The Challenge of Simply Being Now
The heart of this retreat, what we are offering today, is present-moment meditation, which is very simple – simply being present in open awareness, as we are; simply being with what-is, whatever it is – this is what-is meditation. It is truly simple, it is a very natural inherent human capacity, and yet, very often it is not easy for us to simply be; simply being present – it is simple, and yet, sometime it's not easy.
One reason for this is that we are caught in waves of emotions, storms of feelings, strong currents of driving impulses which take us away from what is happening here and now; we are drowning in reactivity, lost in negativity, unable to be present in the present moment. Another reason for this difficulty, the challenge of simply being now, is more subtle, less obvious, and it is also more fundamental and therefore more powerful; and this is our ideas, our thoughts, our notions of who we are and what we are, and what is this world and this life we are living.
But first of all, as today we are learning meditation – it's not easy being now because of our ideas of what is meditation; and therefore this morning, in this talk, I would like to clarify what is present-moment meditation and what may be our ideas of meditation, which are the main obstacle that prevents us from simply being now as we are. We have ideas about "the present moment", notions of "now", and these mislead us to think and believe that being now somehow requires us to do something or to become someone, to attain some extra-ordinary "meditative state"; while, in truth, there are no prerequisites for present-moment meditation, there are no prerequisites for now – there are no special conditions, nothing we need to cultivate, there is no way we need to follow to simply be present, attentive to life as it is in the now.
The Question of Now, Time and Meditation
In order to clarify all that, let us look deeply into the question of time and meditation – the question of the place of time in meditation; and let us begin with a most fundamental truth – there is suffering: this is a very real fact. There is suffering in our life, there is suffering in the human condition, and our habitual common attitude is a reaction – we are trying to seek a way out, to search for solution to the problem of suffering outside of the present moment – to search for solution in time. Here and now there is suffering, and normally we look for a way out of suffering through time – maybe later, maybe there we will find the solution to this problem; but today we're invited to question, is this so – is time the answer? Is time the way?
Our question today is "What is the relation between time and present-moment meditation?", and this is not an abstract question – it is a question regarding our life and meditation, and life is never an abstraction. It is a very practical question, a very concrete question dealing directly with the way we approach our meditation, whether we are sitting or walking, and also in daily-life meditation – this question includes our attitude to any life-situation, with any action, anything we do in meditation: how do we view our life in meditation? Is our life and meditation merely a movement in time, or are we open and attentive to what is beyond time – are we free to be now?
Here and now we may be suffering, and sometime this suffering is more obvious, more apparent as it manifests on the outside, and sometime it's more subtle, more hidden inside; but either way, now there is suffering – and yet, now is the way to be free from suffering. There is no way out of the present moment, there is no way to avoid and escape life as it is – only now is the way; now is the Way In, the way to embrace and penetrate our suffering, and thus to be free. Everything we truly want is only available now – only now it is possible to awaken to life, to be truly alive; only now it is possible to touch living joy, to open our heart in gratitude and be free to love what-is.
And so, this is the question of now, the challenge of now in meditation: now there is suffering, and yet now is the way, now is the gateway to life beyond suffering; and is there a contradiction between these two facts, and how do we bridge this gap – is time necessary? Is it a matter of time – is now a matter of time?! – what is the place of time in our life and meditation? We are here, but we want to get there – this is the way of time; and is there spaciousness beyond time in our life, is there openness in our meditation, an opening to life beyond time?
We have learned about the possibility of freedom from suffering, we have heard that there is a way – and where and when do we expect to find it? Where and when do we hope to come upon this promise? Whenever we hear about the possibility of freedom from suffering, whenever we hear about the possibility of true gratitude and living joy, compassion and love, our most immediate question, the question that normally follows is "How do we get it – how do we get there?" … Here we suffer and we want to get there, where there is no suffering – this is what we normally think and believe; and if we call this place where there is no suffering "now", if we think this is the address of our peace and joy, the address of love, if we label it "the present moment", then our question becomes "How do we get now? How do we get to the present moment?"
This question is so misleading, so misguided in so many ways – "How?" is not the question; and this talk is an attempt to clarify that. When we ask "How?" we are looking for means to an end (skillful means, hopefully …) – when we ask "How?" we are looking for something to do, some way to get a certain result that we desire, a particular outcome that we want; we are seeking and searching, and this movement from here to there, this process of applying the means which we use, this process takes time. And so, this is our question – does it take time to get to the present moment? Does it take time to get to now? You smile when we're asking the question this way, you laugh – obviously, it’s absurd; and yet, so often we are caught in this movement in time, this realm of time is our common abode.
The question is, is there a way to now? Which means, is present-moment meditation a practice – is it a process of accumulation over time? Is there a method to get to now? Is our meditation a cumulative process – step by step, day by day, gradually we advance, until eventually, some time away – at the end of the retreat, at the end of many lifetimes – until finally we get to now? You smile and laugh because this way of thinking is obviously an absurd, and yet – this is how we commonly view our life and meditation; and that is why this is our question: what is the relation between time and present-moment meditation?
This question is very immediate and direct, relating to every life-situation, because there's no separation between life and meditation: simply being present in open awareness – is it a result of time? Is awakening to the present moment an end-result, something there we aim for, the conclusion of our path, the goal of our "spiritual adventure" – is now an aim, a goal? Or maybe, is now means to an end – is awakening to the present moment an instrument, a stepping-stone, a first step on our way to finally arrive at the aim, away from life as it is in the now? Is being now somehow a part of the movement of time – is now the result of time? Can freedom from time be found in the future, based on the past – is freedom from time the result of time? When we're asking the question this way it sounds absurd, and the answer is obvious; and yet, so often this is how we think, this is our common normal attitude.
