There is No Now

Frans StieneArticles, English Leave a Comment


“Be in the now.” “Be in the present moment.” These are phrases we hear more and more in the current mindfulness movement. But the more I look for the now and the present moment, the more I realize that they can not be found! Each time I try to grasp them, they slip through my fingers as if trying to grasp air.

Try it for yourself. Can you find the now? Can you find the present moment? If we really investigate and look closer, we start to see that both the now and the present moment can not be found. As soon as you say now, it is already the past. As soon as we think we are in the present moment, it is the past already. Thus when we take our mindfulness practice deeper and deeper, we start to see that there is no now or present moment.

The now or the present moment is just an expedient means for many people. They feel they can use it as a focus point for their practice, thereby getting less distracted. It helps them to let go a little of the past and the future, but it is just the first step.

At one point we also need to let go of the now and the present moment, being completely free of each of the three times. This doesn’t mean we can not plan about what we are doing tomorrow. But as soon as we have planned it, we let it go – no worry or fear, just free.

Present moment really means being present, not getting distracted by the present, past, and future. Not being distracted by the now. Many teachers say to let go of the past and the future; be in the now. But the now and the present moment, even if we can’t find it, also is a distraction because we can even say that it is in the “now” that we think about the past and the future. We do not think about the past in the past; we do not think about the future in the future. We do this kind of thinking in the now, in the present moment. Hence, we also need to let go of the now and the present moment, because it is only then that we stop getting distracted by the past and the future.

Therefore to really go deeper into mindfulness and a spiritual practice, we need to let go of labeling things as past, present, and future altogether. By putting a label on time, we get more and more distracted from our true identity which is free of the three times: the past, present, future.

In fact when we let go of the three times, we start to have more time because normally we are so attached to time that it creates restrictions. I only have 5 minutes – I have to do this in an hour. All of these create restrictions; thus when we let go of these restrictions, we will start to see that we have more time to do things!

Often we set very specific times for our meditation practice: 20 minutes, 45 minutes, you name it. But when we go deeper, we start to also realize that restricted time creates restricted meditation. Meditation is a state of mind, being completely present, not being distracted by the past, present, and future. And this needs to be integrated in all we do, during the day and night. Thus if we only can stay in this state of mind of meditation for 20 minutes or 45 minutes, we limit ourselves. Meditation needs to become life and life meditation.

Tilopa (988-1069), an Indian yogi, pointed this out very clearly in his teachings: “Don’t follow what is past and don’t invite the future. Don’t speculate about the present and don’t meditate with the intellect. Don’t analyze with discursive thought; utterly relax your mind.”

With practice, as we begin to let go of our following, inviting, speculating and analyzing, we also can begin to utterly relax our mind – not into a “now” that does not exist, but into the timeless flow of the universe and our True Identity.

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