Dog Time and A Bird in the Hand
In the early 1990s I was driving to a meeting with a friend of mine. Tom was about twenty years my senior and had been a Jesuit in his youth. He left the clergy, married, had two children, and worked for the state. It was early evening and we were heading north into Southeastern Massachusetts when we stopped for coffee. The meeting was a regular event, as both of us were co-founders of the group, a small gathering of people interested in esotericism who actively explored its more operative aspects. The group was in part an extension of a small circle I had formed earlier, The Rhode Island Society for Esoteric Studies (RISES), established Sunday afternoon, October 28, 1990, in the basement of Pyramid Bookstore, Thayer Street, Providence, Rhode Island. RISES was active for several years with a mailing list of over 100 names and an average of five to ten people in attendance for meetings. Eventually part of RISES was absorbed into the newly established Providence Organizational Group, later the Providence Pronaos (established 1992; closed 2009) of the Rosicrucian Order, AMORC. Part of it went on to become the magical group mentioned above. Several of us were members of both groups; while RISES ceased to exist as an independent entity after a brief span of two years, its mission, if you will, was completed: it helped give birth to two new and relatively healthy groups.
Now, as we sat in the car heading off to meet with our magical friends and conspirators, Tom said to me, “I am on dog time.”
“What is dog time?” I replied.
“Dog time is either 'now' or 'not now.' Dog time is very immediate,” he answered.
“OK. So this is some kind of Zen koan thing?”
“Sort of...” he said, and went back to paying attention to the road as he sipped his travel mug.
“Dog Time,” as I understand it, is what some call “being in the present moment” or paying attention to what is happening RIGHT NOW.
By paying attention, we get to know what is really going on—not what we think is happening or would like to have happen, but what is actually occurring around and to us. This is a wonderful place to be, and so few people “do” it—it is, after all, another way of describing that elusive state of mind we mystically refer to as “enlightenment.”
Several days ago my wife was working her required “Weekend Duty” at the gymnasium located on the campus of the private boarding school where she teaches science. In the office there is a small white board with the “Quote of the Week” written on it in erasable ink. This one read: “It is amazing what you can accomplish just by paying attention,” and was attributed to Keanu Reeves. While I do not know, nor care, if Mr. Reeves actually said this, it is a significant point. Paying attention, being in the moment, or Dog Time, is what it is all about.
The Time is Now
Now is all we have. You have heard this before and I am saying it to you again—spend some “now time” with it until it sinks in. Once it does you will stop pissing away the only truly non-renewable natural resource you have—your life. What we do RIGHT NOW decides what we will experience in the near and distant future. This then becomes the pattern of our life and why habits can be both destructive and helpful. We have to carefully choose what it is we are doing so as to be better able to mentally project the possible outcomes of our actions. Will they make us happy? Will they benefit us and our family? Will they provide avenues or direct means that help others, known and unknown to us? Yet, with the whirlwind of contemporary urban living, taking even a few minutes out to consider the consequences of our actions can appear to be a daunting task. However, it is essential that we learn to slow down, deliberate, and act with greater awareness of the possible outcomes. Former British Prime Minister Disraeli is attributed with saying, “Define your terms, gentlemen; it saves a lot of argument.” To this we could also add what I tell my sons is the most common phrase said by teenage boys to parents, teachers, police, judges, and emergency room nurses and doctors: “It seemed like a good idea at the time.” Yes it did, and no it wasn't...
I was recently contacted by a client who wanted to resolve several important issues. Our discussion drifted into the area of a donation she had made to establish a complimentary and alternative health care program and facility at her local hospital. The hospital staff was very enthusiastic and welcomed the idea; her $1 million donation was earmarked for facility construction. But then things got a little sticky. The good news was, she was paying attention. She noticed that the initial plan was not being carried out as agreed upon and was able to remedy the problem. Did it work out exactly as envisioned? No, it didn't. Did it work out well for her and get support for complimentary and alternative health care in her area? Yes, it did. Yet all of it hinged on her paying attention: paying attention to the needs of the community, to her own ability to help, to the program once it was initiated, and to possible solutions, and then again to what level and for how long she wanted to be involved. This completed the circle, this completed the task.
Is it possible to have high levels of attention all of the time? In theory, yes; in practice, it can be difficult. That is why we have a mind and nervous system that develops habits. Relaxation and self-honesty are the key.