We are describing two fundamentally and radically different approaches to life and meditation. One can be called "the way of time", which is a way to get to somewhere else, away from now – it is a way away from what is happening here and now. It is a way of becoming – becoming better than who and how we are, becoming other than who and how we are; and we are living this way, wanting and trying to become someone else, because we don't like so much the way we are, as we are. The way of becoming is our common approach to life and meditation, as we are normally striving for a better state of body and mind, wanting and trying to improve our relationships and to fix whatever problems we come across – this is a problem-solving approach, which can be called "a better-state meditation". This attitude is appropriate for practical problems, and certainly, as there are advantages to this approach, there's a time and place for it; but – is this all? This is our question today, the question of now, time and meditation – aren't we missing something vitally important when we are so keen on getting away from now, away from life with all its challenges in the present moment? In our enthusiastic pursuit of there aren't we overlooking what's here, aren't we missing out on life? … because there is life only now.
The other approach is the way of now, which is the meditation we're learning – it is a way of simply being with whatever is, as it is. This is present-moment meditation, or what-is meditation, which is a way of being: simply being, without trying to become anything other than the way we are now; and as simple as it is, this attentive attitude offers a radical shift in our outlook on life, a change of heart, a new way of being alive. It is very easy to accept the saying that the first step on our path of meditation is being here and now – nowadays it is a very common understanding, it is the accepted approach in many kinds of meditation – the present moment, here and now, is the first step; but is this all? So often, after we take this first step, the question that immediately follows is "What's next? Where do we go from here, and how do we get there?" … and then again, we are lost and caught in the way of time. But as the now can only be now – it's never later! – this first step is also the last step, again and again, each moment anew: being now, simply being now … and there is never another step, away from now; which means that there is no path to now, there is no story to now – stepping into now, being now, this is the first and the last step on the way of meditation; the first and the last step, each moment anew.
So, there is an essential difference between the way of time and the way of now; and that's why we're learning about the relation between now, which is this present moment, and time – what is time and what is now; and when we truly understand, we realize that the present moment is not a moment in time – rather, it's a moment out of time, a moment beyond time … now is not of time; and still, in the present moment there's no problem with time.
Discovering Now Beyond Time
To clarify further the relation between now and time, to understand better what has been said so far, let us describe three kinds of time, three meanings to the word "time". One kind of time can be called "measured time", "mechanical time" or "conventional time" – it is "time o'clock" – time according to the clock, or according to the calendar – it is time as an accepted measure of natural cycles of change: days, as the measure of the Earth's rotation around itself, and hours and minutes and seconds, as divisions of this measure; months, as a count of days or as the rhythm of the moon's orbit around the Earth, and seasons and years, decades and centuries, as measures of the Earth's orbit around the sun.
These are natural changes that happen without our will or consent, and we merely use words, we use language to specify portions of these natural cycles of change – instead of saying "We'll meet a little bit after the next full moon", now we can say "We'll meet on this or that time and date" – this is measured time. It can be very specific, exact, detailed and accurate, or it can be very broad, vast, but either way this kind of time carries no emotional burden, it has no color or value to it – it's just a practical designation, a matter of accepted conventions.
There is another kind of time which is totally different, and yet sometime it is confused with the mechanical conventional measured time; and this other kind of time can be called "psychological time" – this is time as a process of becoming, and that is why it can also be called "becoming time" or "story-time". When we live in the realm of this time, as very often most of us do, we live within an elaborate web of story-lines – we are living the story of Self: who I was and how I was, and who and how I will be; what I did, and what I will do – again and again we are repeating these stories, to ourselves and to others as well. Story-time is the song of the Self, humming itself these "story-tunes", repeating these patterns of thoughts and feelings and threading them on a time-line, and then performing them on life's stage; we are weaving images and shadows into a story, and then we are orchestrating these stories as role-playing in our relationships, and always – the show must go on! Some of the characters in these stories may change but the main character always stays, always remains the same – it is always "me", always "I" am the center of the story; and everything else revolves around me.
We are telling ourselves these Self-stories, again and again – what we were and what we will be, and what is happening now according to me; and when we live this way we are never really in touch with life as it is – we are only in touch with life as a process of time, life according to the story, which more often than not is different, it's not the same, because it's only an interpretation and a distortion, as our stories distort our vision of life. When we live in story-time we are isolated, cut-off from life; and being out-of-sync with what-is, not being in harmony with life, what we call "now", what we call "the present moment", is just an abstraction, it's just another chapter in the Self's story – the story of our hopes and fears, memories and regrets, images and ideas – the story which is the Self's movement in time, its process of becoming and becoming and never simply being … and then "now" is just a stepping-stone from the past to the future, as we are never really in touch with the reality of life in the now, never really touching our ground of being.
Whenever we talk about the way of time, and whenever we mention "time" in general, without specifying which kind, if we don't say otherwise we are referring to story-time. This is time as a story we tell ourselves – it is time as a mental process, an activity of thought and feeling; and this story continues itself through the drama we produce with any interaction in daily life, with any reaction, as whatever we say and do, feel and think, is centered on our Self and conditioned by the story. Story-time is the story of the Self, which is the center of all accumulation, knowledge and experience, which are further projected as story-fragments, seeds of delusion, as we further complicate our life and entangle ourselves in story-time. Living this way, our attempts to get to "now", all our endeavors, our efforts, our practice of meditation, the spiritual exercises we are engaged in – all our meditative doings and striving to gradually get, step by step, to "the present moment" – all of these are just chapters in the Self's story, living in the realm of story-time.
The third kind of time is not really time – as we've said before, the present moment is not a moment in time, the now is not a matter of time; rather, it is time beyond time, or timeless time. This is the now, or "being time", time being – not becoming, being; and it is "a kind of time" only because we speak of it as such, because we confuse it with measured time and with story-time, the other kinds of time that have been previously described. Now beyond time is not of the story of Self and its movement from past to future through fears and hopes, preferences and discrimination and choice – the past no longer is, the future has not yet come, and the true present moment cannot be limited by our narrow views, prejudices and opinions, beliefs and conclusions, which we express as stories; now beyond time cannot be grasped by the story, it cannot even be described by the story – it cannot be attained or arrived by any means through the story. Now beyond time is life beyond the story – it is being in touch, being present, being aware – it is time being; being attentive to the way things are beyond the story, not necessarily according to the story of time.
