Remember the song Alfie, from the 1966 movie (and 2004 remake) of the same name?
The movie is a rather dark story of an emotionally detached philanderer who uses and abuses women. In spite of several ‘wake up calls’….the birth of a son to an ex-girl friend; witnessing an abortion, the result of a one-night stand; a mental break down; the possibility of TB…he continues his narcissist ways, ending up lonely and alone. The film won awards…but it was not a happy story.
The song, when later recorded by Dionne Warwick, (original soundtrack by Cher) was a huge hit. Philosophical about life, love, etc., the usual themes of ‘60s songs, instead of short verses and a repetitive chorus, the lyrics of the song flow poetically. I didn’t care for the movie, but at sixteen there was a lot about life and love I was trying to figure out. I liked the mood of the song.
The opening lines still pop into my head occasionally when I’m tired of this crazy journey. They did so today as I sat watching the heavy rainfall.
“What’s it all about, Alfie?”
A few hours after my mother’s death I learn I have metastasized breast cancer, later it’s discovered I have three types of breast cancer. Two months later skin cancer. There are psychoanalysts and mystic types who could make much of this…losing one’s breast and mom at the same time, the symbolism is rich and multi-cultural…left side of body, the Yin, or feminine side; breast, that which nurtures us, we begin life at our mothers’ breasts, etc., etc.
I’m big on symbolism and feel we are often offered non-verbal, visual clues to help us understanding life, but this one leaves me disinterested. I’m focused on scar tissue, range of motion, lymphedemia prevention, side effects of meds, and this big, numb, red scar on and above my lip where cancer was scraped out. What’s THAT all about?
“Is it just for the moment that we live?”
This second line of the 60s song has more meaning to me now than at sixteen. Like so many, I live with the specter of cancer, not knowing…Is it gone? Is it still there? Is it somewhere else? Will it come back? This can drive my days, my fears, my thoughts, or I can focus on living for and in each moment. Can I? Does anyone?
“Live for the moment,” “be in the moment”, or as the 70s phrase made popular by Ram Dass puts it, “Be here now”. This is something the mystics have been teaching for eons. I think the meaning in this ‘60s song was not so life affirming, and had more to do with Alfie’s pleasure seeking ways, getting what he wanted in the moment, to hell with the impact on others and the future. But like art, we can interpret the lyrics as we see fit. So in answering the question it poses…
Yes! It is just for this moment that we live. This breath we are taking, this scene we are witnessing, this person we are with, this song we are hearing, or the silence we are experiencing, this is all we can experience, we cannot experience the future, or relive the past…. it is beyond us to know what the next moment will bring, or the next, or the next. To try to experience this moment fully, whatever it is offering, is a challenge, yet I believe one with great rewards.
It sounds good, who wants to be worrying about the future or rehashing the past? (During the years of caring for mom I made this practice an art form in the middle of the night.) But short of ancient saints and rishis, and maybe a few modern day mystics, where do we find examples of living in the moment? The answer is simple. In Nature.
It is easy to dismiss the seemingly living in the moment practices found in animals and plants by saying they do not think so how could they be mulling over or anticipating the future or worrying about the past. It is true, they may not be ‘hard wired’ like we are to fret. But much research has shown animals not only think, learn, figure out complex problems, have complex communication systems, they also have good memories. Plants, even water, respond to the emotions and ‘vibes’ of those around them and thrive or die accordingly. There is evidence animals worry, in the moment, but I have not read that other life forms sit around thinking about the future or the past. The worried look or reaction of an animal to a person or situation seems to be what is real, not what is imagined could happen. Animal anxiety may be a response to something remembered, but it is not mulled over. Research shows animals exhibit what is called anti-predation behavior, meaning they are (appropriately) aware of and respond to concerns about predation. When in that mode, that is what they are focused on. If an animal is anxious, that is their experience in that moment. I still argue animals are wonderful examples of living in the moment. Not all moments are joyful for them any more than for us, but when doing whatever is required, that is where their awareness is.
How do I know this? Well I don’t, it’s just my hunch. I read about animals, and sometimes about plants, but I certainly don’t read the latest so I could be wrong, but when I walk in the woods and watch birds, squirrels, chipmunks go about their ways, or get glimpses of deer watching me from afar, and when I see green leaf buds and early blooms of plants, I feel that is where and when I can practice living in the moment the most. I feel everything around me is showing me the way.
Our human lives, full of responsibilities, require us to plan and think about the future, but there is no requirement to worry about it, nor does that planning have to pull us away from experiencing what is in front of us. Try it, go watch something wild, or even your pet, especially when they are being ‘wild’, allow yourself to “be here now” with the sages of Mother Nature! Focus on what they focus on, if you are not one who meditates, learning to focus as other critters focus is a great way to “be in the moment”. When Abby is watching a squirrel, there is nothing else on her mind, just that moment, and that squirrel!
The lyrics in the middle of the song Alfie don’t resonant with me, I never remember them, but it is February, the month to celebrate and consider love, so I leave you with this last lovely line of the song……
“When you walk let your heart lead the way and you’ll find love any day…”
To me this speaks of how we can fill those moments of our lives, not with self-gratification, as Alfie did, to his own detriment, but through loving and caring for and about others. That’s what is all about…..Alfie.
(note: Around here lately, when those lines come to mind, I sing “what’s it all about, Abby?” Seems to fit just as well, perhaps better, and she is a much better role model for understanding life and love!)