I am surprised by the impact this quote has had on me:
When life isn't going as we wish, practice is neither to seek explanation nor to assign blame. We can practice simply being with the "what" on as many levels as we can, rather than looking for the "why." Once again we ask the koan, "What is this?" The answer to the question is always our experience itself. This "what" is the present moment. And this is where real understanding lies: not in the mental world of "why," not in intellectual description, but in experiencing directly the ambiguous perceptual complexity of the present moment.
At Home in the Muddy Water:A Guide to Finding Peace within Everyday Chaosby Ezra Bayda, page 26
I had never noticed the relation between What and one of my favorite questions these days. The question "What's a _____________?" has been helping me keep track of the meaning of words. What's a valet? What's a commode? What's an Instagram? Some old-fashioned things are referred to by words that are not familiar to today's young people. In fact, take a look at the eye-opening book "The African Svelte" by Daniel Menaker to see some surprising twists recently given to rather common expressions.
(The word "svelte" derives from Italian and means slim and lean while "veldt" comes from Afrikaans and means the landscape in parts of South Africa. The book is about poetic and inspiring mixups as in "she was a pillow of strength", which is exactly what some women are.)
"What is this?" may be a question you can easily answer or it may be a toughie. But Bayda's point in the quote is that focusing on what is in front of you and answering the question in simple, direct and immediate terms can help you step out of the forest of abstractions, memories and guesses about the future. You can rest a bit in this moment, this present. You can hear, see, smell, taste and feel what is right here now.
(An example of how things are changing: a used hardback of the Bayda book is available from several sellers for $.01 plus shipping or for $21.99 for an e-copy.)