And all of this doesn't mean that in the present moment we deny and avoid, that we try to escape the story of time and the process of Self, because the story is happening, it's a fact, the story is also life – whatever we do and say, think and feel, is happening in time – we live in time. The dimension of story-time that has just been described, it is also a fact of life; and the way we relate to that, the way we are being with that, this is present-moment meditation – now beyond time is the attentive quality of this action in time, being attentive to life as it is in the now. So now, time beyond time, is life not necessarily according to the story, as we have said; but it is also life including the story – only, we are not caught in the story, we are not fooled by the story – we are not confusing the story with life, we are not confusing the idea of what-is and what actually is.
Now beyond time is our attentive attitude to time and its stories, it is the way we approach what-is, as it is – it is simply the present moment, each moment anew. Being now is a very simple way of being – it's not easy, but it's simple – and it is a very clear seeing: Seeing the idea as an idea, seeing the story as story, and then we are not so reactive to these stories, we don't take them so seriously, we don't take ourselves, our Self, so seriously – this is the freedom of now beyond time: not resisting life, and not reacting to the story … and living this way, this approach offers a very broad, a very open, very spacious way of being alive – it is a non-dual approach to life and meditation.
Now is Love: on Death, Fear and Time (Now is a Fact: No Problem Now)
Before we continue, responding to the question of now, time and meditation, which is the question of life in the present moment – is there a way to now? – let us look into a related question – the question of death: to understand the question of life we need to face death and understand our notions of "death", and this way we may also discover love.
When we are looking into the question of now and time, the question of death also comes up, and with it the question of fear – fear and time are closely related to death, as well as love; and so, to understand the relation between now and time, let us learn what is death and why there's fear. And although ordinarily we would associate death with fear, this is not necessarily so – there is also fearless death, death which is now, death which is surrender to the present moment … while fear is always accompanied by time and its stories – death is now, while fear is time.
We've learned about three kinds of time, three meanings to the word "time"; and now, as time is related to death and to fear, to understand better let us learn about three kinds of death, three meanings to "death", as each kind of death is associated with a kind of time. And by understanding death we also understand the question of now, and thus we are free to face and openly meet the challenge of life; and so, let us learn how being now beyond time offers us freedom from fear, which is love.
One kind of time is measured time, time as a measure of natural cycles of change; and with it there is death-as-change, which is death as a fact of life: everything that appears has to disappear, everything that is alive has to die sometime, everything that is has to change – nothing remains the same. Things change – it's a fact of life; and so, as one thing dies it turns to other things, and thus life continues through the death of individual things. Every-thing is a fragment of life, every particular thing is a part of everything else; every-thing is composed of everything else, and as life changes each thing is born and then it dies, one facet of life disappears while another appears – this is the dance of death-as-change, which is the song of life.
In measured time, time is only a conventional figure of speech, an accepted way of referring to life's changes; and in the same way, death-as-change is only a description of life, a fact that carries no emotional burden, and this way death is not a problem: things change, that is all; observing the fact of death as a fact, as it is, it is not a problem. Nothing lasts forever, everything rises and falls, whatever comes later goes – such is life; as the in-breath dies to allow for the out-breath to be, as the out-breath dies to allow for a new breath, every thing dies and thus life is renewed. Death-as-change is just another way of saying life-as-new – life is new, what-is is each moment anew, and there's renewal only with death; and so this kind of death is not a problem – it's a fact, and a fact is never a problem but an invitation for attentive action.
Another kind of time is story-time, psychological time – this is time as a movement of becoming, as the Self moves in cycles of repetition, wanting and trying to become other than itself, better than what it is, with no way out; it is a movement that is initiated and perpetuated by any reaction and any action resisting the facts of life in the now. In this realm there is death-as-fear – death signifies the end of the Self, the end of the center around which revolves the story – the end of the story; and there is nothing we are more afraid of than this ending – our greatest challenge is to simply be without the context of the story, without the frame, the pattern of the story – this is our greatest fear: in time we are living in fear.
Living in story-time we are afraid of death, as it cannot be grasped by the story – death is the end of the story, it is the unknown; and therefore we are afraid of the unknown. We are afraid of death, so we say and think, but actually we are afraid of life, as life is beyond the grasp of any mental construction – life is unknown as it doesn't fit any mental picture or image; we are afraid of being fully alive, being now as we are, being present beyond the story – we are afraid of being now beyond time. The story offers us comfort and safety, a known refuge, and death is its end – death is the loss of all we've accumulated, our position and valuables, our attainments and even our failings; as long as we think we know, as long as we believe we have some certitude we feel safe, and death is the loss of that – death is life beyond the story, and that's why we're afraid.
The fear of death is the fear of losing our Self – the Self is afraid to disappear, it wants to avoid death, to escape life's changes by continuing itself through the story – this is the reason for the story's importance: it is a matter of Self-survival. The Self is ever-wanting and trying to avoid the facts of life and death, but this way we are presented with a problem – the problem of death, which is the problem of fear: wanting and trying to escape death we are reacting, running away, and then there is fear which is resistance to life, and further reactivity and resistance to life reinforces fear … with no way out of this problem. A problem exists only in the realm of story-time, but there it appears real and demands a solution; and that's why we're constantly running, seeking and searching for something, never at ease with what-is – death is a problem to us, life is a problem, now is a problem … this is the suffering of death-as-fear, living in story-time.
