Evening Hour With The X-Man: Session I –
The Art of the Moment
Day 9 – 1:30 AM (Guest Quarters)
Entry Preface: Master Exle (pronounced ex-ul) is one of Zentauria’s standout leaders and most beloved figures. He’s on the Council, has an office at Town Hall, and seems to be in the middle of anything really important going on. And since my being here is an unprecedented, experimental endeavor, Exle has been assigned to be my main advisor/confidante throughout my season. This is fine with me since I love hanging out with him. This guy emanates a sense of spiritual centeredness and wisdom I’ve never experienced to this extent. Yet he’s extremely warm, likable, even funny, so it’s easy to see why he is so well-respected around here.
Exle (aka “X” or “The X-Man,” as I often refer to him) has deep bloodlines to the island’s original Shaolin monks, and at least one person from every generation of his family has had a major leadership role in Zentauria. Exle is ninety-two and in phenomenal physical condition, reportedly never having missed a day of school or work in his life due to illness. With a salt-and-pepper crew-cut and black-framed glasses, he’s always dressed simply, in some kind of martial arts pants, a loose-fitting shirt, and sandals. Always. Even for important meetings, speaking engagements and local television. Pure monk, right? At the same time, he holds the highest degree black belt in a number of Kung Fu styles and has been one of Samson’s key teachers through the years. Plus, among other things, he is a revered painter, fluent in eighteen languages, a prolific author of more than 200 books, and a master musician who plays nine different instruments on a world-class level.
One of the coolest things about X is his actual physical presence. He moves purposefully and deliberately, with no wasted movements, and always with a striking sense of awareness about him. This is a hard thing to explain, but if I had to sum up his whole state of being in one word, it would be present. And when he walks into any room, you can actually feel the vibration lift. Yet there is not one speck of any sort of calculated or forced external pretentiousness. This is something profoundly internal. He is saintly.
Our get-togethers were informal. We met at his office in Town Hall every other Tuesday night at 8:00 PM (also known around here as the “Evening Hour”). His office is a large, rectangular space with the better part of three walls comprised of elegant mahogany bookcases, tightly lined with tons of old titles, like a library. A bubinga wood desk sits regally in the middle of that part of the room. The fourth wall is a meditation shrine with dozens of candles, a number of religious effigies, and several red velvet cushions. There is also a sitting area nearby, where two hot cups of jasmine tea wait for us on a small antique table between a couple of gold and purple 13th century thrones. (No shit… actual thrones from some English castle. A gift, apparently.)
X has a way of making you feel as if you can totally be yourself, without any sense of judgment from him. So I was as brutally authentic and honest as I could possibly be about anything we discussed. He would always look directly into my eyes, carefully considering every word I spoke, usually with that concerned father expression. Occasionally, when I would really go off, I think my take on things amused him. His gaze would lighten into the same look you might affix on an acrobatic monkey in the jungle. Sort of a “Look at that monkey go, swinging from limb to limb… fascinating how they do that, isn’t it?”
That said, I’ve come to learn that Exle had a surprising reverence for those living outside of Zentauria. He recognized that our plight was actually much harder because our support system, cultural directives, lifestyle principles, and available resources were a fraction of the Zentaurians in terms of living the self-actualized life. So I think a part of him was as intrigued by how I managed to do what I did, as I was to learn the same about him. It was always an intense, exhilarating, and transcendent hour.
Regarding our first session… I have figured out pretty fast that the Zentaurians are all about living in the present moment; the Eternal Now, if you will. So I really wanted to kick things off by exploring the finer points of the “moment” with the X-Man today. I’ve been a huge Thich Nhat Hanh fan through the years, and I’ve studied other philosophies that deal with the idea that it’s all about the present… all about finding the ecstasy in each moment. But I was curious to explore Exle’s take on the Art of the Moment and to also get a sense of how this related to our past and future.
* * * * * * * *
Me: I notice that any time I talk about life purpose around here as defined by results, outcomes, or achievement of goals, the conversation always seems to go back to this “present moment” thing.
Exle: That’s because the present is all we really have.
Me: Well… I understand that perspective in theory. However, we all have a quantifiable, documented past, and we are all creating a future that will be a quantifiable, documentable thing, as well, so long as we continue to breathe. Doesn’t this make them real?
Exle: Real to the extent you’ve lived it or will possibly live it, but largely irrelevant where the almighty present is concerned.
Me: Why largely irrelevant?
Exle: Because relevance is usually defined by the meaning we give something. But the meaning of our past and the experience of our future is being continually redefined by our moment-to-moment choices in the present.
Me: How so?
Exle: Consider this:
The past is only a series of events, evaluated through the filter of our present mindset, based on our current relationship with the future. These events were largely influenced by some combination of our thoughts, feelings, and actions prior to their unfolding. But in this eternal moment, the past no longer exists.
The future is only a series of anticipated events, the outcomes of which are being influenced largely by our thoughts, feelings, and actions of the present, which are often influenced by our memories of past events. But in this eternal moment, the future has yet to exist.
