The allure of living in the present moment is popular but also endangered. The pandemic lockdown has forced millions of people into cramped living conditions that disrupts normal life, puts strain on relationships, adds stress to families, and introduces depression and anxiety. Escaping the present moment is likely to be everyone’s dream.
But the situation will eventually change, and phrases like “the power of now” are embedded in people’s aspirations. The present moment has wound up being a problem and a solution at a same time. The most basic question needs answering, then. Why live in the present moment and how is it achieved?
Sometimes the present moment brings experiences of love, kindness, creativity, beauty, and insight. In those moments no one needs to ask why it’s good to live in the now. (The body’s trillions of cells, including brain cells, don’t ask the question, because they are designed to only live in the present, occupied with thousands of chemical reactions and electrical signaling every second. Even when you recall a past event, your brain is strictly confined to the now in order to retrieve the memory.)
The first thing to notice when you are overtaken by the now is that you didn’t have to work for it. The present moment is always present. The real question is why we aren’t in the present moment. Countless people ae working hard on themselves to stay in the now. But if it takes no work to get a glimpse of the beauty, love, and fulfillment that dawns in the present moment, can we expect that working to get back there is really necessary, or even effective?
If you break the whole thing down, the difference is between a temporary experience of the present moment and a constant, unbroken experience. The now is either sometimes or all the time. Sometimes is what all of us experience, those passing moments of bliss, love, beauty, etc. I’d argue that these privileged experiences come and go of their own accord. They are as unpredictable as your next thought.
This doesn’t preclude working on yourself to expand your awareness through meditation and yoga, going inside to heal old wounds, rising yourself of self-judgment, and all the other things people do in the human potential movement. If you are stuck in worry, depression, fear of aging and death, and other kinds of stuckness that create pain and suffering, then finding a way out is absolutely necessary.
But no amount of personal work is going to change “sometimes” to “all the time.” The healthiest, happiest, sanest person in the world doesn’t necessarily live in the present moment, because the present moment is timeless. No matter how expensive our Rolex is, it doesn’t tell the timeless. To be in the present moment all the time requires a shift in identity, which can be specified as follows:
“I am me, a separate person” changes to “I am,” without reference to a separate person.
“I am here in this location” changes to “I am unbounded and have no location.”
“I am young (or old or middle-aged)” changes to “I have no sense of time passing.”
“I want” changes to “I am without desires, fulfilled in myself.”
If there was a mechanism like a car’s gear shift to handle these change, we would be machines ourselves. But in reality the “I” that wants to live in the present is a mysterious creation of the mind, which itself is a mysterious creation of God-knows-what (insert any theory you want here, religious or secular), and the God-knows-what transcends everyday life.
The normal approaches we take to explain “I” unfortunately were constructed by “I,” and therefore there’s a true Catch-22. If “I” investigates itself with the intention of going beyond “I,” the result is simply to reinforce “I,” making sure it sticks around. Giving your ego the project of going beyond the ego won’t succeed, because all you’ve done is add another project to a self that undertakes a hundred other projects (work, family, relationships sex, hobbies, vacations, gossip, and keeping up with the news are only the beginning).
In my forthcoming book, Total Meditation, I offer a way to escape this Catch-22. It begins with the idea that the whole bodymind is naturally set up to live in the present. When it is subjected to stress, the body adapts temporarily until the stress subsides, and then it returns to a dynamic state of balance known as homeostasis. The mind does the same thing. Between every thought or feeling, the mind returns to readiness for the next thought or feeling. This state of readiness is just as balanced as homeostasis. But we fail to notice it because we are entirely focused on mental activity rather than mental silence.
Yet silence is only a superficial clue. In a stressful world peace and quiet acquire a special value. But in reality, the state of readiness is the source of everything we value in our lives. Love, bliss, compassion, creativity, and insight all have the same origin in pure, unbounded awareness. The whole bodymind has the same source. Knowing this, you can consciously return to the readiness state the minute you notice that you aren’t in it.
This openness to let your mind regain its balance is the key to total meditation. Unlike occasional meditation, which requires a set time every day that needs to be set aside, total meditation keeps up with our life from moment to moment. You always keep your eye on the prize, which is to live from your source. There’s no struggle or effort involved. You simply allow your mind to obey its own nature.
There’s much to say about this topic, but when it comes to living in the present moment, total meditation changes “sometimes” to “all the time.” The beauty of such an approach is that you experience change with the support of existence itself. To be here now looks like some kind of deep spiritual challenge. In reality it is just the opposite. Living in the present moment involves a state of awareness that the mind gravitates toward if you leave it alone and let the nature of the mind be what it is. In fact, this is the secret behind all spiritual attainments. The less you try, the closer you get. One could hardly wish for a more propitious setup.
Reprinted from San Francisco Chronicle with permission
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