We are afraid to lose our Self, and furthermore, since presence in the present moment is the dissolution of the Self's story, as being now is freedom from the Self's story, we are also afraid to face the Self and meet ourselves as we are – we are afraid to lose our Self, and we are also afraid to meet the Self; and thus we are living in fear, with no way out: as we are fear, we are afraid to face and meet fear; as we are stories of Self, thought and time, we are afraid to face and meet all that … and that's why we resist and react. We are afraid of fear – this is a reaction; thinking death is there, we try to avoid it but only resist life – this is a reaction that contradicts itself, this is the inherent Self-contradiction of life in the realm of story-time. We are afraid of death, and that's why we react and try to avoid it; but death is a fact of life, and thus we're really resisting life … and yet, what-is is unavoidable, and so we cannot ignore or oppose, resist or avoid the facts of life.
Living in time there's wanting and trying, resisting and reacting, there is suffering – it's a fact of life – in story-time, in the realm of death-as-fear, there is suffering; and as long as there is fear, resistance and reactivity, there is no love. That's why, when we're facing this fear, death-as-fear, the only way out is the Way In – it is a way into the heart of the present moment, facing our fears and thus being free from death; this is the way of now, each moment anew, and then we are presented with the wonder of now – when we're meeting fear and death, then there is love.
There is an expression, "Time heals", but is this so? Time may carry us away to lose ourselves in the story, and so it may bring us the relief of forgetfulness – but is this healing? Time is the root of suffering and dis-ease, and how can time heal our wounds? Time is the problem, and how can time be the solution? Time is the realm of the Self, and how can the Self find an escape from itself through time? Time as story can only propagate itself, can only further the drama of Self, and there, there is fear and suffering – peace and joy are only available now – now is the way … and therefore not time heals – now heals! Presence in the present moment is the proper response to suffering, as suffering is resistance to life, and in the now there is reverence for life, which is love; and therefore only love heals, as love is now and now is love – love is not of time.
The third kind of time is not really time – it is being time, timeless time, now beyond time; and in this realm death is simply freedom from time. Death beyond time is dying to time and its stories – this is death as freedom from story-time and its Self-occupation, death as freedom from Self, freedom from thought and time. Dying to time is not a reaction to time – on the contrary: dying to the story of time is being free to be now, to be fully alive – dying to time is awakening to life in the now; and in the same way, freedom is not a reaction – freedom from the fear of death is simply a way of being with what-is, whatever it is, in an embrace of love. In the now there is death beyond time, which is death as freedom from fear, which is the freedom to love: fear is closing down and turning away from what is now, while love is the freedom to be with this fear without resisting it or reacting to it, free to simply be present in open awareness – love is opening up and turning toward what-is, facing and meeting, embracing and penetrating every life-situation in the present moment.
Therefore, in the realm of now beyond time there is death-as-freedom – when we are not bound by our complexes of Self, in each moment when we let go of Self-importance, dying to our stories and fears, fantasies and memories, hopes and traumas, anxieties and regrets, we are free to be attentive to life as it is and act accordingly. Freedom from time is death beyond time – dying to the past and the future and also dying to ideas of "the present moment"; and thus, being at ease with life beyond the story, free to let what-is be, we are free to discover love. This is death-as-love, and it is always accompanied by great joy – the joy of letting go, the joy of allowing what-is to be, the joy of being fulfilled, full and filled, with life's vitality – this is the joy of being truly alive, the joy of loving life, unconditionally and indiscriminately – there are no prerequisites for joy and love … but being attentive in the now.
We are looking deeply into the question of death, time and fear, now and love; and by understanding the three kinds of time and death we've just discussed, we understand also the facts of life: with time, there is fear; in the now, there is love; and change, although it is the unknown, a movement into not-knowing, is not a problem. Death-as-change is not a problem, as the fact is never a problem; death-as-love, not only it is not a problem, it is great joy – it is the joy of letting go of our ideas and stories, the joy of being alive; but living in time, death-as-fear is experienced as a problem, as it involves fear and the reaction of wanting and trying to escape fear, which is a movement away from what-is. When we are living in the realm of story-time we are limited by our Self-view, and thus we find ourselves in a contradiction – here we are, and yet we want to be there; death is a fact, there's no escape, and yet all the time we are trying and wanting to escape this fact, and this is a problem and suffering.
In the now, death is not a problem. This is death as freedom from problem – it is the freedom to face what-is as a fact, to meet life with its difficulties, without resistance or reactivity. A problem requires solution, and as the problem is here and now, we look for the solution later and there … but when we die to "later and there", when we die to any idea of solution in time, there is only the fact of life in the present moment, only the fact of what-is, and then, no matter whatever "it" is, it is no longer a problem. If we can be present even with the difficulties and the challenges, then nothing is a problem, not even death – on the contrary; then death is freedom from problem, and true freedom is always expressed in action, just as dying to story-time, death is expressed as life.
Simply being now, dying to Self and time, death is compassionate and wise action – this is death-as-action. But living in time, a perceived problem brings delayed action, which is stagnation and in-action – aiming at a future solution, conditioned by past experiences, we're out-of-sync with life in the present, we're not in harmony with the way it is now … and then anything we would do will further complicate and entangle us in the story. Of course, concrete practical solutions to concrete daily-life problems may offer relief; but now we are talking about the essential question of life and death, joy and love or time and fear – and anything we would do that is based on a perception of the present life-situation as a "problem" will not resolve it and is not the way to freedom from suffering … and thus only freedom from problem, death to the idea of "problem", allows for attentive action, action in accordance with what-is, without turning what-is to a story, without turning life to a problem or an idea.
Death-as-fear is death as an idea – fear is always based on an idea, replacing the reality with a fictionalized version of it; in the realm of thought and story-time death is not real, it's only imagined, a mental self-reflection – it is the story thinking about its end, the story trying to grasp its own dissolution … and as futile as this mental gymnastics is, it generates a very deep fear. Death-as-fear is death-as-time – it is an event in the future; but death beyond time, death-as-love, is surrender to the present moment, letting-be in the now. We think death will happen in the future, we think death is of time – this is the idea of death in the realm of story-time; but in the now there is death beyond time and thought, death as reality and not an idea.
