You may have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet of late. I’m spending a lot of time ‘in the now’.
I’m in the final stages of writing the Silent Eye’s three year home-study course on the Magical Enneagram, and the subject of ‘now’ is crucial to the last four lessons.
Some subjects are just so profound that they have the capacity to change your life, even if only a glimpse of their depth and profundity is gained. One of these is the subject of now, or, as I’ve titled it here, ‘The Ancient Now.’
How can a ‘now’ be ancient? Surely the very notion of now means that it is a slice of time that occupies the present so precisely that we can rightly call it the now, as opposed to a frozen past or the potential future… but you can sense the quicksand straight away – that sinking feeling that we could never find a sliver of time so small that it would meet that definition.
And would that be enough, anyway? When we look into the deeper and increasingly common use of the spiritual ‘now’ we find other dimensions. The now is used, often, to point to an immediacy of experience in which we come to have a different relationship with the contents of our experience–and experience can only be in the now.
When I take away the distractions of ordinary consciousness, the desk in front of me assumes a sense of stillness, as though a noise–which did not exist objectively–has suddenly been switched off in my head.
In many ways, it has…
Focus of this kind has long been taught by spiritual schools; but the very words ‘spiritual schools’ can put people off. People assume, sometimes correctly, that a whole load of other things would need to be adopted or endorsed before such keys were passed over the threshold. We try to avoid that…
We don’t need to talk about God to talk about the now. All we need is an observer and something to observe. The observer is easy, that would be each of us, though we can never truly know another’s experience, so we’re only ever going to be able to talk about ‘me’. The simplicity of the observed can sometimes be confusing. We are used to the idea that, that in order to make meditative progress, we need to narrow it down to the often-quoted orange on a desktop, like I have in front of me, here. But the Mac behind it, or the white paint of the room, or the rows of books that line my study would do just as well. When I look at them they are all equally of my experience and therefore in the now.
In fact, the problem is that the observed is the whole of our external experience, and we only narrow it down to the orange so that our ever-intrusive minds can have just one thing to distract us with.
What interferes with the nowness of that experience is the habitual chattering of the mind – names, opinions, likes, dislikes and frustrations, all of these and hundreds more want to narrate our internal experience for us. But all we really need is to wordlessly be with that experience in order to change what happens when we truly observe.
The real study of now implies a completely different relationship to what is observed – our experience. The ancients told us about this a long time ago, so there’s nothing new, here. At school we are taught that the picture physics paints of a linear series of seamless moments is the correct way to view time. This implies that the intelligence is with the moments, that march past us in perfect drill. We are just passive bystanders, watching the parade which will continue to be a parade whether we watch it or not…
Some dare to consider something far more radical. They hint at a new relationship with the now, one beyond the marching band of habitual viewing. They speak of dirty lenses with which we view things in time… and everything else with which we have a relationship involving the ‘self’. They speak of subjective ways to discover that what is truly ‘out there’ is not only the real now, but breathtaking beautiful, too.
Beyond the marching band then, there may be only a single soldier, coming forward in an infinity of guises, in moments of arising whose purpose and sequence means that each one is eternally new. We may never capture this soldier, nor even photograph him–for, like the now, itself, he can never be anything but changing. But, having glimpsed him, we will be inspired to seek him out, always.
This is the first in a series of postings related to topical issues in mysticism. They will all carry the hashtag #Silenti. Please feel free to reply or join in, using this hashtag.
©Stephen Tanham, 2016.