Contrary to popular belief, you can’t be in the present moment. However, you are always here now. It is only a matter of whether you know it or not.
The Now is often confused with our understanding of “the present time” or “the present moment.” In Tibetan Buddhism, the Now is considered the “timeless time” that includes the three relative times of past, present, and future.
We know not to get caught in the past or the future, but in order to be in the Now, we also have to let go of the present. The Now is not confined by relative clock time, yet it is also not only pure timelessness. The Now is the meeting place of timeless spacious awareness with the relative world and its conventional time. The Now does not come and go, but includes everything all at once.
Clearly, we can’t live in the moment, because moments come and go like the tick-tock of a clock. Moment … gone … new moment … gone … new moment … gone. You can’t stop moments or be quick enough to be in any moment of time.
Trying to be in the Now by entering the present moment is also like sitting at the edge of a river, looking at the water flowing over one rock. As soon as you focus on one moment in the flow of water, that portion of water has already moved downstream. We cannot enter present moments because they move too fast and change continuously. Contemporary Tibetan Buddhist teacher Mingyur Rinpoche says, “If you examine even the present moment carefully, you find that it also is made up of earlier and later moments. In the end, if you keep examining the present moment, you find that there is no present moment that exists either.”
One of the great insights we can get from mindfulness meditation practice is that each moment of experience arises and passes. Having a direct experience of this impermanence, from observing awareness, helps us to let go of the attempt to calcify any single moment of time, to try to make something stable that is not. When we really get a feeling for the coming and going of moments, it helps us break the illusion of a solid, separate self, which gives us relief from suffering.
When we learn to shift into directly being aware of being in the Now, our whole sense of reality changes for the better. We can’t be aware of being in the Now from our everyday, ego-identified state of mind. We can shift through the door of the Now into awake awareness, or when abiding in awake awareness, we can begin to notice the feeling of being in the Now. The purpose of clarifying and distinguishing the Now from the present and present moment is for us to be able to shift into being in the Now and know we are here.
Glimpsing the Now
A set of famous Mahamudra instructions is called the Six Points of Tilopa, also known as the Six Ways of Resting the Mind in Its Natural Condition.
- Don’t recall — Let go of the past
- Don’t anticipate — Let go of what may come in the future
- Don’t think — Let go of what is happening in the present
- Don’t examine — Don’t particularize or analyze
- Don’t control — Don’t try to make anything happen
- Rest — Relax naturally, right now
The Now is the timeless time of awake awareness that includes the three times of past, present, and future. We can learn not to collapse into identifying with one particular time or state of mind. We can familiarize ourselves with the view from the Now, which experiences everything all at once. Here’s a modern version of this traditional teaching to help you experience being in the Now.
GLIMPSE: The Now
- Right now, let local awareness unhook from thought and drop below your neck.
- Feel the thoughts that come and go, the tick-tock of each moment appearing and disappearing.
- Open to the now that doesn’t get stuck in any present moment. Feel from timeless spacious awareness that includes past, present, and future.
- Be aware as each new present moment arrives and passes. Notice that fully here and now — from awake awareness — there is no problem with being aware of the past, present, or future.
- Inquire: What is here now? Don’t go up to refer to thought. Don’t go down to fall asleep.
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