Tuning into the Present Moment of Now
Extract from the book the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra, recently written by Swami Nishchalananda.
He who binds to himself a joyBy William Blake
Doth the winged life destroy
BUT he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.
Doth the winged life destroy
BUT he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise.
Photo of a Sunrise over the Welsh Mountains By Janak
Generally we are obsessed by the past or the future.
Meditation is intended to bring us into the present moment – into the Now. It can be rightly said, as William Blake has implied in the above quote, that ‘the present moment is the gateway to Eternity’.
Why is the present moment so important? It is important because each moment is pregnant with potential. Thinking or ruminating on the past and anguishing about the future are mental states which take us away from direct conscious contact with what is going on Now. The constant chatter of the mind acts as a veil preventing access to deeper layers of our Being. Obsessively dwelling and brooding on the past and the future is unawareness. Awareness is about being present, Here and Now. Only in the present moment can we realise Awareness as the ground of our being. It is only in the present moment that we can tune into a more fundamental level of existence – our own existence and of existence in general. Transformative experience and realization cannot arise in the past, because the past is finished and is but a memory in the mind. Equally, it cannot take place in the future – because the future, or rather our anticipation of the future, is just a projection of the mind. Realisation of our innate conscious presence, as Awareness, can only arise Now as a ‘flashing forth’ of insight. We can only awaken to our essential nature in the present moment.
It is true that much of what we do in the present moment can be quite boring or even painful. It is quite natural, therefore, that we often try to escape into ‘sweet’ anticipation of the future or ‘sweet’ memories of the past. Sometimes, traumatised by negative or painful experiences and events, we live in the past. Or, fearing the unknown, we obsessively dread the future. This escapism does have its place in that it can help us to keep reasonably sane. However, this ‘escape’ tends to become a habitual pattern of behaviour, even when situations don’t demand it. We are always ‘lost in our head’ and this becomes an obstacle to going deeper.
We feel that somehow this present moment is not quite right. We start to move away from it towards what we imagine will be a better present. In modern society there is an obsessive pursuit of securing future happiness. We never get future happiness because when the future arrives, our attention is already fixed on the pursuit of some other future where we will be really secure and blissfully happy. BUT real happiness, though perhaps ‘real fulfilment’ is a better way of putting it, can only be found Now. Only the Now has the potential to reveal Awareness in its pristine glory.
The moment we resist the world of present experience, we divide the world. By resisting the timeless present, we reduce it to a passing present. The passing present is sandwiched on one side by all the experiences we have had in the past, and on the other side by all the future moments we are moving towards. Thus, moving away from the present moment, we create a before and an after. Our present is reduced to the desperate running away from the present moment; and our precious moments pass inexorably.
Thus in Yoga, Tantra and other mystical systems, we endeavour to focus on the present moment. But it is not so easy. By trying to be in the present, we are actually escaping the present. The mind desperately tries to be in the present and so we miss what is, the reality of Awareness, by a mile. Yet the realisation of Awareness is only a hair’s breadth away! For it is Now and exists before we try to grasp the present moment. It is what we are before we become. Trying to avoid the present moment or trying to grasp it, both require effort. This effort is ego-centred and keeps us away from realisation of what we are beyond the ego.
What to do? We are caught in a contradiction: all the practices of Tantra and Yoga ask us to be aware, to try to be in the present moment. Yet, all practice is ego-centred: how can it be anything else? After all, we are practising for some motive; few of us practise for the sake of it. In this sense, practice can reinforce our self-centredness. But, somehow, if we are sincere then the attention that we invest in practice can lead to the realisation of deeper identity as Awareness. By being available, even vulnerable, as we are by practising Yoga and any form of meditation, we are open to insight. And it is insight which allows us to see beyond the ego to reveal Awareness as the ground of our being.
