"What if a demon were to creep after you one night, in your loneliest loneliness, and say, 'This life which you live must be lived by you once again and innumerable times more; and every pain and joy and thought and sigh must come again to you, all in the same sequence. The eternal hourglass will again and again be turned and you with it, dust of the dust!' Would you throw yourself down and gnash your teeth and curse that demon? Or would you answer, 'Never have I heard anything more divine'?"
I only get this one life.
That's a profound realization. More than it sounds like, because it sounds like a cliche. But to really absorb and internalize that fact is soul-numbingly powerful.
When you give up on (or never had) the typical religious conception of an afterlife, of immortality, you are forced to confront the great fact of human existence in a way humans have tried to escape since they invented religion. We will not be around forever. Our days are numbered, our seconds ticking.
At first this seems such a frightening prospect. It goes so counter to our normal paradigm, the way we plan our life and put things off and wait for things to happen to us before reacting to them. We have been trained by the deepest threads of our cultural tapestry to be inert, because our culture has ignored this one deep fact of our mortality and tried to sell us on infinity.
But if infinity exists, it is not the eternity of a Heaven or a Hell. Those, those things are time extended to the horizon. That is not infinity. If there is an infinity, it is a timelessness, it is escaping the trap of time altogether, not extending it indefinitely. Someone else has better worded what I'm trying to get at here:
"The butterfly counts not months but moments, and has time enough."
If you truly live in the present, in the moment, you can escape time and reach the infinite in a completely different way than that offered by religious afterlife. You do not need an unending extension of time to live fully, indeed to live infinitely.
If you try to live forever, then you just end up taking the moments for granted because, hell, there is always more time, right? But if instead you try to live in the moment, you find forever is always right there.
Tomorrow -- what an odd concept, for it never actually comes. We sleep, and when we open our eyes the calendar signals a different weekday but here we are still in *today*, in the *present*. The moment is all we ever have and all we ever will have. And when you accept that, I think you stop taking it for granted and start to open yourself to the awesome potential of each and every second.
"The way of awakening and freedom requires that we ask ourselves, with all of the earnestness, honesty, and humility at our command, just this one fundamental question: 'Am I willing to live this moment with as much attention and affection as possible, or am I going to do something else?'"
What it comes down to in the end is not, I hope, merely some abstract philosophical insight about some larger view of life, an attempt to solve some existential crisis. Hell no. It is more concrete and visceral than that. What this stuff boils down to is that one life really is enough, and all we have to do to realize and absorb that fact is to accept that the future (finite or infinite) will never come, but only the present, only the moment will ever confront us. And that leaves us here and now, in this moment, in every moment, with no choice but to LIVE it.
For when this lesson sets it, I think a person can't help but live. It no longer becomes a conscious choice but irrevocably alters the way you perceive and intersect the world. Instead of waiting through time for the world to do something, and merely reacting to it, always reacting...instead you *act*. It is to become a subject rather than an object.
No fear can ever hold a person living in the infinity of the moment. What is fear to *that*?! Why waste a moment, any moment, with worry about what could go wrong? There's no reason to let that worry hold you back from doing what your heart, what your deepest self, is dying living to do!
"We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way can; everything, even the unheard-of, must be possible in it. This is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most inexplicable."
--Rainer Maria Rilke