We believe death is the end of life, and that's why we're afraid; but when we die to this belief, when we dwell in the reality of life as an actual fact, there is not fear but life. Death is change, and as change is a fact of life, death is an aspect of life – death is life! – in the now, life and death are simply one breath; dying to the past and the future, dying to the story of time, dying to resistance to life as it is in the now, this is death-as-life: when we die to illusion we awaken to truth and to life; death is awakening to this present moment, in the now death is being truly alive, and only now we can be free to love.
We've learned about three kinds of death: death-as-change is a fact, and death-as-freedom-and-love is the attentive response to this fact in the now; but death-as-fear is just an idea, it's not real – it is a story anticipating its end. In the realm of Self and time, there is no death but an idea of "death" – I fear that sometime away I won't exist … which means there is no death but only fear of death; and although fear is based on an idea, still this fear is a fact – it is the fact of the idea as an idea. Death-as-change is a fact, death-as-fear is an idea of thought, and death-as-love is the freedom to be attentive to the fact of what-is – the freedom to be with the fear, the freedom to understand the idea as an idea, the story as story – and then, is there fear?
There is fear – for many of us most of the time this is so, fear is a fact; there is fear, and where and when will we be free from fear – is freedom from fear to be found in time? Is freedom from fear a matter of time? Fear is time, and is freedom from time a matter of time? – only now there is freedom from fear, the freedom to love, the freedom to be truly alive. In life, in our relationships, often there is fear, attachment and reactivity – this is a fact; but what happens when we face and meet the fact as a fact? As we approach fear, freshly and innocently, we discover it is actually harmless, just a story unfolding and revolving around itself … and then, when we're fully present, fear is no longer a problem but a gateway to the wonder of life!
In the now, death is not a problem – the problem is fear, and the common habitual way we react to fear; the problem is fear, and the answer is love. Love is being free from fear – love is the freedom to be now, attentive and responsive to life – only now there is freedom from time and fear, being now is the freedom to love life as it is. Love is the answer to fear of death, as love is non-resistance and non-reactivity to the resistance and reactivity of fear; and therefore, death-as-love is the answer to death-as-fear, as now is the answer to time.
Love is the freedom to face and meet fear – to embrace and penetrate fear, to bring it and its source to the light of now, and thus to dissolve its foundation of story-time. In love there may be fear, but there is also freedom from fear, as love is reverence for life: allowing whatever is to be, letting fear be, letting it flower and thus lose its fearsomeness – befriending it, being open and joyful with it – this is freedom from fear, the freedom to love. Love is the freedom to be attentive to what-is in the present moment – simply being present in open awareness, love is a way of being meditation, a way of being truly alive – love is simply being now as we are, and offering our presence to all.
No Way Now: Now is Nowhere; on Now Beyond Signs
When we are attentive to life in the now, when we are fully present in the present moment, there is love that allows what-is to be; and then, in this way we discover our Self with our most hidden fears and attachments, traumas and complexes, assumptions and impulses – everything we are comes to light, our mistaken ideas and notions are exposed, our negativity and reactivity … and then, again, we are asking "What do we need to do in order to be now – what can we do to be now as we are? And how do we get there – how do we get to now?" Now is love, and that's why we're asking, "Is there a way to now – is there a way to love?" – this is the question of now, time and meditation, the question of love.
Coming back to this essential question, we are invited to face the facts about ourselves and thus to learn ourselves, to learn the Self – this is meditation; and the simplest fact there is, the most evident fact of life, is the fact of what-is: now we are here, as we are – here and now, such is life. And as the present moment is not necessarily according to our liking, from here, facing this fact, we have two possible directions, there are two ways, two kinds of meditation. One, our common ordinary approach to life and meditation, is an attempt to find a way out – out of suffering, out of the present difficulty; this meditation offers relief, it promises comfort, it claims to get a result – to get us somewhere we want, somewhere safe, somewhere away – not here, there; not now, later … and therefore it is a movement in time – this is the way of time, which is a way away, a way to somewhere else, and that's why this approach can be called "somewhere meditation". The other approach can be called "nowhere meditation", as it is directed to nowhere else but here and now – its only concern is life as it is in the present moment. This meditation is an open invitation – it is the Way In to now, a way of entering into any life-situation through the gateway of now, and this way we're awakening to life beyond the story, beyond any idea; and the question for us is which attitude to follow, which kind of meditation – how do we approach this present moment?
In the way of time we are entangled in stories, we are occupied with the past and the future and images of our Self; we live within a made-up mental map that corresponds to no land – it is not real. This is the realm of thought and time, where everything is confused as being a "thing" – we confuse life with our stories, we confuse what-is with each thing's name, we confuse the reality of the present moment with an idea of "now", which we place far away and thus it becomes an aim – we think now is there! We believe now is the gateway to life, joy and love, this we understand, but we're looking for this "now" somewhere else, somewhere away from what-is – in the way of time we're seeking a way out, we're searching for a way away from the reality of now, in order to get to "the present moment" … only, there is no way now; and that's why this question comes up, to challenge our meditation and way of life – what is the place of time in our life in present-moment meditation?
If we deeply understand this question, if we truly understand the words we are saying and understand also beyond the words, it is a challenge to many of our common notions about meditation, a challenge to many of our cherished beliefs; and this challenge is an invitation to look deeply and honestly and to question and doubt our assumptions, our ordinary normal attitudes: is there a path, a method to life – is meditation a system, is being now the result of acquiring a technique, cultivating good habits, applying means to get to an end? Is it a "way", and does it take time? Again and again, this is the challenge of now; and if we truly understand this question we are left where we are, as we are, with nothing to hold on to – the ground is pulled beneath our feet … and we are left here in this now with no tool, with nothing to grasp. That is why it is not easy to be now – being open to this unknowing presence, it is difficult, and yet this is the way; now is the way, and yet, this way of now is not really a way, it is not an ordinary way.
