Living in Time Vs. Presense
The Two Zen Monks
This is the story of two Zen monks, Tanzan and Ekido, who were walking along a country road that had become extremely muddy after heavy rains. Near the village, they came upon a young woman who was trying to cross the road, but the mud was so deep it would have ruined the silk kimono she was wearing. Tanzan at once picked her up and carried her to the other side.
The monks walked on in silence. Five hours later, as they were approaching the lodging temple, Ekido couldn’t restrain himself any longer. “Why did you carry that girl across the road?” he asked. “We monks are not supposed to do things like that.”
“I put the girl down hours ago,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”
Many people live their lives like Ekido all the time, unable or unwilling to let go internally of situations, accumulating more and more “stuff” inside. Being absorbed in the past is a way of being dead to the present moment. It is not easy to drop the past and return to living in the present. When we try to do it, we have to resist the force of our internal formations, thoughts and opinions.
“It’s hard to understand that time doesn’t exist because we have such a clear experience of past, present and future, but we don’t really experience past and future, only present. Past and future are just ideas in the present. This means that there is only now, but what is now? We can’t say what now is because there is no not-now. It’s always now. There is only now. Now is.”
- Jed McKenna -
Living in “Time”
Because we are born into a culture that exists almost entirely within a world based on time, few of us are able to be continually present. The more automated our experience becomes, the less involved we are in the art of living. We spend our waking moments reflecting on what didn’t work in the past and planning those adjustments we believe are necessary to attain the peace and fulfillment we seek. Because these adjustments are oriented to a “better tomorrow,” we’ve forgotten how to have a meaningful today. Consequently, the experience we are having right now is viewed as just a means to an end. By living this way, we consistently leapfrog over the present. Even though the past has gone and can’t be altered, and the future isn’t yet manifest, we choose to mentally occupy these illusory places instead of fully entering and experiencing the one moment we actually occupy – this moment now.
If I do this, I will be happy. If I make my parents respect me, I will be happy. If I do well, people will appreciate me, If I get enough money, I can stop worrying. I will be happy when I solve this problem. It goes on an on. The focus is that you are somebody in time, and you must strive for your own happiness. And this moment is hardly even talked about or noticed.
When you are thinking about a mental position you are not present. You are not alone, you are with your opinion. If you bond to an object of consciousness, a thought or mental position you are living with that object.
Many of us spend our waking hours thinking either about circumstances from the past or events yet to occur. Indeed, the thinking aspect of the mind is almost exclusively engaged in such activity. Thinking about the past and future is a mental addiction that imprisons humanity in a distracted internal dream state we call “living in time”, a condition devoid of present moment awareness.
The way to really change our experience of the world is by liberating ourselves from the virus of “living in time.” Liberating ourselves from this mental disarray is the greatest act of service we can perform right now.
Our current time-based experience doesn’t take us anywhere. It never did, and it never will. In “time,” nothing authentic happens – we only think it does. We are where our attention is. Something may be unfolding right in front of our eyes, but we are oblivious to it because we are wandering around in our thoughts. We are definitely not present in our physical body!
By habitually dwelling in a mental state, which allows us to project our attention into an illusory past or future, we miss out on the authentic physical and emotional experience that’s happening right now. We are all but oblivious to the only moment that contains all the vibrancy of life. When we live in time, we spend our days seeking the meaning of life. In contrast, when we are present, we enjoy a life saturated with meaning.
The theme of this mental age is let there be noise and movement. Nothing we do brings the awareness of peace into our state of frantic “doing.” This is because we have long since forgotten that peace isn’t “a doing” but a feeling.
Present Moment Awareness
Present moment awareness or Presence, is a state of being as opposed to something we do. The simplest definition of present moment awareness is to be fully aware of the moment we are in – or, to be present in the moment. The emphasis isn’t on the moment, but on the beingness we bring to bear on our life experience when we pay full attention to the moment.
We are not mind. We are eternal Presence. Thinking and present moment awareness seldom cohabit. As we enter present moment awareness, one of the indicators this is occurring is a steady decrease of mental analysis.
Fortunately we aren’t completely lost within the dream state of the time-based paradigm. A lifeline into present moment awareness resides within us all: our breath. There’s no way to breathe in the past or in the future. We can only breathe in the present. By becoming aware of our breathing, we activate a tool that facilitates withdrawal of our attention from both the past and the future. By focusing our attention and intent on connecting our breathing, we encourage an aspect of our awareness to remain anchored in the moment.
The body itself is always fully present. However, the experience of physical presence is only activated when we enter present moment awareness. For example, when we experience physical presence, we are able to feel our heart beating.
“When you become very open and relaxed, you can suddenly be aware that something else is occupying your body-mind. That something has no qualities. Realizing your true nature is realizing what is present without qualities. You feel yourself just being in a very relaxed, easy sense of peace. If you are resting as your own true nature, then you feel that there is really nowhere else to go. The path has ended and there is a very vivid awakeness.
The me is always in a slightly adversarial relationship with the moment. It produces noisy thoughts, feelings, beliefs, or opinions. But in the stillness of intuitive unity, you start to notice something else. Inside, there is something that is not creating much noise, just paying attention.”
- Adyashanti -
There is a part of you that have been present since you were a child, and yet, that part of you that was having that experience then is still here now, in this moment.
Presence could be perceived as “the detached timeless observer without preference”. This is because it witnesses everything and therefore knows everything that has ever happened during our entire life experience. By entering into present moment awareness, we re-discover Presence in the infinite “I am” point of awareness.
Gratefulness as indicator
A reliable indicator we have entered present moment awareness is if our experience, no matter how comfortable or uncomfortable it may feel at any given moment, is infused with gratefulness. It is a gratitude that requires no reason – gratitude for the invitation, journey, and gift of life itself.
Gratefulness is the one single marker we can depend on as an indicator of how present we are in our experience. When we lack gratitude for simply being alive, it’s because we have strayed from the present into an illusory mental state called “time.”
Being present is living at ease, not bound by the internal formations, interpretations, opinions, believes, concepts or mental positions. In this way you can dwell in the present moment in touch with simple reality free from internal attachments to views.
We learn to return our attention continuously to the pristine, timeless present moment rather than be caught up in mental movie-making. Our very Presence then becomes our identity, rather than our thoughts and emotions.
Can I give expression to the now?
"There is no present to the structure of the “you”; all that is there is the past, which is trying to project itself into the future. You can think about the past, present, and future, but there is only a projection of the past. If there is a present, that present can never be experienced by you, because you experience only your knowledge about the present, and that knowledge is the past. So what is the point in trying to experience that moment which you call “now”? The now can never be experienced by you; whatever you experience is not the now. So the now is a thing which can never become part of your conscious existence, and which you cannot give expression to. The now does not exist, as far as you are concerned, except as a concept."
- Jed McKenna -
Rest in natural great peace this exhausted mind,
Beaten helplessly by karma and neurotic thoughts
Like the relentless fury of the pounding waves
In the infinite ocean of samsara.
Rest in natural great peace.
- Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche -
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