A few articles back, I wrote about The Death of the Now.
About Einstein’s discoveries on the nature of time and space…
And their devastating impact on traditional spirituality.
And I got a lot of feedback from people hoping to show me how easy it is to center my awareness in the here and now…
To be present.
Apparently, while I was poking holes in the old-fashioned interpretations of abiding spiritual experience, I didn’t do enough to validate the experience itself.
So let’s pick up the present moment again…
This time, from an experiential perspective.
And explore some of the profound insights and liberating changes that come from being present.
(And then I’ll stab a few more holes in it at the end. Just for fun!)
Be Here, Now.
Such a simple mandate…
Be here/now is one of the most popular slogans of the New Age.
And as New Ageisms go, it’s one of the most useful.
But like most simple mandates, it’s worth digging in to the details.
To ask what it really means…
To see where it can help you on your journey…
And, more importantly, where it can’t.
Abiding in the present moment can be a powerful tool for transformation.
For reducing the stress of everyday life.
For finding freedom from runaway thoughts and emotions.
For realizing who and what YOU are.
But that doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for every situation…
As a practice, it’s simple and essential.
As a philosophy… well, let’s just say I’m not a fan.
So, before we continue, I’m going to throw in a quick caveat. Just so I don’t feel negligent…
The directive to be here/now is about the personal experience of abiding in the present moment.
Not about the present moment itself.
It’s about consciousness.
Time is a different subject entirely—and one that the old spiritual traditions are woefully under-qualified to handle.
So, if you believe that the reason you should be here/now is because only the present moment is real…
Or if you think the present is somehow “more spiritual” than the future or the past…
Or really, if you believe that spirituality has any profound insight at all into the nature of time…
Then go read The Death of the Now.
And don’t give up until your brain breaks and your world changes.
Because we’ve got 111 years of immaculately beautiful science that literally leaves spirituality in the dark ages on the subject!
But, setting time aside, there are some great experiences to be found when you are being present.
And the best way to understand them, is to start with what happens to your consciousness when you aren’t…
The World: Live in Concert!
Think of consciousness like a radio…
And the world around you like a live concert. \m/
When you are tuned in to the present moment, everything is in sync.
You are living and listening to the world.
But when you aren’t being present, your consciousness is tuned to another station.
Or maybe several stations all at once.
The world is still roaring away around you… but you’re busy trying to listen to a different song in your head.
Now, that in itself isn’t inherently bad.
But there’s a cascade of motions that usually follows…
Your awareness is already divided, between the song of the world and the music in your mind.
But inevitably, one of them is more appealing than the other…
And so your mind tries to lean into one and block out the other.
Or maybe your head is full of clashing melodies—fears and anxieties that you can’t be rid of—and you don’t want to hear any of them.
Or you’re worrying about the song the world is going to play next…
Or stewing about the song it played last week…
And so you begin straining to pull them all together.
To bend all of the songs into unison.
To make them fit.
Except that you can’t.
You can turn the radio dial in your head. But you can’t control the world.
The world plays on.
And all of that internal stress causes you to dissociate from the world and pull your attention inside yourself.
Which makes the anxiety worse.
And that sets even more songs playing in your awareness.
And so you struggle to pull those together…
On and on and on…
Further from the world.
Further and further from harmony.
Abiding in the present moment tunes your consciousness to the song that is already raging around you.
It might be overwhelming, or intimidating, or exhilarating, or mellow, or you might be caught throwing elbows in the pit…
But whatever it is, as long as you are tuned into the song that’s playing, everything is in sync.
You aren’t straining against yourself.
Or straining against the world.
The world plays on, moment to moment.
And you play along with it.
Now, that in itself doesn’t really do anything extraordinary…
At least, not directly.
It doesn’t free you from your ego…
Or reveal who YOU are…
It doesn’t directly fulfill any of the popular spiritual goals…
Contrary to all the New Age promises, simply being present doesn’t do anything but get you in sync with the world.
Transcending your self image, opening yourself to others, focusing your attention, discovering nondual unity—those all arise from other motions.
Being present just makes some of those motions easier.
Because you aren’t already distracted by internal conflict.
Abiding gets you out of your own way.
And that’s an important piece.
Particularly if you’re looking for inner peace…
If so. Then so. Just so.