The sense of self, or ego, is itself in time. Almost by definition, the sense of ego is an escape from the Now, the Present. The feeling of self or ego separates us from the ‘the rest’ and this takes us outside the reality in the Now. And so our false sense of identity continues to project us into time, destiny and death.
This feeling of ‘me’ against ‘them’, this feeling of separation, will continue until we come to the realisation that the self, the separate ego, does not really exist. Though it seems so real in our everyday affairs and preoccupations, fundamentally it is an illusion. This profound realisation changes our attitude to our own life and to that of others. We realize that our essential Being, Awareness, was never born.... and therefore will never die.
How can this realisation arise? All the practices of Yoga and Tantra, including the dharanas of the Vigyana Bhairava Tantra, help by making us more sensitive and more receptive. We cannot make realisation happen; we can only be spacious, open and available to its spontaneous expression. And through spaciousness, we can be open to the realisation of our essential identity as Awareness.
Insight Arises More in ‘Being’ than in ‘Doing’
It is the middle path that leads us to insight. There is a well known maxim: “Yoga is not attained by trying, neither is it attained by not trying”. We should try and we should practise, but without the expectation that what we are doing will necessarily bring results. This is a difficult attitude for all of us who live in, and have been moulded by, a goal-orientated society, but the spiritual path demands that we let go of this conditioning, no matter how difficult it may be.
Realisation of our identity as Awareness is like a beautiful sunrise. If we are preoccupied then we miss it even though it is there; if, however, we are more open, in the present moment and available, we will see the sunrise in all its glory. Yoga practice help us to be less preoccupied and more available. However, as we mature in our understanding, we realize that everything we do, even sadhana (spiritual practice), can actually keep us away from going deeper. We can be so occupied in practice, in doing, in having an agenda, that we miss what IS.
Yoga practices are more about ‘being’ than ‘doing’. They help to take us away from the presumption that by lots of ‘doing’ we can realise the ground of our being; from the obsession that through lots of effort we can ‘achieve’ spiritual awakening. But spiritual realisation is not about the ego; it is about going beyond the ego; and fundamentally, all practice is concerned with the ego. It is true that in our daily affairs we put in lots of effort and consequently we reap the benefits. But we should not presume that this same approach applies in spiritual practice.
Yoga practice shows us the way to surrender. And real surrender means that we understand clearly and without doubt that insight cannot be made to happen; insight happens in its own way and in its own time, when a situation, or a person, is ripe. We cannot bully it, nor bribe it, to happen. Insight happens spontaneously.
In surrender, we unconditionally accept all the experiences which arise in the present situation and in the present moment. Yoga practice encourages us to surrender to the dynamics of the present moment; taking each situation as it is. Being passive, if this is appropriate, and being pro-active, trying to change things, if this appropriate. But basically, surrendering to whatever is happening NOW. Accepting people, events and experiences as they are in the ‘suchness’ of everything... moment to moment. In Sanskrit the word for ‘suchness’ is tathata; it implies ‘things are as they are’.
Then, in a moment of ‘magic’, our sense of separation dissolves – the ego-self and the world are experienced as a single, organic whole. We realize that there is really nothing but the present moment, no beginning and no end, no past and no future, nothing to regret and nothing to anticipate. Everything is, and always has been, as it is. Even if we endeavour to correct something, this is merely part of the ongoing dynamic and need of the present moment. There never was, nor ever will be, any time but Now. The medieval German mystic Meister Eckhart summed it up perfectly:
The now-moment in which God made the first man, and the now-moment in which the last man will disappear, and the now-moment in which I am speaking, are all one in God, in whom there is only one Now.
The PotContemplate on the analogy of the pot.
Reflect that desire, pain, pleasure and so forth do not only happen to me, but to all beings. Reflecting in this way, realize that which is all-pervasive.
dharana (practice) 82
In Gyana Yoga, or Vedanta, there is the well-known analogy of the ghata, the clay pot or jug. The jug, let us say, is full of air. The sides separate the air in the pot from the air outside. What happens when the pot is broken? Automatically the air inside mixes with the air outside. What was considered separate is now known not to be so.
