What is it to be in the now? It’s to gently allow awareness to take in whatever is immediate, inside yourself and in the present-moment scene. It’s to register what is being actually experienced — apart from what might be thought about.
To be in the now is to sense, to feel. It’s to taste the sensation of aliveness, of being here. It’s to notice the difference between what-is, right here, and what has been or could be, or what seems to be true “out there” somewhere.
The moment is what you are.
If ever there were a time when taking refuge in the now could be a true blessing, the situation we’re all collectively in surely would be it.
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When you are fully absorbed in a physical act, whether it’s digging a hole or jogging, washing a dish or painting a landscape, or looking into the eyes of a loved one, in that moment the activity itself is your entire sense of reality. You may notice that in such a moment, the things of the mind are briefly set aside. It’s life itself — not a memory or an idea of life, but the thing itself.
The moment is what you are. Then it passes, and it’s something else. If you drift into your head, what you “are” then is the movement of thought, the sensation of what it’s like in the body to be absorbed in a story, with all that may entail.
Do take care to notice the critical distinction between two thought-related phenomena: on the one hand, observing the qualities of egoic thinking (effort, angst or desire, resistance, circularity, remoteness from the immediate scene); and on the other, being lost in the content of thought (as though occupying an alternate reality). Learning to tell these apart — which includes, most critically, not missing the taxing effect of mental activity — is a key element of growing self-attunement, leading naturally to increasing peace.
Noticing the difference between the two is one of life’s finest teachers, as the ordinary day unfolds, one now at a time.
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Any time you’re wholly absorbed in the present reality, it’s not actually that “you” are “in” the now; it’s truer to say that you are the now. And that (contrary to what the ego-mind insists) is all you are — ever.
Talk about shocking revelations! And radically unnerving ones, to the self-important ego-mind. All that’s directly experience-able of “you,” ever, is right now: what’s felt within (human feelings, physical sensation, the movement of thought), plus what’s observed via the senses of the immediate setting and activity. When awareness is simply taking it all in, without mental processing, you are separate from none of it. Whatever else seems to be “you” is stored in the mind, retrievable only as memory, idea, identity.
That glibly tossed-around notion of being “one-with-all” — what else could it mean but this? Not something “knowable” with the mind (despite what many a well-intentioned seeker claims to understand the meaning of), but something only experience-able, and only in the here-and-how, when the mind is still and awareness is utterly enlivened.
If you are singing a song you love, putting your heart and soul into it, in that moment you are the music. If someone you’re with is pouring out their heart to you, and you’re truly listening (not thinking what to say), whatever problems you have, whatever might otherwise be occupying your mind, is — for the moment — “out there” someplace. Have you noticed this? If you are a runner, or a mountain climber, or one who loves to fish or to garden, you will notice that when you’re purely engaged in the physical act, you are not separate from the thing you’re doing. You are the moment’s activity. This is not about identity (which requires the mind), not about defining yourself as one-who-listens-well, or one who sings or fishes. It’s about there being no separation between “you” and the thing you’re absorbed in.
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The only place authentic refuge is to be found is the now. We tend to seek escape or consolation in beliefs, in a picture or story of another time — all of which requires the engagement of the mind. But when attention is on the now, what’s engaged is not the mind but awareness. To be aware is to be peacefully here, to viscerally register aliveness, however it may be expressing itself just now — which is, of course, in ceaseless flux.
To experience the difference between thought and awareness is itself liberating. Awareness is what senses aliveness. This is what wakefulness is about: not ceaseless ecstasy or distance from regular life, not a system of otherworldly ideas, but plain hereness. It’s got to do with pure attunement to reality, sans mental handling or the attempt to alter or escape.
Oh, but how the ever-vigilant mind wants to insist that many other things not perceptible in the now are also real: the pandemic; personal history; the political situation; distant loved ones you’re missing, perhaps concerned about. But see how the mind must be engaged in order to “visit” anything not immediate, not experience-able in the now. There’s a life-altering difference between what the mind has access to and what present-moment consciousness opens to.
