The “moment” is brokenly understood by moderns who assign it a hedonism of spirit, a false epicureanism. For the ancient Chinese poets, as Taoists or Buddhists, the moment is the instance of the Tao to be understood. It is to treasure the snow in winter and not long for the flowers of spring. It is to treasure the fruit of summer and not rue the coming autumn; it is to treasure the falling leaves of autumn and not reflect on the snows of winter. It is to appreciate the moment before it is gone and not to resent its passing, not to rue what is gone or what is to follow.
Alan Watts wrote about the way self-consciousness interferes with our ability to do this — “as when, in the midst of enjoying myself, I examine myself to see if I am getting the utmost out of the occasion. Not content with tasting the food, I am also trying to taste my tongue. Not content with feeling happy, I want to feel myself feeling happy—so as to be sure not to miss anything.” I recognized the reflection of my own restless monkey-mind in these words when I encountered them, but even now, two decades later, it hardly seems to have aged a day.
It has been a very busy, tiring week. Too often I found myself out of sorts, wanting to be somewhere else doing something else, even as I recognize that the grass will be just as dry and brown on that side of the fence too. In a moment of late-night reflection, I remind myself that if I can’t return to these necessary tasks in good humor tomorrow, when will I ever? What miracle do I imagine will come along and transform the tedium of everyday maintenance into playfulness? It will come from me or not at all. And yet, as Auden wrote:
We would rather be ruined than changed.
We would rather die in our dread
Than climb the cross of the moment
And let our illusions die.