The present is this moment, right this very second, as we are conversing. The past has no relevance now, except for the meaning we choose to give it from one present moment to the next. The future has no relevance now, because it is not guaranteed, and it only holds the promise of more present moments like this one.
To the extent that we desire the rich memories of past moments or the electric anticipation of future moments, they can only be created in the present, anyway. So it always gets back to the truly eternal nature of this moment and our deliberate experience of thought, feeling, and action.
Me: This is deep, X. (Pause.) You said something about the past being irrelevant except for the meaning we choose to give it. But doesn’t the event itself provide its meaning to us?
Me: Why not?
Exle: Because the filter of any present moment with which you evaluate the past event is ever-evolving, based on new information, deeper understandings, other developments, different perspectives, and so forth.
Me: Yeah, but aren’t some things in the past absolute?
Exle: Nothing is ever absolute.
Me: What about some of the major historical events of our past, particularly the atrocities?
Exle: Such as?
Me: Well, let’s say, slavery.
Exle: When and where?
Me: Let’s say, the American enslavement of Africans.
Exle: What are you saying is absolute about it?
Me: That it was a disgrace to humanity we ever did all that.
Exle: That’s a judgment you have about it, based on its fundamental violation of the One Truth—that we are all as one, connected through spirit—and to objectify, exploit, or subjugate another being is to act out of harmony with this Truth. But we were talking about assigning meaning to past events.
Me: Fair enough, but the meaning seems pretty clear. I mean, how many different meanings can you derive from something so atrocious?
Exle: Well, how about the fact that American slavery would inadvertently provide the impetus for you to engage in what’s been an important part of your artistic inspiration and expression?
Me: What the hell?
Exle: Trace the roots. Slavery spawned old slave hymnals, which spawned pure blues, which spawned rock and roll and R&B, which eventually spawned all of those first-generation hard rock acts that initially inspired you to play music.
Me: Oh, shit. True.
Exle: And speaking of dark past events, this is to say nothing of the many tortured souls through the centuries who, out of their agony, have brought us some of the most compelling music, art, and literature we’ve ever had the joy to experience, so—
Me: So don’t tell me we have to continue to suffer or perpetuate atrocities to create great art.
Exle: I’m not saying we have to, I’m only pointing out that we have. And this speaks to my original point that our evaluation of the past is ever-evolving.
Me: But are you actually justifying all of the suffering and atrocities of the past, so long as they have somehow benefited us in the present?
Exle: This isn’t about justifying anything. I am simply addressing the futility of regarding any past event in any absolute way. Because to regard any past atrocity as an across-the-board dark negative—be it an individual or collective act—is to disregard all of the light positive that invariably resulted in response to it. And that would be dismissive of one of the fundamental laws of this plane that we all agreed to partake in.
Me: Which is?
Exle: Polarity. We chose to engage this dimension knowing there would be up and down, hot and cold, happy and sad, black and white, rich and poor, privileged and exploited. And as both polarities continue to exist, the brightest light often emerges from the darkest room. In fact, for any magnificent thing in life to exist, we have to embrace the fact that its opposite polarity has to simultaneously exist, as well. Your greatness, your brilliance, your Light, your supreme expression of the God Force—whatever you wish to call it—will often be most profoundly expressed in the midst of mediocrity or even darkness. So once you really understand the concept of polarity, you tend not to waste much time trying to assign much meaning to anything that’s already happened.
Me: Because until the proverbial fat lady sings, we’ll never really know what the bottom-line meaning was, right?
Exle: Actually, the fat lady never sings, as you suggest, because whether you’re talking about the linear experience of time as we know it here on earth, or the boundless, eternal experience of time on the other side, there is never an ending. And even if the fat lady did sing and the universe suddenly evaporated into itself, we could all still derive different meanings from any past event, based on what level of consciousness we were holding in that final moment in time.
Me: Wow. Heavy duty, X. (Pause.) So what’s the meaning behind this conversation?
Me: Oh, I get it. There is no absolute meaning because my perception of this conversation—as I reflect on it from the filter of any future moments—could shift from one moment to the next, right?
Exle: Now you’ve got it.
Me: Well… it certainly is a liberating perspective on the one hand, but on the other, how would we live without having an opinion or some kind of evaluation about everything?
Exle: Very comfortably, thank you.
Me: But doesn’t the joy in life come from our being able to discern certain events as happy ones through our evaluation of them?
Exle: Sure… until you run into an event you discern as unhappy. And again, in this world of polarities, these are not great odds.
Me: So are we to somehow always strive to be joyfully indifferent?
Exle: Joyfully indifferent to outcome, yes. This is the way of non-attachment, of liberation from desire. Because, again, what’s the point of making an evaluation on something when the inherent meaning or cause-and-effect result can shift over time? But “indifferent” is not a word I would use to describe anything you might care to engage in the present, because everything is created out of the present; so we really want to be “present” for the present and experience all of its layers. To acknowledge the joy and beauty in each moment… this is the way of enlightenment.