All suffering begins with resisting what is.
You can be sad without suffering.
You can hurt without suffering.
You can fail and fall and even die without suffering.
The world can bring forth terrible things.
But suffering comes from within.
From resisting what is.
Which is why everyone from Buddha to Yoda tells you to keep your awareness in the here and now.
That doesn’t mean you have to accept what’s coming…
It doesn’t mean you can’t fight to change the world.
It just means you can’t change what already happened.
If you want to change something, change what happens next.
Right now is what it is.
And the sooner you get on board with that, the better.
Having said all that…
Let’s get stabby!
Just because you can find freedom from suffering, doesn’t necessarily mean you should…
Sometimes being here, now, is that last thing you want to do.
If you want to have an out-of-body experience… or enter a lucid dream from a waking state… or induce subtle visions…
Then tuning your radio to here and now is not going to help!
There are actually as many reasons to not abide in the present moment, as there are to do it.
It all comes down to what you’re trying to do… moment to moment.
All the New Age gurus and wandering Buddhists love shout “be here, now!”
But people rarely stop and ask, why?
They just do it.
A kind of mindless mindfulness…
Sometimes abiding helps.
Sometimes it doesn’t.
It’s a tool—not a philosophy of life.
It’s just one Motion of Consciousness.
And there are 9 others that are just as useful!
Besides, “here” doesn’t have to mean here… and “now” doesn’t have to mean now…
You can let go of this world and enter a dream state…
Or travel into visions of other realities…
Or glimpse another time…
And you can abide in those places, just like you can abide in this one.
In fact, if you want the experience to last, you had better!
But you have to let go of here to get there.
And that’s why I’m not a fan of be here/now as a philosophy…
It shrinks your world
And diminishes your options.
It’s a great practice.
It’s a shit worldview.
Because the practice was never about the world.
And it was never about time.
It’s about YOU.
And that’s where spirituality took a bad turn…
It realized that suffering comes from resisting what is.
And that we typically resist by dwelling on the future or the past.
And that we can surrender into the present moment, and find freedom from that resistance.
All of those insights are about the nature of consciousness.
We may use the phrase “the present moment.” And talk about “letting go of the past.”
But terminology aside, time has got nothing to do with it.
When you struggle and worry over the future, you are thinking about the future. (Right now, in the present moment.)
You aren’t actually living it.
You aren’t bi-located, experiencing two timelines equally and concurrently.
(And yes, it is possible to do that, but that isn’t what the spiritual traditions are warning you about!)
The warning is about dividing your awareness.
And then struggling against yourself…
It’s about losing yourself in turmoil, and inner conflict, and endless rumination.
And never ever realizing that you—the real YOU—can let go and rise above it.
Really, once you dig through all the bullshit and bad philosophy, all that stuff about being in the present moment was never about time.
And ultimately, it’s not about finding freedom from suffering either…
It’s about discovering who YOU really are.
(Which, ironically, does not come from abiding.)
Being here, now, is just an easy first step on the way to a deeper discovery.
And that discovery is, itself, just a single melody in your playlist…
So really, it all comes down to a choice…
Yes. It’s easy to be present.
And if that experience is enough for you—then you can choose to make it your life’s philosophy.
Be here, now.
And let the other stuff go.
The present moment makes a beautiful melody.
And there are worse ways to spend a life.
You might even get lucky and stumble into some of the classic mystical experiences, like formlessness or nonduality.
But only if you branch out in spite of yourself.
The other choice is make your own music…
Tune into the present moment and play along…
Then tune it out when the time is right.
Conduct mesmerizing harmonies…
And then throw down cacophony.
Find your inner peace…
Then embrace suffering, when suffering will carry you home.
There are more melodies and experiences out there in the universe than any of us will discover in a thousand lifetimes.
You can seek inspiration and improvise and explore…
Or play along to spirituality’s greatest hits…
I’d recommend both.
But it’s entirely up to you.
Now, seriously, go back and read The Death of the Now.
Be here/now if you like, and put in the effort to understand Einstein.
I swear it’s gonna pay off!
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About Zach Herbert
I teach people to do cool things with their consciousness, and break their brains with beautiful ideas.
Professional heretic. Unlikely mystic. Host to rebels, misfits and independent thinkers.
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