Part IV – Chapter30
Being here and now.
Clear your mind of all idle thoughts, and “be here now”. This means in part – do not be absorbed elsewhere and/or at another time. If one’s attention is elsewhere than here to any extent, it is insufficiently “here”. Likewise, if one’s attention is not entirely in the present, it is not enough on the “now”. Keep in mind that only the here and now can actually be directly experienced. One can only be conscious of something “elsewhere” or “at some other time” through memory and/or imagination – i.e. indirectly.
The moment one thinks – whatever be the subject matter and whatever the form the thoughts take (memory recalls, audiovisual imaginings, verbal discourse, wordless intentions, attitudes, velleities or volitions) –one’s attention is necessarily diverted to some degree from the more here and now experience(sensory and intuitive aspects of experience).
Admittedly, one’s “thoughts” are also in a larger sense parts of the here and now, together with more direct experiences; but in this context we wish to distinguish between secondary and primary elements of the here and now. Note also that the said diversion of attention occurs not only in cases where the thoughts concern past, future, imaginary or theoretical topics, but even in cases where the thoughts are reflections on the here and now.
For this reason, if we wish to concentrate on the here and now, we must avoid distracting thoughts and aim for eventual inner silence. Although such peace of mind may at first require exercise of the will to achieve, it is possible to eventually just naturally rest one’s attention on the here and now without effort.
But awareness of the here and now is not essentially awareness of the objects presently before you; such contents of awareness are merely an intermediate stage, a means. It would more be more accurate to describe awareness of the here and now as awareness of the space and time in which present objects seem to reside. The objects are relatively incidental – it is finally perhaps just the fact of awareness that ought to be focused on.
Awareness of space and time independent of their passing contents means that we focus on the supposed container of material and mental events rather than on those phenomenal events, or any intuitive or intellectual events. The contents are transient, the container – or the one experiencing it and the experiencing of it – are relatively constant.
Thus, in meditation, whether sitting or moving, one tends towards consciousness of the fact of awareness, rather than of its content. This means: neither adhering to nor avoiding or evading any content of consciousness that happens to appear at any time. This may be what meditators describe as the experience of “being in the eternal present”, because one’s attention is not following or escaping one’s perceptions, intuitions or thoughts, but one is contentedly resting in pure awareness.
The statement “Time does not exist, it is a perpetual present”is in my view a good reminder of a philosophical truth – that time is a theoretical construct; in practice, all we experience is the contents of the present moment that our sensory, mental and intuitive faculties happen to get in contact with. (The present moment, note, is extended in time, not a mere instant of time.)
We must notice that “the present” is in fact a very, very brief moment – and a variegated and complex event. It includes experiences in the various perceived phenomenal modalities: sensed sights and sounds, and touch, smell and taste sensations, as well as the mental equivalents of these sensory experiences (memories of themor derived fantasies); and it also includes experiences in the various intuited non-phenomenal modalities: one’s cognitions, volitions and valuations.Sometimes only some of these modalities are includedin our present; sometimes perhaps all.
Moreover, in all combinations of these modalities of experience, all we can lay claim to at any moment isvery partial and fleeting glimpsesof any supposed perceptual and intuitive totality. I do not see everything that is before me, but my eyes roam from one point of interest to another. Similarly, my ears focus on one sound then another. I may feel my hands, then my lips, then my eyelids, etc. Mental images and sounds are also flickering, changing. My self-awareness comes and goes.
The continuous, all-inclusive present we ordinarily assume is thus in truthcomposed ofvery tiny flashes of experience of various sorts.Wegive this patchy experienced present some apparent solidity and coherence, because we continually mentally correlate sensations and memories, and add the present occurrence of the present to some past occurrences of the present and to some anticipated occurrences of the present.
What we ordinarily call “the present” is more precisely mostly a ratiocinative construction (by means of intentions at first, well before any verbal interference) of many more punctual presents, as well as some remembered and anticipated presents.
As one advances in meditation, one becomes more conscious of this mental act of putting together a jigsaw of elemental present, past and future (i.e. actual, earlier and later) experiences of various modalities, to make up a more continuous and consistent compound present. It is very difficult to spot the purely here and now experience.
Given the elusiveness of the present, consider how approximate and uncertain are our memories of the past, and all the more so our anticipations of the future. Reflecting on such complications, one cannot but also look upon our abstract, conceptual, theoretical knowledge as open to much doubt.
But keep in mind that we cannot logically take such skepticism so far as to make a blanket denial of all knowledge – for then we would be denying our denial too! Such reflections nevertheless serve to motivate us to look for and concentrate on the elusive purely experiential present. It is the key to getting us in contact with “reality” eventually.