The true way is not a "way", the way of now is not a way to now – it is not a way from here to there through time; it is not a movement in time, it is not a movement to anywhere else – this is now, and here we already are; there is no way to now as now is already here, as we are. And so, as present-moment meditation is not a way to somewhere else away from now, there is no method we use to get a result, to achieve our goal, to attain the aim of spiritual or material success; there is no system of meditation, no skillful means to get our end – there is no way now as now is not a matter of time. The present moment is immediate – it requires no mediation; the now cannot be practiced, cannot be rehearsed – it is not a result we produce, something we cultivate, some "thing" we aim for: now is already here, in this present moment, each moment anew … now is nowhere, now-here; and that is why there is no way now.
A practice of meditation which involves trying to get to now is full of ideas and notions – "I would love tomorrow; I would be joyful at the end of the retreat, but now I have to strive very hard" – it's the menu, not the food; it's the map, not the land. That's how we normally think and believe: "I will be now – later, when I get enlightened; but now I need to go somewhere else, to become someone else, other than who and how I am in this present moment, so that eventually I will get to now". It's absurd when it is spoken out in words, and yet – this is our life and meditation, unless we awaken to be truly alive in this present moment, unless we truly enter life through the gateway of now.
All of this is fairly simple, and yet again and again we are lost – we get caught in our ideas about life and meditation, we are fooled by notions and signs; and to help clarify this confusion, let us tell a tale. There is a story about someone who was driving down the road, and upon seeing a store by the side of the road, with a big sign outside saying "Furniture", he stopped and went inside. He asked the person there "Can you please show me some chairs – what chairs do you have?" and the guy answered, "We have no chairs". A bit confused, he said "Well then, can you please show me some tables – which tables have you got?" and the answer was "We have no tables". And he asked, "Can you show me the desks? Can you show me your sofas? Can you please show me anything, any furniture whatsoever?" and again and again, the guy answered "No, sorry, we have no this, we have no that" … So after all this, being somewhat upset, he said "Well, you have a big sign outside that says "Furniture", and yet you have no chairs, no tables, no furniture – I don't understand! What have you got? What do you sell here?" and the person answered him, "I sell signs".
There is a big difference between the sign and the reality. There a big difference between the idea of "the present moment" and what is really the present moment, the notion of "now" and what-is now – now is beyond signs. When we come with our ideas, our notions of "the present moment", the result is always a movement in time; because our ideas have "the present moment" as some "thing" which needs to be placed somewhere, and this somewhere is always away from here and now as we are, away from life as it is in the now. We have our ideas, and yet, the reality of the present moment is that it is present, it is already now – the now is always now, it's never later.
Therefore, the question of now – how to get now? – is based on a mistaken notion, an idea that tries to grasp the present moment as some entity, some "thing"; because we think of it as some particular situation, a particular state of mind. We have all heard the expression "the awakened state", "a state of being" – we think of "the present moment" as some state of body and mind; and then we ask how to get there, how to get it … and the simple answer is that there is no way now – there is no way to now because the now is not an "it" – this is now beyond signs. Now cannot be grasped, it cannot be held and kept and used, it cannot even be approached – it is every moment renewing, it is the approach!
Body and mind are constantly changing, for better or worse, and in each present moment, it is what it is – what-is is, what-is is now; and so, being now is radically and fundamentally different from cultivating ourselves and nourishing a particular wholesome state of body and mind. We hear about the way of now and about the fruits of meditation, we learn that being here and now can offer us peace and living joy, and then we ask, "Well, now there is no living joy, and how do we get there, where there is – how do we get it?" … and again and again, the answer is that this living joy is found in our attitude, in the way we approach what-is – now is every moment available, every moment it is what it is. Being now is a very simple way of being – it's our openness to each and every state of body and mind, without being self-centered about it – not "What is it for me?" but "What is it, as it is?" … and this open questioning is the gateway to love.
So, the question for us, our challenge, the question of now is "What are we interested in? What do we truly want?" Do we want life – or notions of "life"? Do we want stories of "life", living in story-time, do we want symbols and signs, ideas about "life" which are not real – or to be truly alive? Where do we seek our peace and joy, peace of body and mind – can we be peaceful and find living joy with what-is, as it is? When we have an idea of what peace and joy look like, what love looks like, then we look for them in another situation, away from now – we make it into a project, a process, which is a way of becoming, a way of time. And what we are learning this morning is that the way of now and the way of time are two paths going in different directions: one leads to the reality of life, it is the Way In to every present moment, and the other leads to a story of life, living in the realm of thought, fear and time, where there is no love but only a sign.
The present moment is the only reality there is – it is now beyond signs; it is not an idea or an ideal, it is not an object of thought and therefore it is not subject to time. The now is not an object, a particular thing that has its proper place – now is nowhere, and therefore there is no way to it – now is life in all its wholeness and wonder, its fullness with darkness and light, with its flowers as well as with thorns; it is life as it is, choicelessly and without discrimination – it is an openness that knows no sign of authority, it is not bound by thought and time – now is love. Being now is freedom, beyond notions and ideas – it is the freedom to love what-is, as it is; it is freedom from fear, freedom from thought and time – the freedom to be now as we are, to be truly alive.
Being Now, Doing Time: a Non-Dual Approach to Life and Meditation
We have said that now is the way – now is the heart of meditation, only now there is life; and yet, there is no way to now. We have learned that present-moment meditation is not an accumulation, it is not a "way" in the ordinary sense of the word – it is not a movement in time, it is not a process of Self, a way of becoming … and this is the good news because it means there is nothing to do, there is nowhere to go, there is no-one to be – there's no need to become better or other than who we are. But here's the thing: there's nothing to do, and yet – we do; there is nowhere to go, and yet – we go and we go; there is no-one to become, and yet – we are constantly becoming and becoming all the time … this is the reality of our life. And so, to end this talk, let us challenge what has been said so far, and then let us clarify and resolve this challenge, and thus deepen our understanding.
