Your Last Moment

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A famous Zen story is about a man being chased by a tiger. To avoid being eaten alive, the man leaped off a cliff and grabbed a vine where he hung precariously. As the tiger swiped at him from above, he looked down and saw another tiger far below waiting for him to fall. To make matters worse, a mouse began chewing on the vine. At this moment, the man spotted a luscious wild strawberry growing out of the cliff side. So holding the vine with one hand, he picked the strawberry and ate it. “Delicious.”

What happened to the man? Obviously he died a moment later. The Zen point is, the man had a choice of wasting the last moment of his life or appreciating it. He chose to appreciate.

Shouldn’t you live each moment of your life as if it were the last moment? That’s what you’re doing if you manage to live in the ever-present NOW. Every moment is the last moment. There is no other moment than this.

I know, I know, living in the NOW is a lot easier said than done. But we exist NOW and NOW is all that is. NOW is outside of time. There is no past in which you were incomplete and there will never be a future in which you will become complete. Until you accept that you can only exist NOW, you will believe that fulfillment awaits you in an illusory future if you take the proper actions. This belief destroys the experience of NOW and you continually live in illusion.

This very moment is it. Nothing is hidden. All of your calculating and hoping and planning about how it will be someday ... all your dreams and plans ... THIS IS HOW IT ALL TURNED OUT. This is all there is. You’ve been planning all your life for the future, but you will never be aware of the future in the future ... you will only be aware of it in the NOW. We do not exist in time. We exist in self.

A Master of Life uses the time component, but he never accepts it as a reality that entraps him in actions to achieve fulfillment in an illusory future. He is always, at this moment, fulfilled, perfect, at peace and in balance.

I’m certainly not claiming to have accomplished this level of self-actualization, but I’m working on it. When I catch myself worrying about the future, I tell myself, “Be here now.”

Another Zen story helps to make the point a little clearer. A man staying in a small temple got up at 4:30 AM every day to clean the temple, but the monks all remained in bed until 7 AM. He cursed them as he swept, and despised them as he washed the floor. He hoped that the Master would get up and catch them slacking, but it never happened. The Master was in bed himself. The man judged the monks to be indifferent to their duties. He thought of nothing but their idleness and begrudged both his own labor and the monk’s slumber.

Upon hearing of this, the Master asked, “For whose sake do you clean the temple?” Then he answered the question himself. “For your own sake. When you work, work for yourself, not for other people.”

If you want your life to work better, when you work, just work; don’t worry about whether others are working, or whether the temple will be burned down next week or not.

Dick Sutphen