the naked now

Today is May 1st, 2020. As of today, almost 3,250,000 human beings globally have been confirmed as infected with corona virus, and over 230,000 infected people have died[1]. In many countries, however, daily infection rates are going down, and many governments have started to ease the restrictions which had been imposed to flatten the curve. Still, and rightly so, most official easing announcements come with the massive disclaimer that further steps towards some kind of reinvented normality[2] will only be taken if and when infection rates continue to drop.

In practice, for most of us this still means that much of our plannnig is stalled – and most of us continue to be bound to stay at home (or at least very close to home). A few months ago, if someone had told us we’d get a chance to spend several weeks unburdened by future (and past) demands and unpressured by the pulls and pushs of the world around us, to many of us this would’ve sounded like blissful oblivion[3]: A life fully lived in the now and here! No need to schedule and reschedule, book and rebook, reserve and cancel! No need to be at work, on the road, on the run, and out and about! A dream of enligthenment suddenly come true for all followers of gurus of self-help, mindfulness, presencification, or positivistic psychologisms (apart from the unfortunate fact that mankind collectively reaching enligthenment would make all those gurus lose their jobs).

Take a break!

Alas: Something is rotten in our states of mind. To begin with, very practically, these days, for many of us being in the here and now doesn’t mean ecstatically floating in boundless awareness. Rather, it means printing out worksheets for our schoolchildren, fitting the trip to the supermarket in between video conferences, fulfilling the demands of businesses sailing through stormy seas with captains and crews shaken by the feeling of not being in control of anything at all, cooking meals three times a day, coordinating our kids’ online music classes with our supervisory board meeting times, losing jobs, nerves, friends, patience, or – as the virus is taking its toll through our societies – loved ones[4]. For many of us, it turns out that the here and now is actually a very crowded space, messy and often exhausting, disorganised and often overwhelming, uncoordinated and often plain crazy.

But wait, you might say, take a break: In this day and age, leaders need to demonstrate calm and optimism[5]. And in order to do so, one thing you have to do is to step back, contemplate, and reflect. Of course – how could I forget. It’s only been some twenty years and counting that I practice daily meditation. A piece of cake, a dance on a rainbow, a question of skilfully taming the mind, letting go, and eventually dropping the watcher. Not an issue at all? Uncomfortably settled on my cushion, I notice that the floor needs cleaning. I shake off the dust and focus on the purity of the here and now. Breathe in, breathe out. Wasn’t there an article about how breathing exercises help to relieve the virus’ symptoms? Oh no, it was that video shared by J.K. Rowling way back in April[6].

Here and There?

Whatever: Back to the here and now. Thinking of social media makes me contemplate how our “here” has become a very relational item. When we were still moving, most of us used to post about places we visited – to share our excitement (or disgust) with others, somehow all the time turning our “here” into something that gains weight only by being seen “there”[7]. Which, accidentally, is what social media influencers are struggling with as the pictures of their homey “heres” are starting to feel stale. Without a “there”, every “here” becomes a place as haunted as any hollow. With no other place to go to, “here” is as calm and comforting as a prison cell. Or simply as boring as the ground underneath my body, felt by noone but myself, really nothing much to talk about.

An insight! How exiciting. But wait again – insights are treacherous. Let’s settle back into the now only, then. Let go of the “here” and of its illusory nature. How’s that? What’s happening now? Oh no – I need to take a break and make some pasta. I’ll be right back, please hang in here.

Another Now.

Okay. Where was I? Right in the here and now? Now in the now? But then: What is this now, when there’s no planning to do? And when all recollections of the past seem like fantasies of fairy tale worlds which in reality never existed? Just like our “here” used to live and breathe in synchronicity with its “there”, the “now” we used to know was a present infused with past experiences and with future plans, hopes, and dreams. And a premium edition of “now” would be that exquisite moment when, for a split moment of eternity, I managed to forget about the past and not anticipate any future – a small-time retreat on the shores of the river of time.

Right now, as planning is futile and memories feel like echoes from nowhere, with no tomorrows not to plan, and with no yesterdays not to remember, the now is suddenly empty of what used to be present. Somehow, now’s now is different – a fourth moment suspended beyond what used to be past, present, and future[8].

Another now – the naked now.

[1] See the regularly updated map provided by the Johns Hopkins University’s Corona Virus Resource Center here [retrieved May 1, 2020]. BACK TO TEXT

[2] On normality and its challenges see my previous post here (in German) [retrieved May 1, 2020]. BACK TO TEXT

[3] Back in March, I wrote an article on how to manage such a #globalretreat on a personal level – if you’re still interested, read here [retrieved May 1, 2020].BACK TO TEXT

[4] Quite obviously, this is one relatively privileged Wester woman’s view on the challenges at hand. I’m painfully aware of the fact that many others around the world face challenges which are much harder to deal with – and possibly impossible to overcome.BACK TO TEXT

[5] As recommended in this – actually quite recommendable – article by McKinsey’s Jacqueline Brassey and Michiel Kruyt [retrieved May 1, 2020].BACK TO TEXT

[6] Posted on J.K. Rowlings Twitter account here on April 6, 2020 [retrieved May 1, 2020].BACK TO TEXT

[7] Below is a lovely illustration of the issue by Kermit the Frog [retrieved May 1, 2020].BACK TO TEXT

[8] If you are interested in the vast history of the pattern of 1, 2, 3 / 4, read up in “D’Artagnan und die Urteiltafel” (1991) by my former philosophy professor Reinhard Brandt from Marburg. If you want to know where I stole the concept of the “fourth moment”, find more here [retrieved May 1, 2020].BACK TO TEXT

Respond to the naked now

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