We have said that now is not of time – present-moment meditation is not a movement in time, it is not an accumulated process; and yet, whenever we look at ourselves and our life, we clearly see that now we are different than the way we were last year, the way we were five years ago or twenty years ago – there is an accumulated progress over time in our life of meditation. We have all experienced this fact: over twenty years or over two years or over whatever period of time – we sit for twenty minutes and there is already an accumulated progress in meditation, in our life-situation – skillfulness in meditation improves the conditions and brings about a better state of body and mind; and how does this corresponds, how does this relates to everything that has been said so far? – this is the question we'd like to clarify in order to bring this morning's talk to a close.
Let us admit: this claim is true, it is clear that there is progress in meditation over time – there are aspects of meditation that are gradually acquired; as we sit silently or walk slowly in meditation, as we live mindfully, body and mind are gradually getting better, as well as our relationships – breath by breath, day by day, it is an acquired progress. Some are acquired by the hour – each hour we practice meditation we accumulate skillfulness, we accumulate concentration, accumulate energy; that is why after we have meditated for two hours or twenty-four hours or a twenty-one day retreat we come out differently, we are changed; there is an accumulated progress – we have advanced according to the amount of time we've put in. Thus, even people who are relatively new to a life of meditation, if they are diligent in their practice, if they dedicate time each day to their meditation, they will advance rapidly and experience the fruits of applying themselves this way.
Another type of accumulation in meditation is acquired by the year, because even if we don't practice so intensively and don't sit in formal meditation so many hours, if we are studying meditation for an extended period of time, if we are on a spiritual path, if we are engaged in inner work over several years, there is a certain kind of maturity that grows in us, a "spiritual sensibility"; and it is different from the energy and skillfulness just mentioned – it is a more stable and knowing way of being, and it grows as a result of our immersion in this way of meditation. This way, as we grow in emotional and mental stability, we acquire knowledge of the path, and eventually we are also able to share that knowledge with others – we become teachers, as we know what to do, when to do and how to do.
These are aspects of growth in meditation, progress in meditation over time – these are the effects of meditation on body and mind and our relationships, the effects of meditation on life over time. These changes are gradually acquired by the hour or by the year, and they occur whether we are being meditation, simply being present in open awareness, or doing meditation, which means we are practicing a method of meditation, using skillful means to approach an end-result, trying to cultivate "spiritual qualities" – living intentionally to realize our aspiration. Doing meditation is not a way to now, as we've said, but still it has its rewards – living this way, in the realm of this meditation, there's progress over time; and that's why we can say we are "doing time" – there are consequences to anything we are doing, and time is the distance traveled from cause to effect, time is the evolution and the summation of our deeds – doing time, we are accumulating time's changes.
These changes happen, they are a fact with which many of us are familiar, but the essential question of meditation is how we relate to this fact – what is our attitude to life's changes, for better or worse, how do we approach time and its manifestations? Even though we may live many years in meditation or devote many hours each day to meditation, and even though we may accumulate wholesome growth in meditation, still – the quality of our life is the quality of our presence in this present moment, each moment anew; and that's why our question today is this: we are doing time, this is true, but together with that – are we open to the possibility of being now? Being now is the heart of our life in meditation, and it includes the realm of doing time – this is the non-dual approach to life and meditation.
The way of time is life in the realm of Samsara, Self and suffering, where we are caught and lost in a world of thought, with no way out. In Samsara we are driven by reactivity and negativity, and resistance to life – resistance to the fact of what-is; which means living in fear and frustration, discontent and self-contradiction, wanting and trying to not-be here and now as we are. This way we are striving and fighting, from within and without, or slipping into not-caring, boredom and neglect; and all this time never daring to face, never able to openly meet the challenge of simply being now.
This way also includes our progress in time, our meditative advancements and spiritual and material acquisitions, our accomplishments and success – Samsara is not only thorns, Samsara does have flowers as well! – if we are skillful we may prosper and grow, over time we are changing and accumulating these changes, the consequences of our actions; but no matter how far we've gone and how much we've grown in meditation, these are just superficial adjustments of our life-situation, ripples on still water, and they change nothing essential in our life, in the way we act and react – in the realm of time we are forever limited by our Self-view, and all our self-improvements do not fundamentally change the quality of our life in the present moment – they cannot effect a radical change of heart. And so, certainly there is progress in meditation over time, but this progress does not liberate us from fear and suffering, it has nothing to do with awakening and love; for whatever we do and however we try, regardless of how "advanced" we've become, there is no escape from time and becoming – time and time again, this is our life on the wheel of becoming as it rises and falls.
This is the realm of Samsara, where we are doing time – this is our life as we are drowning in story-time, living in shadows and dreams, bound by opinions, prejudices and conclusions, chained by beliefs and ideas to a center of Self-importance; living within a web of conditioning, we are going around in circles, eternally repeating ourselves, repeating the same life-situations – time after time we are repeating our patterns of thinking and feeling, saying and doing – we are doing time's story-lines, we are realizing our Self's story on life's stage, in our relationships, in body and mind, as our drama oscillates between peaks of excitement and glory to an abyss of loneliness and despair; and the only constant is this: the show must go on … – this is the routine of Samsara, the way of time, with no escape and no way out.
And yet, there is a way – the Way In, the way of now, which is a way of being – being now beyond time; and as this way is the response to the challenge of Samsara, we may be tempted to call it "Nirvana" ... but it's better to be careful with this notion, as it's still within the realm of doing time. The idea of "Nirvana" as an ultimate attainment is nothing but a projection and a reflection, an extension of Samsara; it's an idealized state out-of-this-world, "life" according to our liking, with no disturbance or challenge – it's an imagined and wished-for place where there is no Self, no anger and craving, no thought and no feeling … where there is no place for us, ordinary human beings, where there is no place for simply being as we are in the heart of our actual human condition.
