We are urged by spiritual writers to ‘live in the now’. We might reasonably ask how we might live anywhen else, but that would go against the spirit of such good advice.
Some clarity might be needed, though.
As far as a reasonable self-inquiry goes, we – our composite consciousness – lives pressed up against signals from our senses that are very much of the now. What we do with these signals is another matter. Our psychological past has equipped us with gates to perception that ‘colour’ how we compose and react to the ‘inner now’ from the sum of what is actually received by the senses as experience.
Experience is therefore an inner and outer activity. We have signals from the world, and we have reactions to those changes of state. The two together form our view of the now, the present.
Those who exhort us to ‘live in the now’ mean that we should put effort into making quiet these inner reactions and let our ‘inner senses’ perceive the world as it is. It’s not a simple matter. The years of conditioning that everyone has imposed on them by society, let alone the need for survival, mean that we are far from being a real observer of the actual present of our lives.
The word present is linked to the word presence. The latter involves the discovery of an inner level of being that we all possess. Knowledge of this level of our selves changes lives. We come to know, with a certainty, that we are more than the body, and this deep knowing reorientates our lives and ambitions. What is the relationship between this presence and the now?
Isn’t the now simply a kind of ‘ticking-clock space’ in which we live?
When we are asked to think of the now, we tend to view it as amorphous. – without shape or form – rather than a ‘thing’. And yet most of the ‘non-me’ objects in our world are things… It’s curious.
And yet we are sure there is a now. We can’t define it without resorting to our-selves: I am in the now … er, but only now… But the previous now has gone. Not easy is it? A constant companion which might not really be there? And if the now is not reliably there, then what is it?
Perhaps it’s a flow? Time, itself is considered a flow, at least when viewed from one perspective. A flow can never really be pinned down to one location because it’s always ‘flowing’. So whenever you try to measure it by ordinary means, it’s not there as a flow – its a dead ‘section’ of something that was mysteriously and powerfully alive.
We can sense or measure a change in a flow. For example, the flow is a river, our minds can register a change in the nature of what is ‘flowing’ past us – perhaps we have had a rain storm the night before and the water level is raised and the volume greater.
We could express this as so many gallons per minute, for example. But we have no such units for the flow of our own now except the depth of experience and the movement of a clock’s hands, and that is likely to be all about the clock and very little about us.
All we know is that our apparent now flows with us, as tightly coupled as it can be. If we mediate on it, we might conclude that our now is actually inside us, and closely related to the discovery of our own presence.
Let’s ask another question: what’s more real, the ‘me’ or the now? The me seems to exists and move with and within the now, but we have seen how difficult the now is to pin down.
Which brings us to experience, itself. It might be reasonable to assume that our now is linked to our experience, since the now is registered as a continuous flow of experience. However, if we take time to be quiet and examine our experience, we find that the content of that is a stream of occurrences, synonymous with the presence (attentive or bored, for example) of our attention and the depth to which it registers what we experience.
And this is where we find the living link between all the things we have considered, here. The nature of our conscious experience is seen as the now of the supposed time-flow.
We know that ‘out-there’ in the world, real events are happening, but the residual experience – post our personality’s ‘gateways of perception’ is coloured and different. But there is a place where the actual events of the world are received and held … and that is the part of us that Carl Jung named the Unconscious.
So now to the crux of this post. Its very difficult for us to undo the processes of ‘blunting’ the world’s events that have become the patterns of perception from our childhood onwards. But our unconscious is a vast sea of true experience, stored accurately and available to our conscious minds if we cultivate a stable method of … yes, you may have correctly jumped ahead, inner inquiry.
If you have ever wondered at the power of such methods as Tarot readings, or divination with the I Ching – in the hands of a dedicated and honest practitioner, you will find the source of their skill is to tap into the presence of this level of your self.
Carl Jung said that a person who will not enter such inner waters will never know themselves, fully, and much will happen in their lives that is beyond their control – when it need not be.
Our inner worlds are intimately linked with the truth of our lives. The daily world of the egoic personality is only aware of a fraction of that wholeness. The beauty of it all is that it belongs to us, in its entirety… and we can talk to it!
Our inner worlds of thoughts and feelings are vastly more powerful than we know. Moreover, they can speak to us – if we develop the ability to explore and listen. Our post last Thurdsay on the nature of spiritual inquiry was a first step in that development, and offers a tool that can serve to deepen and clarify our consciousness.
Here is the link, again : Shells from an Inner Sea (1)
In the final post of this series, next Thursday, we will consider the kinds of powerful inquiry we can make within this living inner sea. All we have to do is to enter it and listen…listen with love and confidence.
©Stephen Tanham 2023
Stephen Tanham is a writer, mystical teacher and Director of the Silent Eye, a correspondence-based journey through the forest of personality to the dawn of Being.