At the coffeehouse, on here and now.

“He’s here but he’s not here. He rejects the here, is unhappy with it, wants to be farther up the trail but when he gets there will be just as unhappy because then it will be “here”. What he’s looking for, what he wants, is all around him, but he doesn’t want that because it is all around him.” Robert M. Pirsig, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance

Due to the winter conditions in Macau, the outdoor seats are unoccupied with much of its guests huddle up inside the cosy environment of the coffeehouse. Because of the rent rates, the coffeehouses here in Macau or Hong Kong across the Pearl River, are small in size. There is a sort of cosiness that comes with it.

When we set foot into the coffeehouse to escape the cold weather and to give our legs some rest, it was luck that we found a table with three comfortable padded red chairs. Alongside our beverages, we sat and talked about a myriad of things that had time crept past unnoticeably.

It was serendipitous, to say the least, that we ended up travelling together across the country. What is encouraging is that, here I am, talking to a stranger who lives half way across the earth from me, and it feels natural to just sit and talk. And this stranger is neither the first, nor the last during this trip to Hong Kong that gave me this lasting impression.

During my eight day journey across various places in Hong Kong, I have met different individuals from different backgrounds and all it took to get to know them was a look at each other, a casual hello followed by a “where are you from”. From there, adventure begins, as was written down in the previous post.

In this little adventure of mine, I had experienced the epitome of living here and now – the Zen philosophy that I came across so often in the books.

In his book of the same title as the quote above, Pirsig wrote that the ancient Greeks saw the future as something that came upon them from behind their backs with the past receding away before their eyes.

Today, the conventional way of looking at timeline happens to be inverse from those ancient times. We see the future ahead of us, slowly inches past behind us. That is why we often counsel our broken hearted friend to ‘move on’, as compared to…whatever it is ancient Greeks would say.

However, the ancient Greeks’ perspective of time does seem to make much more sense than the modern view of time. And this reflected in our economic models, business models and even as far as the trivial decisions that we make every day, where our decisions are heavily based upon past results, because the past is right in front of us; it is all that we see.

To illustrate, consider the common dilemma of dinner. Specifically, the question of what shall we have for dinner and along with the questions that follows in no particular sequence: where, who, time, cuisine, budget, service quality, food quality, ambiance, etc.

In order to answer these sets of questions, we rely on our past experience to estimate the happiness gained in the past and judge if it could be replicated. And if it could, would it be increased or decreased. For instance, going to a new restaurant downtown knowing that I would spend x amount of dollars, I would expect x amount of, to borrow the economic term of happiness, utility.

Given that I had been to the establishment, I could now project the amount of utility that I would have tonight based on a past event. But something weird happens to time and space when we make predictions.

As we sit and ponder upon the places to go for dinner, we are no longer here, hungry and looking for a place to dine. We are at the place in our head, weighing between one restaurant to another, running from there to another “there” to sample the food before even stepping a foot into the restaurant. We are here, but not here.

What I realised is that, while predictions aren’t bad, the attachment of our expectations to our predictions are too often, destructive. We become resentful when what we know for certain, turns out different from our expectation – the restaurant that was supposedly good turns out the other way around, the economical situation which was suppose to be rosy, the politician that was full of promise, our spouse who was thought to be faithful, etc.

From all these predictions and expectations that we make for the hope that we find stability in life, and to find out that we were wrong about those predictions, pain of reality slipping us by would be inevitable. But when we stop holding on to what was supposed to be, we stop living there and start living here.

To paraphrase Leo Tolstoy, if we accept that human life could be ruled by reason, then the possibility of life is destroyed. I think he may be on to something there.

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