One often finds them self in the middle of a task, when you realise that you are tense and thinking about what will happen as a result. You may also find yourself in a situation where you are looking back at what you’ve encountered before. Within these moments, you are more conscious of the future and the past, and not the moment itself.
When we focus on the moment, there is no past affecting our actions and no anticipation of the future. Zen masters often express this as, ‘pouring yourself into the moment.’ Try and think of it this way; there’s a well, a bucket and a cup. At any one moment, the water is either in the well, the bucket or cup. If the water is in the bucket, the well is in the past. If the water is in well, the bucket is in the future. When the water is in the cup, that is where it is and the future & past do not contain it. The cup is where the water is now, the present and both well & bucket – past and future – are gone. Wherever the water is, is the now. The water had to be in motion and remains as water but the Now is the water. And as such, we should be like water.
One should try and practice concentrating on the present moment. It takes time to realise how the mind works and how to focus on the present. As you learn to arrest the process of thinking about the past and contemplating the future, you will come to a better understanding of how Now is being fully present in the moment. Practice focusing on the moment, being in the Now. As you do so, the moment will open up into a deeper sense of realisation.
Time, as we perceive it is the same as the well, bucket and cup analogy. The past and future are interchangeable, with the present always being ahead of both. “How can this be?” I hear you ask. It’s a bit like this: in any moment, any Now, you are doing something, whether talking, working, moving, or meditating and just being. So, in that moment, no past is present and no future is present. If one concentrates the conscious experience, it is only in the moment. The past has been and gone, the future is merely an aspiration. Most of us are subconsciously predisposed to contemplating the past and future. We worry about the future and relive the past, worrying that the past will be like the future, hence the past and future are similar in nature for both are not present. So time is like a vehicle, or vessel, as in well, bucket and cup. The reason the cup is last in order is that it, in this example, it is it’s present location. The thing that fills it is the water, the Now. The water is like us, constantly in flow, moving from state to state.
I hope you have been able to follow this so far. Now, I aim to remove the cup from the equation, so there’s only the well and bucket, past and future. We can do away with the cup, the vessel, and focus on the water, the flow and its changes. Let us say the water comes from a stream, which flows into the well, is moved to the bucket and then used. Whatever the final outcome is, the water is always water. It maybe used to wash something, be drunk, or used in cooking food. Regardless of what happens, it is always water. If used for laundry and cooking, it is cast away afterwards, either going into the ground, flowing into a sluice, river, stream, drain, etc. If it is with waste, it may end up in a river or the sea. If it boils and evaporates, the atmosphere gathers it in and it forms clouds, then rain and can end up back in the river, flowing to the well, etcetera. If the water goes into the soil, it is absorbed by the earth, or a plant. The water nurtures the area and it becomes part of the flower, plant, fruit, vegetable, bush, tree, but it is still the water within it. It is not the plant, fruit, leaf or flower, but within it. Likewise, we are like water; we remain who we are but change in age, shape, appearance and state. We are the Now, just as the water is. Whatever happens to us, we are always ourselves and as such we are the Now.
Let me take this further and remove the future, so that all remains is the well and no bucket. All there is, as a result, is the past, which is a measure to establish progression. It is an eternal process. The past has no end, only a beginning. Only by establishing a point in the present, can we trace the past. Hence, in any given moment, we can measure and recollect the past. There would come a point where one might not be able to see the distant past and at this horizon, do we find eternity?
“What happened before this?”
“And what happened before that?”
“Why did that happen?”
“What caused that to happen?”
“So what caused that?”
The next bold step is to remove the past from the example, so there is no well. Now there is only water. In each change of the moment, we are moving, flowing and changing. I ask you to recall the two options I provided for the water earlier. Option one was that the water is taken on a journey and eventually goes back to the river again, whereas the second option was that it became part of something else. Whatever happens to an individual particle of water, regardless of journey or choice, it remains always the same particle. Likewise, we will retain our identity on our journey, within recycled moments, the eternal Now. The ultimate choice we have is to remain in the cycle of moments or become part of something else. So given the choice, would you remain as you are now or become part of something else? The question here relates to each of us at an individual level, as well as a philosophical one. The philosophical level often leads to a spiritual enquiry, but either way it is the pinnacle of recycling.