So it is with the ego and personality which can be compared to the pot. In the classical Gherand Samhita, Hatha Yoga is also known as Ghata Yoga, literally ‘Pot Yoga’; that is, ‘the Yoga which works on and through the pot-like body.’ The ego creates separation and difference between what is considered ‘me’ and everything else, a difference between the inner (the personality) and the rest of the universe. When the ego dissolves, as it can in Meditation, there is the realisation of non-duality where there is no difference and no separation. Without doubt the ego is necessary for there to be individual life, but on a deeper level, it is an artificial construction which divides ‘us’ from everything else.
This dharana also draws our attention to an obvious fact, which we nevertheless seldom consider: every living being has desires, suffers pain and enjoys pleasure. Though it may be rather rudimentary in the case of a worm, for example, these characteristics are still there; after all, there must be some kind of desire which drives it to seek food and to mate. Every being enjoys pleasure and suffers pain in some way or another. Not only ‘me’!! In this sense, we are not unique. Each and every human being, as well as each and every life form, experiences the pleasures and pains of living.
PracticeLet us bear this dharana in mind and apply it, moment to moment, in our daily life.
Let us also regularly practise the following formal meditation:
Sit quietly with the eyes open or closed.
Imagine that your body is a clay pot which divides the inner and the outer.
Suppose that the pot shatters.
What is the difference between the inner which we take to be ‘me’ and the outer, which is the rest of the universe?
Reflect in this way for as long as you have time.
Then reflect on the fact that all beings have desires, suffer pain and enjoy pleasure. In this sense, we are no different to anyone else. Why do we take ourselves so seriously and why are we so selfish?
Be open to spaciousness, which unifies everything.
Be open to that which transcends even spaciousness.
Spaciousness in NatureGaze at bare, rocky mountains or at a place where there are no trees.
In so doing, the mind is deprived of support or things on which to hang on to.
Mental patterns and fluctuations are diminished and the mind dissolves.
dharana (practice) 37
This dharana encourages us to become more concerned with space and less with the contents or the objects contained therein. The mind is constantly looking for preoccupation – something to hold on to. This is, of course, why it is often so helpful to give the mind some object on which to focus in meditation practice (even though the mind doesn’t easily stay there!). When the mind is stilled, however, it is possible to just watch its empty nature without a reference point.
The mind doesn’t easily allow spaciousness or stillness; these are almost an anathema to the mind. And yet when mental patterns cease, perception is automatically transformed: the mind dissolves and one opens up to that which underlies it.
The ashram is located on top of a hill. There are trees everywhere. Despite the specifications of the dharana (i.e. a bare rocky place with no trees) it is still an ideal place to practise this kind of dharana. The sense of spaciousness is easily evoked when looking over the surrounding countryside onto the Brecon Beacons, the mountains across the valley. One automatically has a tremendous sense of spaciousness that puts things into perspective. Seeing the tiny villages and houses below, one’s daily preoccupation seem to be less important – not irrelevant, but just part of a wider picture. We are more easily able to realize that we are just small cogs in an unthinkably large process of existence.
Sit in an elevated place: on a hill or a mountain, on top of the ramparts of a castle or a high building; most important, there should be no obstructions in front.Gaze at the panorama in front of you.
There may be trees, or houses, in the distance – it doesn’t matter.
Whilst acknowledging their presence, be more concerned with the spaciousness in which they exist, in which they are all located.
In this kind of situation, spaciousness automatically impinges on our perception.
Allow the spaciousness of the present moment to penetrate your being.
Photo of the View from the Ashram towards the Beckon Beacons
Have a wider perspective: feel that, as embodied beings, we are small parts of a large drama of life that is unfolding.
Open up to a wider vision of existence and our own place in it.
Allow the mind to dissolve in the spaciousness.