Yes, you surely can — in this moment — sink into the feeling of deep love for someone not physically with you. But discover what it’s like to feel for this dear one, without drifting into whatever familiar story tends to “go with” the person. How liberating to explore the distinction between these two things, which habit has taught us to believe are all-of-a-piece.
And of course there will be times when you will want to reflect on matters of concern to you that are not apparent in the now. The point is to realize, by experiencing the intermittent refuge of the now, that just because a situation is ongoing does not mean attention must dwell there in an uninterrupted way.
To take periodic refuge in the now is nourishing and deeply restorative. It enables you to cope more sanely with times of stress and uncertainty. The mind-accessed parts of the larger situation need not define your entire sense of reality.
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The refuge of the now is not about the present moment being somehow “perfect” (or in denial of the larger picture of a situation). It simply feels good to be with what’s real — even if that happens to entail physical discomfort, or a breaking heart. Being in the now is not always a feel-good experience. But it does “feel good” to relax entirely into whatever is real inside, to allow whatever is there, without fighting it. To do so feels alive. It feels spacious, at ease.
The sensation of refuge comes of the disengagement from the mind, and with immersion in the reality of here-and-now. It comes of experiencing life itself as it is happening. The restfulness that arises is due to the relaxing of all effort (much of which we aren’t even aware of exerting . . . until it melts away). The you as experienced in the moment is entirely receptive, aware, noticing. You’re simply seeing and feeling what’s here, inside and out, allowing all. That’s it. Breathtakingly simple.
The mind is required when entering the future or the past, entertaining the apparent reality of something in time or elsewhere. The mind does not experience; what it does is process, often with an attempt to understand or control. Awareness experiences, and only what is here-and-now. We don’t experience time: we think about something in time.
Remember that (contrary to the mind’s persistent pull) it is not necessary to understand — most anything at all.
Nor is it “necessary” to fully be with what’s happening . . . unless peace feels better to you than angst.
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How does one “get there,” to the now? It begins with becoming conscious. You are not (alas) in control of when or whether that occurs. Conscious awareness may dawn because some discomfort (likely mental/emotional) has drawn your attention. If you become curious, you will surely see that the mind has been active. However the spacious noticing enters the now, simply notice its blessed arrival. Explore what plain awareness feels like, as you set aside whatever has, just before, captivated the thinker.
When conscious attention comes onto the scene, it then becomes possible to observe that thought is (or has been) occurring. Simply seeing that fact indicates that awareness functions outside the thought stream. The seeing is happening from the unresisting spaciousness of the now. Allow yourself to register that. Then tune into any sensation (pleasant or otherwise) inside your body.
Notice what your senses are able to detect in the immediate scene. If you are doing something, allow attention to go to the movement of the activity. Discover that there is actually latitude in where attention goes — when you are conscious. See how it can gently be moved from what-you’re-doing to the interior of the body. You’re not thinking here, or trying to change your thoughts or felt sensations; you’re simply noticing what’s (already) happening.
Nature takes its course. If you notice yourself being drawn back into your head, it may help to redirect the focus to something sensory, either inside your body or in the immediate scene.
Above all, this: If the urge to “make it last” occurs to you, invite awareness to notice that this desire occurs in the mind, which has convinced itself that future moments are real, controllable, predictable. Or that one sort of now is preferable to another. Awareness does not have such an aspiration.
Which is one of the reasons present-moment immersion is conspicuously peaceful. All effort has been relaxed.
You may notice — or perhaps can see this, looking back — that trying to make anything “last” or recur (or stop happening) has one reliable outcome: it keeps you living in your head, reinforcing the compelling illusion of control. None of which is living.
Moment-to-moment awareness, sans mental handling, is what living is. It’s what we hunger for all our struggling lives. Nowadays, maybe, even more than ever.
Here’s wishing you profound refuge, any moment it blessedly arrives. Be kind to your dear self.