The Time is Always Now

November 9th, 2010


This is it. Do you hear it? The gentle sounds that fill the air, the aromas and energies that fill your senses. Inhale the moment. You are immersed in this moment like salt in an immense ocean; time and space dissolve into one taste of Now. If you are carrying heavy burdens and anxiety, pause and take in the moment. It demands nothing of you, but your presence. If you are troubled and lonely, stop and breath. You are safe in this moment. Your worries may or may not come to pass, but right now you are okay.

Take the advice of Wendell Berry.

When despair for the world grows in you and you wake in the night at the least sound, in fear of what your life and your children’s lives may be, go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. Come into the peace of wild things that do not trouble their lives with forethought of grief. Come into the presence of still water and feel above you the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time, rest in the grace of the world.

You are free. You are safe. In this moment, which is the only one you need to live.

Living in the moment is a universal truth taught in many (maybe all) traditions, and its a great antidote to anxiety.

Aldous Huxley described being present to the moment as part of the perennial philosophy, meaning that it is universal wisdom, emphasized in many traditions over many generations.

Jesus said, “Consider the lilies. They neither toil, nor spin….let tomorrow take care of itself.”

The Buddha described it like this- “Don’t chase after the past, don’t seek the future; The past is gone, the future hasn’t come. But see clearly on the spot the object which is now, while finding and living in a still, unmoving state of mind.”

Rabbi Hillel said, “If not now, when?”

Hopi Elders said, “This is the Hour and we are the ones we have been waiting for.”

Rumi, the great poet and teacher of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, said ‘past and future veil God from our sight; burn up both of them with fire.’

Mindfulness teacher, Jon Kabat Zinn said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”

And of course, Kermit the Frog offered his timeless wisdom, “Times fun when you’re having flies.”

The past is nothing but memory, often intruding in your life like an unwelcome guest at midnight. The future is nothing but projection, often casting a shadow over your life like storm clouds. You hold your breath, for fear of allowing yourself to fully embrace the moment.

Do you remember the Y2K scare that computers would crash when clocks rolled over to 2000? It was amusing to be in Australia, one of the first time zones to see the New Year. January 1, 2000 arrived without incident and yet people in other parts of the world still fretted about what would happen to them? We love to worry, don’t we. As Charles Schulz (creator of Charlie Brown) said, “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.”

As if the present moment does not contain enough beauty of its own, we so often engage in mental time travel. We travel back in time, at least our mind’s best effort to reconstruct the past. It’s like living life through the rear view mirror. The problem with living life through the rear view mirror is that objects (and memories) appear larger than they really are. Situations that were challenging in the past might not be so challenging now that you have more courage and wisdom. Your fear that the hurts of the past will repeat is disproportionate compared to your ever expanding ability to deal with life as it emerges. Quit judging yourself for who you used to be. Give yourself a break. The same challenges may arise, but this time you are ready. You are a new person, stronger, smarter and wiser.

We also travel forward in time, at least our mind’s best attempt to guess the future. It’s the same problem. You think about the future from the level of wisdom and courage you have now, forgetting that you will be different, wiser and stronger by the time the future arrives. Mental time travel leads to such a distorted sense of identity, and so much unnecessary suffering.

Of course, it’s essential to do some mental time traveling. That’s how you learn from the past and anticipate the future. It’s right to reflect on the past and plan ahead. Just don’t dwell there.

Zadie Smith offers a beautiful turn of phrase when describing the passage of time in White Teeth. She says; “don’t fall for ‘the myth, the wicked lie, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect’.”

Grammatically, the perfect tense has a neat relationship with the present tense.  The perfect tense implies that everything that needs to be done is already done. It all collides in this moment; everything necessary for contentment comes together in this moment. The past is what it is, and what your memory makes of it. You make the future perfect by living fully in the present.

The point here is, “live your life in the perfect, present tense.” You lack nothing in this moment. You need nothing in this moment. All is perfect right now. Sometimes it takes a young child to remind us to stay awake to the moment. I have a special memory of a phase in life when I spent Fridays with my two-year-old son. We walked and sometimes, we even walked backwards. Occasionally, we walked with our eyes shut. We smelt flowers. We got lost as often as possible.

One of our favorite tricks was running sticks along the metal fence of the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall. It occasionally disturbed the meetings taking place inside, and briefly the attention of these pious people was diverted from their future hope discussions to the reality outside. They probably expected trouble, yet when they looked, all they saw was a young child and his dad, both being kids. I often imagine that they might have pitied us as people who had no future hope according to their religious beliefs. If only they knew. If only they realized that this was one of the times in my life when I felt most alive and hopeful; precisely because nothing was further from my mind than the future.

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  1. lesly says:

    present perfect!
    thank you.

  2. Mike G says:

    Nicely done!  The quotes from so many different perspectives support the universal wisdom of being here and now.  Wish I could have seen the folks inside that Kingdom Hall! Thanks for this.

  3. Judy says:

    Thanks, Ian.
    “Mental time travel” is a nice way of reminding ourselves what we are doing.

  4. incy wincy says:

    thanks for sharing.

    “Don’t chase after the past, don’t seek the future;
    The past is gone, the future hasn’t come”

    this quote has set my troubled mind at rest.

  5. ian says:

    Awesome Incy. I recognize you from Twitter.

  6. Phillip Smith says:

    To be fair, there are  thankfully, many churches that are progressive, or at least, liberal, but a wake up call to the Church at large, to embrace the present. Besides,how can one  afford to worry about a future “afterlife”, when we have so many things to be concerned with in this life, what with, global warming, consumerism, the ever -growing disparity between rich and poor. I could go on.
    Last Sunday, I had the pleasure of attending church not once, but twice, Both times, brilliant. Our rector was on annual leave, and so, in his place, our deacon preached. And what a brilliant sermon it was!!  The sermon was primarily based on Luke 21:5-19, reflected  on helping the poor, drawing on her apparent experiences working with the improverished in Ethiopia. I fonnd it, as did some of my other friends in the congregation, really moving, and I instantly drew stark parallels with our time in Cambodia, our first ever encounter of Third World conditions. Thanks,Ian.

  7. Anonymous says:

    nicly written Ian,,,,” it’s essential to do some mental time traveling. That’s how you learn from the past and anticipate the future. It’s right to reflect on the past and plan ahead. Just don’t dwell there.”  this qoute is saying a lot.”in fact it reads me”

  8. Sissym says:

    The optimism offset anxiety.
    Optimism brings more confidence and it turns everything in joy,  joy in peace. Peace does not match with anxiety. Pessimism is the mistrust, distrust brings the fear.
    Sneaky and covert, anxiety presents itself. It is right to get rid of it. With the trust will always find a way to solve the problems. Believe: you can always learn with optimism, even if things do not happen as you want.

  9. Jodi Aman says:

    I love the quotes you added, too.  We make things so complicated, but really they are this simple! Great post!

  10. This is a great article Ian, I hope you don’t mind but I have included you in a list of inspiring articles on my site,

    take care & best wishes,

  11. Hi, yes to release energy and stay in your full potential there is only NOW. And have always only been NOW so everything is NOW. i think through thinking in that way you are a lot more responsible for your actions in the moment. But its also scaring to see the bigger picture. Thanks for your words. <3

  12. Lee says:

    I can’t tell you how much I love the first paragraph of this post. Thank you.

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