I invite you to join me in a thought experiment. Imagine a moment from your past, a moment that you'd be content to live over and over. I'll share a moment with you too, and then we'll examine this practice more deeply, discussing how the concept of an "infinite moment" can shift how you move through the world.
My moment begins here, in my daughter's bedroom. We lie next to each other in her bed as she tries to fall asleep. She's having trouble. "Do you want me to take you somewhere?" I ask, repeating our code phrase for whether she wants me to tell her a bedtime story. "Yes, take me somewhere" she responds, a hint of relief in her tired voice. "Tonight I'm taking you somewhere new, to The Silvery Lake of Good Dreams."
Her bedroom is cold, the ceiling fan is off.
Darkness except for the nightlight,
It glows white, not warm.
The sheets are crisp.
I tell her to close her eyes.
Are your eyes closed?
We’re leaving in a self-driving car
So we can look out the windows together
And see the bright leaves falling all around us
Brilliant orange, burnt red, terra cotta clay-colored leaves
Can you see the leaves?
Yes, I see them mama
We’re almost there
Everyone else is there too, but they're already in the lake
They're already in their dreams
We can’t see them and they can’t see us
We are alone, yet we are also surrounded by everyone else who dreams
We are there now
Everything around us looks normal, except for the silvery lake
Do you see the lake?
Yes, it’s beautiful
Do you see the trees and the animals and the forest all around us
With a big shining silver lake in the middle?
Yes, she whispers
When you walk into the lake, you must hold someone’s hand
Here, let’s walk in together
When your feet touch the water, they will feel tingly
Then your ankles will tingle
Then your calves and your waist and your belly
Let’s go all the way up to our necks
The body below the water becomes calm
The water makes our bodies feel sleepy
Once your heads goes under the water
You enter your dream
You’re asleep, you’re breathing,
You’re dreaming magical dreams in the shining silver lake
As I continue, my daughter enters another world in her mind. The grey irises begin to disappear as she slowly closes her eyes. Spidery black lashes remain still. Her breathing slows. I remain awake to the world around me, as mothers do.
This is where the moment ends.
It's an infinitesimal building block in the house of one infinitesimal life. But moments are what make a life. So when Mary Oliver asks at the end of her well-known poem The Summer Day: "what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?", I want to answer her: be meticulous with the moments. Savor them, dive into them, relish them. And as for the bad ones? The horrific ones that I reflexively wish to forever forget? Learn from them. Do my best to accept them. To forgive whoever and whatever is responsible for life's suffering.
How about you? If you thought of your life as a reel of film, what are the moments you'd want to replay again and again? What are the moments that you'd want to rewind and delete forever? What stands out?
The 19th century German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, asks what I believe to be an even more compelling question than Mary Oliver's. Instead of impressing upon us the urgency to do something with this one life, Nietzsche imagines how we might react to the concept of an eternally recurring existence. He asks: "What, if some day or night a demon were to steal after you into your loneliest loneliness and say to you: 'This life as you now live it and have lived it, you will have to live once more and innumerable times more; and there will be nothing new in it, but every pain and every joy and every thought and sigh and everything unutterably small or great in your life will have to return to you, all in the same succession and sequence - even this spider and this moonlight between the trees, and even this moment and I myself."
Would you curse the demon or thank the demon? Your answer, I suspect, will depend upon your estimation of the quantity of your joys and pains and, most importantly, on the quality of your moments. For right now at least, I think of the child's cold bedroom, the magic of imagination, the sleeping daughter, and her soothing, steady breath and I thank the demon.
An infinite life is composed of infinite moments. This one, that one, today, yesterday, tomorrow. Now. Draw circles around the qualities of those moments you would be content to replay over and over. And go create more of them.