A baffling practice on public television here in the USA is the way the program schedule gets swapped out whenever fundraising time rolls around. While public radio stations typically interrupt abbreviated versions of their regular shows to ask for money, public TV switches to a different lineup entirely. Where you would normally watch a cooking show or a history series or investigative journalism, you instead get a reunion of doo wop singers or a Billy Joel retrospective or a balloon ride over England.

These balloon rides are then interrupted by reminders that only public television can bring you high-quality, uninterrupted balloon rides, and that you should pledge money if balloon rides are important to you. But even if you do, the balloon rides will disappear once the fundraising week is over and regular programming resumes. The whole exercise seems misguided at best.

One staple of public TV fundraisers is the guru. This is typically an inexpensively produced lecture from some expert who rises to national prominence by virtue of being seen on public television fundraisers. The first guru I remember was love guru Leo Buscaglia. Then came spiritual healing guru Deepak Chopra, personal finance guru Suze Orman, and a smorgasbord of lesser gurus.

A couple of Saturdays ago, during a fundraiser on Milwaukee’s Channel 10, I was introduced to Eckhart Tolle, a guru I had never heard of before. Short clips of one of his lectures were shown during an interview with Betty Sue Flowers.

The curious, bevested Tolle was speaking about living in “the now,” and how our ego’s insistence on being distracted by concerns of other times and places causes us no end of frustration and suffering. The program itself perfectly illustrated this predicament, because after every three minutes or so of Tolle’s hypnotic wisdom, he was interrupted by Flowers and Midge Woolsey, who would affirm his brilliance and then segue into an appeal for donations.

I am a fan of Joseph Campbell, who achieved a good deal of posthumous success as public television’s mythology guru, so I am familiar with the concept. Campbell taught that what people need is not so much “the meaning of life,” but instead the experience of being alive, which comes from perceiving life through your senses in the moment, as it happens, rather than rehashing the past or anticipating the future.

Shortly after I mentioned via Twitter that I was watching Eckhart Tolle, namastebooks started following me. This was something I had not anticipated. According to its Twitter profile, Namaste Publishing is his original publisher.

Semi-creepy watching and following and stalking aside, this fundraising special gave me a little revelation about the frustration of television as compared to, say, music.

Watching TV, you soon notice that very little of it actually happens “in the moment.” Things on TV are always being forward-promoted, promised as “coming up next.” Meanwhile, other events, which have already happened, are replayed yet again. We are constantly going away from and coming back to the program we are trying to watch, and even while we’re watching it, little distractions are popping up in the corners and at the edges to direct us toward other programs at other times. TV produces a great deal of frustration for any little bit of satisfaction.

Music, on the other hand, is all about the now. Music has a rhythm, which is a continuous now, now, now, now, now. That biting guitar lick, that cymbal crash, and that clarinet trill which make you nod in agreement are all happening right now. Even listening to the 1812 Overture as it builds to the canon fire, you enjoy every subtle measure and quiet passage of the journey. Music satisfies us by holding us in the constant now.

Oprah Winfrey has apparently been an Eckhart Tolle fan for some time already. Looking him up on the Web, I found that Oprah chose Tolle’s book A New Earth: Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose as her as an Oprah’s Book Club selection in January 2008, that she considers The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment to be one of her favorite books, and that she began a 10-week webinar with Tolle a year ago.

If you go searching for Eckhart Tolle clips at YouTube, you also find a number of videos like this one, warning people that Oprah is tantamount to the Antichrist, leading her millions of fans over some sort of metaphysical cliff because she was sacrilegious enough to suggest that there might be other ways to experience God besides fundamentalist Christianity.

I have not looked deeply into Eckhart Tolle’s background. I have only looked him up on Wikipedia, where it currently says:

He had no formal education between the ages of 13 and 22, refusing to go to school because of its “hostile environment”; but he pursued his own “particular interests.”

Tolle graduated from the University of London and entered, but did not complete, a doctoral program at Cambridge University, having studied literature, languages and philosophy. At the age of 29, Tolle experienced what he calls an “inner transformation,” after suffering long periods of suicidal depression.

I won’t be ordering Tolle’s books today. I think I get his basic point about living in the moment, and I already have a daunting number of books on my to-read list. Nor will I be viewing Oprah’s 10-part webinar this afternoon.

Today is a warm and beautiful early spring day, and I am going to go for a walk. I find that, like music, going for a walk or a bike ride can be a good way to experience the ever-unfolding now in a sort of “live streaming” way.

This reminds me of something I heard yesterday, listening to Mischke streaming live. It was a warm and beautiful early spring day in St. Paul, and that prompted Tommy to play a song called “Bike Ride on 35W” by St. Dominic’s Trio.

You can read the lyrics to the song in a Southwest Journal article. There are also a couple of videos on YouTube, like this one:

Of course, as those who have fought the law often find out, there can be unhappy consequences to living in the moment.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day. Be careful out here. Watch out for cliffs and cops.

And if you want to experience four minutes and 26 seconds of musical human joy, go buy “Bike Ride on 35W” at Amazon.com.

Do it now — and then get yourself outside!

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