Meditating on impermanence does not mean building a philosophical system around the fact of impermanence or a supposed principle of impermanence – it means, simply, watching things come forth, stay a while (some briefly, some more insistently), and then eventually go. Similarly, some apparent causal relations may be observed, but should not arouse discussions. Just watch it all patiently, without mental comment, unaffected.
You are stationary, at the center of the world, watching some things – including your perceived body and mind in motion, and your intuited self’s consciousness, acts of will and value-judgments – occurring around you like a 3D movie, coming, staying and going, seemingly interacting. Your self is immune in this ongoing display, inwardly still, realizing the relative illusoriness of all surrounding events. Being in the perpetual present is perhaps identifying oneself with this central empty position.
On occasion, especially sitting cross-legged in lotus pose with eyes closed, the present is experienced in a very tactile manner, as the sensation of one’s whole body as one piece. Ordinarily, we experience scattered bits and pieces of the body separately; but during meditation, when great peace descends on us, the body can get to feel truly unitary, and this is a very pleasant and relaxing feeling. In this experience, the body is as it were suspended, for our focus is entirely on it, to the exclusion of surrounding matter.
But it is worth also occasionally trying to realize the continuity between one’s body and surrounding matter. The dividing surface between them is in truth ultimately imaginary, if one considers it at the atomic and subatomic levels. The body is constantly ingesting air and other substances from the surrounds; and the body is constantly releasing sweat and other substances to the surrounds. Who can say at what point in space and time such substances are or are not “part of the body”? Any characterization of a molecule in one way or the other, as inside or outside the body, is sure to be arbitrary. Moreover, elementary particles are ultimately but bundles of waves, and it is impossible to objectively say where a wave starts or ends. All matter is interlaced, without boundaries. Therefore, in reality, we are one with the surrounds. Reflect on and feel that oneness.
Meditating on the here and now, it is best not to stare at the physical or mental phenomena around us, but rather to focus on the emptiness between them – that is to say, the empty space between visible bodies, the rest surrounding movement, the quietness in the midst of which sounds are heard, the moments of non-thought separating thought, and so forth. Become conscious of the transparency, stillness and silence underlying all experience.
Become aware that there is something formless in the apparent forms you see, hear, feel, smell and taste – they are all part of a single continuum, which we are in the habit of projecting divisions into. But do not deliberately blur your vision. When the mind calms sufficiently, the ratiocinative acts that cut up (and then compare, contrast, conceptualize, order and describe) the empirical domain gradually dampen, and one has a more receptive and holistic mode of experience.
An experience I have occasionally, when I reach a great depth of inner peace, is that of pure water. The vision of a calm pool of clear, fresh water, supposedly reflecting the calm of my mind. Or a lovely downpour of transparent, refreshing water, as if a tap were suddenly opened allowing energy to flow from the upper to the lower levels of my psyche. Or the image of rain coming down into me, like a blessing from the heavens above. All such experiences are very satisfying and encouraging. It should be stressed that these are not voluntary visualizations, but visions that suddenly and unexpectedly just happen to one.
Quoting Claude Chabrol’s movie «La fleur du mal».
At least sights and sounds; I am not sure the other modalities of sensation are clearly reproducible in the mind.
Better, the empty space they all seem to inhabit. More precisely, it is the space between oneself (the observer) and the objects (observed) that one should focus on. Or even, one might profitably focus on an imagined “transcendental space”within and behindall phenomena. Or perhaps most accurately put, what we are looking upon here is the “space of mind”, i.e. the extension in which mental images and sounds seem to occur; thismindspacecan be experienced even when we have managed to clear our mind of all sights and sounds, i.e. even when it is empty.
Movement grabs attention more than rest: this is a biological law, to draw our attention to possible predators or prey. But actually, considering one moment at a time, rest is by far the larger portion of our experience. Become more aware of this underlying rest, at least during meditation.
If there were only sounds, no sound could be clearly distinguished. It is only due to a background of silence that sounds are heard.
As meditation proceeds, thoughts become shorter in length and less frequent, and inner peace gradually gains a foothold and spreads. As soon as you notice this development, start focusing on the emptiness between your thoughts, instead of getting involved in the thoughts themselves. In this way, the “space” between them is expanded, and their dampening is accelerated.
Such experiences can also seem negative or of doubtful polarity. Once, meditating after an unfortunate wet dream, I experienced clean waters near my sex organ being polluted by some brown waters. One time, I experienced fire – and could not decide how to class this vision.