Self-honesty is often more difficult than paying attention (or “mindfulness,” as it is often called). Self-honesty requires that we actually take time to know and understand our thoughts, their root causes, and the words and actions they create. Many people are in denial of their mortality as well as the essential uncertainty of life. This creates an attitude of procrastination, or putting things off to a later date—a date that often never arrives, or does not deliver the dream as promised. Procrastination is not delayed gratification for something greater; it is often the expression of reckless self-indulgence—an emotional attachment to the moment, coupled with denial about the consequences of not directing one's attention elsewhere. An example everyone can relate to is that of studying for a test or writing a paper. How often did you or someone you know spend time entertaining themselves when they should have been studying? Then, the “all nighter” is pulled, “cramming” is in full effect, and—as the adrenaline and coffee flow like water through a tap—anxiety increases to a near-paralyzing degree. Some skim by, others get lucky, but most of us find that preparation requires forethought and planning: in other words, a consideration of the consequences of our actions, and their impact on our life—our career, our income, and our general health and happiness. This is healthy self-discipline: delayed gratification for something bigger and better than what the moment in front of us has to offer.
This habit of procrastination expresses itself in many ways, one of them being our actions to help others or do something we have always wanted to do. In a previous article entitled “Karma Yoga 2.0,” we discussed how the good will and altruism of people is often manipulated and abused by spiritual movements and organizations. Part of this is in getting members to commit themselves beyond what is healthy for the individual to the cause. This almost exclusively involves volunteering, fundraising, and outright financial contributions—to which the member often has no real say on how the money will be used. This is unacceptable, but can only be stopped by the individual on an individual basis. Each of us must pay attention to what we are doing, why we are doing it, and what the outcomes could be. If everything matches with our personal as well as organizational desires then all is good. If they do not then we need a means of addressing our concerns. This is easier done while we are alive than when we are dead. Which leads me to our final point:
The Intangible “When...,” or, A Bird in the Hand...
I hear a lot of people tell me, “When I... I will....” You get the picture. “When” never comes, and “will” never happens.
If you want to write a book, a song, learn an instrument, help beautify your neighborhood, or take a leadership role in your church, community organization, or esoteric group, do it now. Now is all you have. While your degree of commitment may be less than ideal, it will still be a commitment, and therefore working towards your ideal day by day. All books are written in pieces—a few minutes or an hour a day at the keyboard. All community involvement is done in small activities; the same is true with leadership roles—they take about an extra one to two hours a week, with some even half that amount of time.
A book can be written in about fifteen to thirty minutes a day, every day, and be done in a year. Now, over the last year I have spoken to six people about writing a book. Only one has completed it. Why? Importance. To the one who completed it, writing a book was important. To the others it was just an idea, a wish, a dream, but not a desire. Find a desire and fulfill it. In doing so, fulfill yourself and expand your potential.
If you are unable to find the time, then make a financial donation. Again, any amount is a good amount. It is your decision as to how much it will be, where it will go, and what it will be used to accomplish. In the last fifteen years I have been promised by no less than six different people significant financial support—in excess of six figures—for the Institute for Hermetic Studies. On not one occasion were any of these promises fulfilled. Several of them were dependent on “improved conditions” of the would-be donor, others on the receiving of financial settlements, and several as part of their estate at the time of their death. Now, the intentions were and are still good, but the actions are worthless. I told each of them, “Thank you. However, it would be better to donate what you can now, and help me use it the way you envision—so that you and others can enjoy it—rather than wait until you are dead.” The same goes with promises to take action “when things improve.” I told my aspiring patrons, “Donate $100 or $1,000 or anything in between to the Institute, or to the Louis Claude de St. Martin Fund. Do it monthly or quarterly rather than in a single check. That will go much farther now and provide more benefit than two or three times that amount in the distant future that may never arrive. Imperfect now is better than a perfect time that never is, was, nor can be.”
Some do it—most do not. Why? Because they dream of being a “big donor” rather than of being, here and now, a real, honest supporter and patron of the ideals they claim to hold so dear. A little goes a long way, and then runs out. Life is the same: it is one moment at a time, and then it runs out. Find something, anything you are genuinely passionate about and do it or support it. This will lead you to other things that will, like this “first act of creation,” spur you to additional ways of expanding your self-expression and self-consciousness, while aiding and assisting others in their journey on the Path of Return.