“When your attention moves into the Now, there is an alertness. It is as if you were waking up from a dream, the dream of thought, the dream of past and future. Such clarity, such simplicity. No room for problem-making. Just this moment as it is… The moment you enter the Now with your attention, you realize that life is sacred. There is a sacredness to everything you perceive when you are present. The more you live in the Now, the more you sense the simple yet profound joy of Being and the sacredness of all life.” – Eckhart Tolle
Most of the time, for most of us, our attention is so divided between what we are doing and what is going on in our heads that life just skims past us. As a result, our skill level with what we are doing and with interpersonal relationship is quite limited, not to mention the capacity to see and experience the sacredness of life all around us. We are just present enough to have the minimal required effectiveness to get by; and the notion that any moment, indeed every moment, is pregnant with spiritual potential is simply not recognizable to us.
For most of us, if we have any spiritual practice at all, it is generally engaged in situations with clear time boundaries quite separate from our ongoing everyday lives. We have rituals and places of worship, whether that is a church or a mountaintop. We may have a meditation practice, but few experience and engage their meditation like an athlete practices warm-up before engaging in their sport, and one very valuable perspective on meditation is to approach it in this way. It is warm-up for the game of life, limbering and sharpening the senses and the mind, calling forth clear present-moment awareness to engage our everyday experiences in a manner that opens us to deep and vital skill and connection with whatever we are doing. As an athlete prepares himself to enter the flow of their sport, with meditation we can prepare to enter the flow of life – sharp, present, and open for whatever may happen.
But typically, we bring only partial attention to whatever we are engaged with, a significant part of the mind still elsewhere in events past or anticipated. We have forgotten that when we bring our full attention into the present moment, and I mean full attention, time stops. Of course it does. Time is past and future, and it could be said that our psychological sense of self depends on time, for our psychological sense of self is a story of personal history and anticipations we tell ourselves repetitively as we go about our lives. We run the routine of our lives – getting from our past to our future, the present moment being only what happens along the way. This is a superficial and unsatisfying way to live and certainly not spiritual.
And then – perhaps we are in a magnificent natural setting – a mountaintop, the ocean at sunset, the Grand Canyon, a magnificent waterfall – and time stops and we become completely present. We may very well come away describing the experience as spiritual, and we tend to give the experience the credit as being spiritual – “Oh, you have to go to this waterfall – It is such a spiritual experience.” What we fail to realize is that the power of the waterfall is not that it is any more inherently spiritual than any other manifestation of the miracle of life, but that because of its beauty and power it functions as a trigger that brings us fully into the moment with no commentary or story. We are completely present.
It is the completely present that is the actual opening into the spiritual dimension. The grandeur of the waterfall then becomes the content of the spiritual experience as the sense of preoccupation with our own story and agenda falls away. The disappearance of our self-preoccupation is the opening into this moment of unity with the moment, and it is this experience of unity that is spiritual. The same can be experienced with the song of a bird, a flower, or any aspect of life if we avail ourselves to it completely and look deeply into it as the miracle that it is. We will become completely present, time will stop, and the spiritual dimension of oneness in the experience will open.
On the other end of the desirability spectrum, we may be in a great natural catastrophe, caught in a war zone, or have just been told by our doctor that we have cancer. Time stops. There is only this moment and we are gasping to find how to meet this moment and survive it. This may not be sublime, but it can be equally spiritual, and may well be life-altering, as the preciousness of life becomes evident as never before. Once again, we are completely present. No time or even orientation to keep up our story. The paradox of these life-threatening experiences is that people have been known to come away noting that they never felt more alive.
I’ve always found it interesting that apocalyptic Christian theology holds that the “Kingdom of Heaven” will be realized in the end of time – and a parade of false prophets throughout history have set dates on the calendar when this ending will occur. Far more likely, I believe, the teaching is to be taken psychologically – that just as Jesus is to have said, “the Kingdom of Heaven is spread across the land but people do not have the eyes to see it,” the ending of time is in the ending of psychological time, when we come fully into the present moment and our mind releases holding onto past and future – when we are here completely present in the Now. This is the way to have the eyes to see – not just on the mountaintop, but in our own back yard and with the next person we encounter.
We can bring our attention fully into the Now, into the present, through our senses. Tune awareness into this moment experienced in vision, in hearing, in feeling – first with obvious sensations, but keep going deeper. See not only the obvious objects around you, see subtler and smaller detail, and see the space out of which the objects arise. Hear not only the sounds around you, listen to subtler and subtler sounds until you have the sense of hearing the silence beneath the sounds out of which all sounds arise and then return. Feel not only the surface sensations of your body, feel the subtlest of sensations – your breathing, and even the inner sensations of life animating your body, and then, even the energy of life all around you that passes through you, what the Chinese call chi. Feel the energy of the Earth beneath you and the sky above and how energy travels through you linking these two dimensions. Open your senses, including the sense of intuition that feels the invisible energy of the universe permeating everything.
The mind will stop – and your sense of separate self may or may not completely disappear, but you will find that it coexists with a sense of self that is connected with the experience of the moment and ultimately, the infinite. The Now will open its secrets and you will know why Eckhart Tolle named his book The Power of Now.