Be the needle
It occurred to me a few nights ago when I was thinking about "the present moment", that trying to stay in the present moment is like being the needle on a record player.
(If you're too young to know what a record player or an album is, you can substitute a CD player for the record player, a CD for the album, and a laser sensor for the needle in the following story.)
Let's say you have an old record player, and you put an album on it, turn it on so it starts spinning, and place the needle on the outside track of the album, so you can play the whole album from start to finish. When the needle starts on the outside track, that needle position is the present moment. Then, as the album plays, the tracks that the needle has already passed over represent the past, the position of the needle on the album -- the current sound -- represents the present moment, and the tracks on the inside of the needle, the tracks that haven't played yet, those are the future. (Or, more accurately, those tracks might be the future.)
If you want to practice Zen, you must be just like that needle in your own life. Like the needle, your body is a sensor, a sensory mechanism. You feel things in the current instant, but when the moment passes, those old moments are just like the old tracks on the album; they've come and gone, and you need to let them go.
Just be the needle, sense what there is to be sensed in the present moment, play the current sound if there is one, and don't have any anticipation that there might be a next sound. Who knows, whoever runs the record player might turn off the power at any moment, or they might pick the needle up off the current album, replace that album with a new one, and place the needle on some track of that new album.
Just be the needle, and let life flow through you. Always be in the present moment, let the future flow through you and into your past just like the future tracks of the album flow under the needle and then become the tracks in the past. Stay in the present moment as if it was your last moment. Just be. Just exist. Right here, right now.
While I had this thought about "being the needle" a few nights ago, I'm inspired to write it here tonight after learning that a friend had a seizure today, and could have died. I'm very glad he didn't. But it's an important lesson, we can all go at any moment. Are you prepared for that?
It's the morning. You open the door, you step outside. Suddenly someone comes up to you and punches you in the nose. They turn and walk away without saying a word.
The rest of the day you think, "Why did that person punch me in the nose?" Throughout the day you tell your friends, "You know what, someone punched me in the nose this morning, then turned and walked away without saying a word!"
When you were punched in the nose, you may have tried to defend yourself. After the punch, you felt pain. Your focus was on the pain in your face. That's being in the present moment.
Thinking all day, "Why did that person punch me in the nose?", that's living in the past. A needle on an album can't be in the past while playing the sound of the present moment. Be the needle.