Therefore, there is a way, but it's way beyond our ideas, beyond any known path and aim – right now, right at the heart of Samsara, there is a way of discovering what-is and awakening from the dream of time. The attentive response to the challenge of time is being now – only it is not an idea, but a simple presence beyond time; presence that also includes awareness with the story of time. Being now is life in the realm of presence: being now as we are is being present with our doings in time, doing whatever we do as we are attentive to life within us and around us, attentive to life in ourselves and in others as well – being now is reverence for life; life that includes doing time. Being now is doing time in an embrace of love, doing time in the light of living joy, doing time in peace and with gratitude – being now is living in beauty, being free to love what-is, as it is; being now as we are doing time, this is acknowledging our human nature, and thus, when we're neither resisting nor reacting, we are free to be here and now, fully present and truly alive – wholeheartedly doing time and being now – doing time while being now, this is the non-dual approach to life and meditation.
Now is the essence, the heart of life and meditation – and yet, we live in time with its Self-centered stories; and although there's no causal relation between now and time, there's no way to now through time, still, there's no contradiction: now and time are two aspects of our life in the human condition. And so, present-moment meditation, which is a way of being now beyond time, beyond our doings and their consequences, does not contradict these aspects of meditation that progress and grow in time – it doesn't contradict the meditation that is a movement in time, the acquired accumulated aspects of meditation; it is, however, a whole different dimension or realm, a whole different approach.
In meditation as accumulation we develop knowledge of the path, but present-moment meditation is the attentive approach in the now, and it can offer us the gift of being at ease with what-is, being at ease with not knowing – being now offers us the freedom of not knowing, the freedom to be with what-is beyond knowing, beyond any mental conceptualization. It is a way of being beyond our ideas, beyond our notions – our ideas and notions, as our stories, always come after the fact; as smoke follows the flame, as an echo follows sound, the fact is a light that shines brightly and knowing is only its shadow – the fact is, and being now is being free to meet the fact anew, beyond the veil of story-time.
Being now offers us the gifts of freshness and vitality, openness and creativity; and these are not the result of accumulation – they are newly discovered in each moment of presence in the present moment. We can be practitioners of twenty years or two generations, it doesn't matter – one moment of drowning in the story, one moment of getting fooled by the drama of our accomplishments and failures, and there we go again, we have lost our way, we are lost in the way of time; and one moment of awakened presence, with each step into now, and here we are, simply being, seeing beauty wherever we are.
We can have very detailed knowledge of the path, we can acquire a lot of skill in meditation, we may have had many spiritual experiences, yet what determines our freshness, our vitality and creativity, our joy of inquiry and discovery, our living joy, the quality of our life in this present moment, is our attentive being in the now – this is love. All of these qualities of meditation have nothing to do with the process of Self, nothing to do with a progress over time, but with one thing alone: our attitude to what is now, our approach to the way things are; and that is why the key, the heart of present-moment meditation, is the way we relate to what is now – it is a way of being with what-is, this is what-is meditation.
Being now is meditation that involve no skill, as it doesn't rely on using means – it is immediate and direct; and when we discover in ourselves this readiness, this willingness to be now, this openness to life as it is in this very present moment, as we are sitting and breathing and listening, it is a presence that involves no movement in time … and therefore it is something we cannot hold on to – we need to find and re-find it, again and again, and in an instant let go, let it be, allow it to pass so that the next moment of now has the place to appear and come alive; once we discover it we cannot keep it in the cupboard, we cannot write our name on it and put it on the shelf – it does not last. Everything we buy nowadays has an expiration date written on it, but the expiration date of now is an instant that's immediately gone; the expiration date of living joy and true love does not last beyond this present moment, this instant of now – it's here, and it's gone … and so we have to discover and rediscover it each moment anew – we have to renew ourselves to be able to meet life anew, to awaken anew to now. This is why we've said that the way of now is not a way – it is an attitude, an approach – there is no way now; and that's why we need to rediscover this freshness, this vitality, each moment anew – this is the way of being truly alive.
Again and again, meditation is an openness to now – it is the freedom to love what-is; and this is the challenge of now: it is simple, and yet it is not easy to love what is now. We'd rather love some other time, some other person, if we could only shape it the way we'd like it to be … but it does not work this way; true love is only now – love is non-reactivity to what is now, non-resistance, love is reverence for life, it is the attentive attitude in the present moment. Let us re-present now, in different wording, the question that has been presented before: what do we truly want – are we interested in love, or in an idea of "love"? Are we free to love life as it is in this present moment? Are we interested in loving what is now – loving ourselves as we are, loving whomever we meet as they are? – this is the only real love.
Love is not choice and preference, discriminating likes and dislikes – love is choiceless openness to now; and any other "love" is a projected wishful thinking away from what-is now, a fantasy that has no validity – thought has no jurisdiction over life. And so, this is the question of now – the only essential question is regarding our attitude to now, each moment anew: are we attentive to the reality of life as it is in this present moment? – and if we are not, this is an imposition of our will and a projection of imagery, and this is not love! – and if we are awake to life as it is in the now, this is love.
Again, the question of life and meditation is truly simple: are we free to love now? Present-moment meditation is an invitation to look deeply at ourselves, in body and mind, to embrace what-is and to penetrate it beyond any story, and thus to be open to all that is now – this is love. The breath and the posture are also a part of what is happening in the present moment, of course, the body is here and now, everything is included in the meditation; but can we also look at our ideas and notions? Is it possible to be aware of the thought as thought, be present with the story as story – be present beyond time, and yet, be aware of the story of time, the story that we are telling ourselves throughout our life, the story of the Self?
Now we are here, as we are – this is the fact of what-is – here and now, such is life; and when we face and meet what is now – being now as time unfolds in body and mind, being attentive to life which includes the story of time – being now, and what more do we need in order to live in peace and joy, to be free to love, to be truly alive? Being meditation, simply being present in open awareness – simply being, with neither resistance nor reactivity – this is the way; and in this way we are free to love ourselves, to love life, to love now – this is the freedom, this is the gift, the offering of present-moment meditation.