Me: I think I follow. But does this mean we just sit around and be indifferent about everything since the meaning behind anything we might care to do could shift in the future?
Exle: No. I’m saying all the meaning behind something lies in the present moment.
Me: Okay… but how does all of this work in the real world as we engage polarities on a daily basis?
The Old Chinese Farmer
Exle: There’s a classic parable about an old Chinese farmer and his prized stallion. Perhaps you’re familiar with it?
Me: (Joking.) Possibly, but go ahead and tell me since my initial hearing of it was likely skewed by a filter of perception that was undoubtedly lesser evolved than my present filter is.
Exle: You’re a funny guy.
Me: I try to amuse. (Both of us laughing.)
Exle: It goes like this:
There once was an old Chinese farmer who was barely able to earn a living. His prized possession was a magnificent stallion, who he kept in a corral. He had always dreamed of obtaining another one so he could breed them and start a lucrative business. But with his limited resources, it didn’t appear this was ever going to happen.
One morning, as he was starting the day’s chores, he noticed that the stallion had escaped from the corral during the night and run away. The farmer’s neighbors gathered around and expressed their deepest condolences. “We can’t believe your prized stallion ran off,” they said. “This is terrible!”
And the farmer replied, “Maybe.”
Several mornings later, the farmer was heading out to feed the pigs, and he couldn’t believe what he saw in his corral. Not only had his original stallion returned, but he had brought back another dozen beautiful stallions with him. The neighbors came by to have a look and said, “What a lucky man you are. This is incredible!”
And the farmer replied, “Maybe.”
A week later, the farmer’s only son insisted on helping him tame one of the strongest male stallions, despite his repeated warnings. “Don’t worry, Dad, I can handle it.” Sure enough, the stallion threw the boy to the ground with such force that he broke nearly every bone in his right leg. Again, the neighbors gathered. “So I guess it wasn’t such a great thing that the stallion returned with all of those wild horses. This is horrible, what happened to your son!”
And the farmer replied, “Maybe.”
One month later, as the boy lay in his bed with his leg still in traction, the Chinese military rolled through town to impose a draft. In those days, being drafted meant a thirty- to forty-year obligation to the armed forces, so it wasn’t likely that one’s son would ever be seen again. Many of the neighbors were trying to hide their sons or dress them up as girls… anything to avoid the draft. But the military knew all the tricks, and one by one, many boys from the community were recruited for duty. When they came into the old farmer’s house, however, they saw the condition of the boy’s leg and figured it would take months for it to heal, rendering him useless to them for the draft. So they left the house and kept on looking.
Later, all the neighbors stopped by and said, “Good fortune continues to rain down on you! I guess it turned out for the best that these stallions came around and your son hurt his leg. This is great news!”
And the farmer replied, “Maybe.”
Me: Cool. Okay. To me, this parable represents a full-circle encapsulation of our experience here on earth:
We live as consciously as we can in the present moment and witness the various events that are ultimately born from it.
These various events of our lives have only the meaning we choose to assign to them, at the time that we choose to assign it, because…
Everything is in flux, constantly unfolding around us, based on the ever-changing shifts in energy going on, both individually and collectively, which means…
The meaning we assign to these various events is always subject to revision, based on the filter of our current, in-the-moment perceptions, which brings us back to…
We live as consciously as we can in the present moment.
Exle: Fine. Let this parable mean what it’s supposed to mean to you right now. Because in another moment, it might mean something else.
Me: Of course.
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Post X-Session Reflection:
After our session, I thought for a moment about all the regret I’ve experienced… all the time I’ve squandered dwelling in the past, thinking “if only…” What a waste of time in the present. Because as I dwell on those regrets, it’s only poisoning my experience of the Now, which doesn’t help much for future events.
At the same time, I feel like it’s important to reflect on the past so we can learn, and look forward to the future so we have something compelling to work toward. But I believe the Art of the Moment lies in our ability to address the past and future from the eternal perspective of the present, via two things: mindful reflection and mindful projection.
Mindful reflection is where we approach the reflection of a past event as an event unto itself. In other words, our actual reflecting on it becomes something we’re doing in the present. So, to do it as mindfully as possible means we have to be aware of any thoughts, feelings, and actions that may arise during our reflection time of this past event, and to make sure they remain in alignment with our highest experience of the present. In this way, the reflection becomes a constructive part of the Now, a reinforcement of where we are or where we want to be in the present.
Mindful projection is where we visualize an event from the future and, from the perspective of the present, make sure that any accompanying thoughts, feelings, or actions are in alignment with what we want to create. Likewise, this projection becomes a constructive part of the Now, a reinforcement of all we’re wanting to create in both the present and future.
All of this Art of the Moment stuff really resonates with me but, like everything else around here, requires diligent practice… quite literally from one moment to the next.
Man, I still love rereading these dialogues. They continue to really resonate with me. Hope you guys dig ’em, too…
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All for now –
(top pic by Adam Jones)