these recent years which requires me to listen to, help, counsel and teach autistic adolescents - all boys.  However, I also teach one or two mainstream classes in the school to which our Autism Unit is attached. Generally, I take the more troublesome classes there.  This year, I was asked to take a sixth form class of 26 for the Leaving Certificate in Irish.  There are five pupils in that group who have ADHD, two of whom have SNAs (special needs assistants).  Needless to say, they can be very disruptive.  However, it's the being able to remain in the NOW of the situation, without desiring any immediate, rash or instant solution to the problem that helps me relax into the situation, to go with it.  In learning to go with it, my blood pressure does not hit the roof, I'm less likely to shout - actually, shouting only increases the disruption with the guys I'm teaching.  In fact, by being relaxed, living in the now, learning to with the flow, not seeking instant solutions helps me very much to survive and to be able to deliver some form of a coherent lesson.

(iv) Going to the Gym:  Now, I need to go to the gym more often.  In fact, I was there this morning  for the first time in two weeks and I enjoyed it immensely.  Now, I should go at least three times weekly as I need to shed a half stone.  The last time I shed that amount my blood pressure and blood sugar levels both dramatically decreased.  Unfortunately, I put that weight back on in the past three or four months with the resultant raising of blood pressure and blood sugar levels.  Anyway, my point about going to the gym is that bodily exercise really helps to root us in the NOW: the now of my breathing, my muscular movements etc.  I find going to the gym a marvellous way of being MINDFUL.  Indeed, any physical activity roots us in the NOW.  The body, indeed, is an essential physical representation of the self.  To be clued into the body is to be clued into the self and essentially to live in the now!  This is one of the most powerful reasons I know to counter the old lie of the Cartesian split between Body and Soul/Self.  That's why I like the compound expression BODY-SOUL rather than the opposition Body and Soul.  There is a unity not a duality!

Photo I took in Mayo, May 2011
(v)  I have also mentioned many times here and elsewhere in my writings the fact that I suffer from clinical depression which was diagnosed by one of the best psychiatrists it has been my privilege to come across in my lifetime, one Dr Anthony O'Flaherty, now happily retired.  Looking back on the episodes of depression I then suffered, I can only say that I would not wish them on my worst enemy.  However, I remember, yet again that it was my determination to stay in the NOW OF DESPERATION that was often my salvation.  Let me explain.  When one is lost in a bout of depression, there seems to be absolutely no way out.  One cannot sleep for nights on end.  The more one desires to sleep and escape the nowness of the desperation, the less one is likely to sleep.  After many a sleepless night, I changed my attitude and said to myself:  "I'm not going to try to go to sleep at all, I'm going to hang on for dear life onto the coat tails of those never-ending and spiralling thoughts that chase each other round my brain interminably!"  Ironically, it was only when I abandoned myself to the inevitability of not going to sleep that I, in fact, eventually fell asleep.  Another way of putting this, is to say simply that THE NUB OF IT IS THE NOW OF IT!

I'm sure that there are many examples that you, dear reader, can add to the ones I have described above.  In finishing here, may I wish you a surfeit of living in the NOW!

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