Oyster Boy Review 20  
  Summer 2012
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The Present Moment

Jeffery Beam

  You Are Here: Discovering the Magic of the Present Moment.
Thich Nhat Hanh.
Shambhala Publications, 2009.
144 pages, $19.95 (hardcover).
ISBN: 1590308387

  How Long is Now: A Journey to Enlightenment . . . and Beyond.
Tim Freke.
Hay House.
$15.95 (paperback).
ISBN: 1401924808

If you're looking for guideposts to lead you clearly and succinctly on the way to finding the present moment, I can't think of any two books better suited than these. Hanh and Freke represent startlingly personal, forthright, and informal guides to mindfulness meditation, wholeness, and personal peace—what Hanh calls "truly here" and Freke names "lucid living."

Hanh, one of the foremost Buddhist voices of our time, and Freke, who calls himself a "standup philosopher" and whose seeking has taken him on a scholarly and experiential journey through the world's major spiritual paths, distill their ideas into pure light, easily understood and just as easily practiced. Hanh's style—simple, gentle, and imbued with an embracing silence—permeates the page. Just reading his prose is calming, and his prescription, to truly let go into the moment through breath awareness (without dominating, counting, or controlling your breaths)—"Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know that I am breathing out"—is truly inspired. Other than in his book The Miracle of Mindfulness I have yet to read an explanation so crystalline, so richly inspiring. The book, based on a retreat, could not be more accessible, and has the added attraction of carrying his teaching into chapters on healing emotional pain and cultivating love in one's life (for oneself and for those around you).

Freke's book is no less important and accessible, but the joy of Freke is his warm irony and self-deprecating example. Freke's not ashamed to share his own stumblings on the path, nor is he reluctant to speak in the language of pop culture—not in a silly, coarse way, but rather in a cheeky, approachable one. Freke's goal is to help us all along on the road to recognizing universal Oneness,—what he cheerfully calls "Big Love." His point is, of course, the same as Hanh's, and his method is not that different—reminding us that there is the Observer who is you-in-the-One, and the Observed who is the one-who-thinks-he-or-she-is-separate-from-all-else. And that the Oneness is not a separateness desired as an escape from this world, but that this world is to be experienced as part of the Oneness. Freke is always entertaining and rebellious. "Stand-up" for sure, but he might also be called insurgent, riotous, and an innovator. He's found the language and images to get to those who might not find Hanh's quiet spirit to their liking.

The fact is, however, these guys have found a way to speak in modern terms to their contemporaries about perennial philosophy, the path of the seeker, and concepts of reality. Just these two books could transform the world if every school child was given a copy. Both Hanh's and Freke's intent is to lead us to waking up to life's meaning and joy, a deep understanding of the spiritual, a whole view of reality, and a release from anxiety and conflict.

Here's Tim: "Usually I think of awareness as existing inside my head. But this simply isn't true. If I asked someone to crack open my skull and take a look, they'd never find awareness. Not even if they looked with a microscope. It's just not there. My head is full of brains, but awareness is nowhere to be found . . . I'm the spacious presence of awareness, and Tim is an appearance that exists within me . . . Awareness is an emptiness that contains the world. And this is why the Buddhists say that to know our true Buddha-nature is to experience the void of nirvana within which the appearance of samsara are arising."

And Thich Nhat Hahn: "The way to maintain your presence in the here and now is through mindfulness of the breath. There is no need to manipulate the breath. Breath is a natural thing, like air, like light; we should leave it as it is and not interfere with it. What we are doing is simply lighting up the lamp of awareness to illuminate our breathing . . . If you have used the key of impermanence intelligently to open the door of reality, you do not need that key anymore. The key is not your goal, nor is it an idol to be worshipped . . . The teachings of impermanence and non-self are tools you need to work with, but you should not get caught in them. If you do, impermanence becomes just another concept, and so does non-self . . . When you want to start a fire, you light a match, and then the fire consumes the match. The teachings of impermanence and non-self are like the match . . . We should touch God as an ultimate reality and not a concept. The same thing is true of nirvana. We should touch it as an ultimate reality in the here and now. If nirvana is a concept to you, then you are a prisoner. Burn nirvana, burn impermanence, and burn non-self if they ever become concepts!"

. . .