The Inherent Value of Now

Consider the joke about a city-slicker who was driving down a rural road on his way to a meeting when he happened by a certain farm. As he drove by the house in the early afternoon, he saw the farmer sitting on the porch smoking a pipe. The city-slicker was amazed and a little indignant that the farmer should be lazing there with so many hours left in the day. He drove up near the porch and asked “The day is so young, Mr. farmer; don’t you have any work that needs to be done?”

The farmer drawled, “Well, I got my planting and hoeing done for the day, so I reckoned I’d just a sit here and have a smoke. You lost?”

“No, I’m not lost!” the city-slicker blustered as he dropped his cell phone. “Surely there must be something you could be doing to increase your cash-flow, or perhaps you could make some investments.”

“Why would I want to increase my cash flow or make investments?” queried the farmer, between puffs.

“Well, then you could put away your earnings in a nice big fat bank account” came the answer.

“Why would I need a big fat bank account?”

A bit exasperated, the city-slicker blurted out “Isn’t it obvious? If you had a big fat bank account, you could retire early, and then you could enjoy yourself and do whatever you wanted!

“I’m doing exactly what I want to be doing right now, and was enjoying it just fine until you came driving up with all these silly questions! You sure you ain’t lost?”

Viewing our work and leisure as Human enterprises only and not as emanations of Nature’s cycles of days, months and seasons, yields very strange and distressing developments. Our work – even if it is hardship and toil – can become the only way we enjoy ourselves, while opportunities for ease and comfort can cause feelings of restlessness and guilt. It is not that we do not desire ease and comfort – our seemingly insatiable urge to acquire toys and time-saving devices belies that notion. When it comes to taking the time necessary to rest, recreate and to enjoy the fruits of our labors, however, we are often reluctant or confused.

Even Darwin, whose theory of evolution is often paired with notions of progress, lamented his inability to enjoy the moment and struggled with restlessness and the loss of delight in simple pleasures, “The loss of [literature and the arts] is a loss of happiness, and may possibly be injurious to the intellect, and more probably to the moral character, by enfeebling the emotional part of our nature.” These words strike close to home. They reflect and presage our inability to slow down enough to enjoy not only poetry, music and art, but also the company of friends and family, an interesting trip, or even time when we “do” nothing. We are often so concerned with preparing for a bigger and better future that we find it ever harder to enjoy the present. We are caught in the city-slicker’s vicious circle and find it difficult to relax on the porch like the farmer.

The modern way of ordering our lives is not the only way, however, and when we begin to examine our underlying assumptions, new visions can emerge. The feeling of being in synchrony with the cycles of Nature is largely gone in modern society, but we all taste it occasionally. Sometimes when we are taking a walk on a beautiful day, sitting engrossed with a good book, or in the company of a friend or mate, we get lost in the moment and lose track of time. When we connect with nature, we can become so engrossed with one’s surroundings that time drops away. Sometimes, getting lost in nature is exactly the solution to finding ourselves in the infinite now.

What role does this kind of realization play in our societal quest for sustainability?