If the choice is to remain in the cycle of moments, it is recycling. If the choice is to become part of something else, it encourages growth. If our water particle becomes part of a plant that has a seed, then part of it lives on. If the water particle becomes a leaf on the plant, that falls in the autumn, the leaf will decay and fertilise the ground, promoting growth of many future plants with leaves, seeds and blooms. However, if it was worried about what it became, would that particular particle of water have chosen the course? Either way, it would have been recycled, by choosing either option, but will always be that unique water particle.
So we each have a choice, to live in the past, worry over and contemplate the future, or exist in the present. Each moment is full of choices and with each choice, it moves us through the experience of what is happening now. We can resist changes as much as we like, but the choice is whether to resist or not. Life and water are very similar, for they both flow. Every moment flows into another, so there appears to be no separation.
In an ocean there are trillions of water droplets and salt particles, each of which is the ocean. Over time, the movement of the water grates shells and rocks, transforming them into sand. Also, if water builds up, it forces its way through and creates a path. What do I mean by this analogy? Our memories are like pebbles, being washed by time until they become smaller and smaller. The memory remains but becomes a grain of sand on the shore, small and part of the beach, where we can look over the ocean of time. The flow of life does the same. It’s not that the memory (the past) is forgotten, it’s just part of the bigger picture. The analogy is also useful to think about how we are each particles of water or salt, but are also the ocean. Wherever the water is, we are there also. We cannot go against the current of water, we have to go with it. Over time, water, channels through land, carves landscapes and erodes shorelines. Where the water is now, is where it has shaped its environment and that is its location, its present. Yet the water flows as does life for it is not static. Hence, we are like water and our past is the shoreline and we swim in the ocean of Now.
We can choose to live in the past or live in anticipation of the future but these places are the shores on distant horizons. To get from one side to the other, we must be with the flow of water, the flow of Now, being present in the moment. By standing on the shore of memory we can reflect and learn, but we should not dwell here. Neither should we stand there and look towards the horizon, trying to fathom out the location and visage of the shore of aspirations, the future. If we stay too long here, we never enjoy what is happening now, right in front of us. Yet, when we reach the shore of aspirations, we can look back and see how far we have come, but not dwell on the journey too long, lest we become entranced by it. The ocean connects both, for it is the present, the now.
In the same way, since the inception of our universe, space is like an ocean. The memories of ancient stars and galaxies, that forged the elements that created you and I, never stopped moving forward in the Now. Recycled stardust lives in each of us. The distant horizon of the future, from the universe’s point of view, is present in us, living and being present, now. Both past and future exist now, in each of us, simply being and being present in the Now. It did not dwell in the ancient astral nurseries of yesteryear. In a curious way, through us it sees its past, as well as being in the present and looks to the future, all from this fluid moment, as if all of time exists now in this moment. And it does. From this moment, you can see the shore of memory, view the shore of aspirations on the horizon, all being present, now. Time’s illusion disappears. It is as if existence itself chose to move forward. It wanted to be more than just a recycling of elements and needed to explore every avenue of enquiry. Through us, as individuals, it explores potential and what it can be, but ultimately it is simply being as it really is, for it is being. The act of just being in the present moment is its essence, where time is void and everything simply is as it is. It looks at the whole picture, the memories of where it has been and where it is going to, all in a moment. It sees through the windows of our eyes then travels with us as we move forward, being a trusty companion, wondering what else can be out there.
Our choices define our moment, where we are, who we are with and what we are doing. Do you stay in the past? Dwell on ambition? Or do you move with the wave of now? The choice now, is yours.