One Moment…

scotland trip jan 15 001

“One Moment in Annihilation’s Waste,
One moment, of the Well of Life to taste–”
Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam

It was one of those thoughts that flash through the mind in a millisecond. The kind that leaves behind a flood of understanding so complete that you instantly know the whole story… and just as instantly lose your hold on it at the thought passes, as insubstantial as a rainbow. You are left with no more than the conviction that you have realised and understood an important concept… and you couldn’t put it into words to save your life.

I had been leafing through a book I haven’t read in years and was thinking about it on the drive to work. Nothing special, just an old favourite that held a phrase I wanted to put in context. Skimming through the text, I was aware that in the years since I had read it first, I had learned a good deal more about the subject. That accumulated knowledge, now brought to bear upon the page, changed my own understanding of what I was reading. I suppose that’s what started me thinking.

I had understood the book perfectly well when I had first read it. It had sent my thoughts off into several directions and made a huge impact on me at the time. Yet, I now realised that I had only understood it to the limit of my knowledge. When you think about it, that is as far as we can ever go. It was only in revisiting the book later with greater knowledge that it could open the doors to further understanding. Obvious really, so obvious that you probably never think about it.

You can see it in action all the time. We are constantly doing things we have done before and with practice, we learn more and we get better at them. We know this and simply don’t question it. What we don’t seem to bear in mind is that the same thing applies to more abstract skills, like thinking and understanding. We get better at that too. The mind ties itself in fewer knots and even learns to unravel them. The more off-the-wall the thoughts, the more possibilities we can see opening up for us as we bring everything we have learned so far to what we are doing.

But… and this is where it went off at a bit of a tangent… if it applies to everything else, it has to apply to living too. How often do we feel overwhelmed or seem to face insurmountable problems? How often do we feel too small to count in the greater scheme? Or face a moment too hard to contemplate? And it was the whole ‘in the moment’ thing where it all seemed to click into place.

Experience is gleaned over a lifetime but an experience lasts from moment to moment. We deal with each one as it comes, with nothing in our armoury except what we have learned in our own lives to this point. But… whatever we have learned, everything we have lived, whatever we have understood… we bring into this moment. We have the weight of our entire existence behind us and every second we have lived and therefore learned, is at our fingertips. That is a formidable thing. How many moments, how many seconds, how much have you lived and learned so far?

Living in the moment does not mean leaving past or future to fend for themselves… it means, for me at least, bringing ourselves complete and whole into every instant… and that includes all we have known until now and all we might hope for in the future.

With every second that passes we see more, hear more, learn and understand more… on levels we may not even know exist yet within the limit of our knowledge. There are realms in the mind science has barely touched. There are the abstract aspects of human nature that are hard to pin down… things like courage, love and compassion. There are our immeasurable dreams and hopes.  There is our essential connectedness and belonging within the universe… and that which we may call the soul or the spark of divinity within. And if we have the boundless weight of all that behind us, then we bring eternity itself into every moment…

Too small to matter? I don’t think so.

We are enough for anything.

The heartbeat of eternity

Peering at the faded remains of a dark ‘instant’ photo from the seventies, I felt both close to and distant from the young woman silhouetted against the fence. Her future is my memory. She was still a schoolgirl, yet to launch herself on the world and soon to marry. Far too soon… that would be my take from the perspective of nearly five decades later. How did that happen?

In some ways, it seems an eternity. In some ways it is… a whole lifetime, my lifetime between ‘then’ and ‘now’… and as such, it is the only eternity I really know. It is an odd feeling, that. We know history happened before we were born. Some of it is very real to us, because we know the people who made it; our parents and grandparents tell us of those days, when they too were young. We know that history went on before ‘history’, before prehistory, right back to the first swirlings in the mind-stuff that would become space and time. We know that history will continue to happen long after we are gone, both as individuals and as a species… though for now we call it ‘the future’ and are sad, or glad, that we will not be around to see it. But we only know the scintilla of eternity that exists between our earliest memory and this moment. Anything beyond that is hearsay.

In that respect, at least, we can say with truth that we are eternal. We carry eternity within us, carved into the space between conception and our final breath. Reality exists only in the moments it touches us, with past and future no more than a matter of faith and conjecture. Unseen, unreal, the future has yet to become, while the past is no more. The only moment we have is now… and whole industries have grown up around teaching us that one, rather obvious fact that we overlook when our focus is upon regret, nostalgia, worry and hope.

‘Living in the moment’ does not mean failing to look ahead or to hope, nor does it mean we must release all memories. It is a matter of awareness and focus, of not missing what is by clinging to what was or imagining what might be. We forget that ‘now’ can only exist at all if there is a ‘then’… and the space between that holds them apart so that both can be.

The ‘no-thing’ can exist on its own…  but the ‘some-thing’ needs the ‘no-thing’ in order to exist at all; a degree of separation that enables being.

One of the analogies we use in the Silent Eye is that of the mother and child.  The child in the womb can be said not only to be one with the mother, but to be made from her… though she is not all that the child is, or will become. The child has no life of its own, no possibility of independent action, until it is separated from the mother at birth. In that separation, there is possibility, growth and a dawning awareness. Yet, at the end of physical life, both mother and child will return to the earth that can be regarded as our Mother and with whom we share the physical elements of existence. Those elements will, in turn, give rise to new life in an endless and beautiful cycle that renders us eternal in yet another manner. Perhaps that is one reason why the image of the Mother and Child has been seen as sacred in so many cultures.

Nature is a mirror for wider realities. The matrix for our beliefs, knowledge and life itself is held within the pattern of the natural world, while the fragment of nature that governs our tiny planet is but a child of a greater and universal nature. If that pattern holds true to itself, then the Cosmos is itself but a fragment of a greater Whole, separated to enable it to be, to grow and to realise itself. If that is true, then we are indeed eternal, both ancient beyond imagining and younger than new-born babes.

I look back at the old Polaroid, an instant photograph that captured an instant of a life I think of as mine, but which runs through every living being, past, present and future… if linear time itself even exists. It is no longer just a photograph of a young girl on the brink of womanhood, but a pause in the heartbeat of being, allowing me to look back on ‘then’ from ‘now’ and know that it is the space between that enables me to see beyond the moment, to the horizon of eternity.

#Silenti – The Ancient Now

black-and-white-sedgwick

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…

Hmmm…

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.

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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.