The problems lie in our mind, in the way we think, not in the things themselves. Jesus used to tell his disciples to stop asking: What will we wear? What will we eat? He advised them to observe how the flowers and the birds live in the moment and how all their needs are taken care of. He would say: Ask yourselves how anxious thought can add even the slightest measure to your life! All experts on spirituality have said the same: All we have is this moment.
One day when the Buddha sat to give his discourse, he raised a flower, held it there for a moment and then left. He did not utter a single word. This became one of his most famous speeches. Only one among the thousands gathered there that day understood the real meaning of his gesture and became enlightened.
The Buddha’s silent speech was to teach us that all we have is the present moment. We are all alive at this moment, but the question we have to ask ourselves is, are we also awake? Are we fully present?
Living in the present moment is one of the greatest disciplines. It is an awareness, a habit, that needs to be developed if we want to live life with joy and ease. For a spiritual practitioner, it is one of the most powerful practices.
The truth about time
Our biggest challenge on this spiritual journey is to disassociate ourselves from our own mind. To maintain its own identity the mind needs to function, and it does so by feeding on time. The mind is inseparable from time. What is time?
Time is an illusion which we dwell upon day in and day out. It is the constant change that keeps the entire creation busy under the spell of illusion. Time is meant to serve a specific purpose in our lives: the past is meant to be learned from, and the present helps us create a better future.
But we misuse time. When we think too much about the past we face emotions of guilt, regret and sorrow, while anticipation of the future creates fear, anxiety and worry. When change and impermanence is the law of this land, why are we trying so hard to obtain security? John Lennon of the Beatles once said, “Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans.” A basic financial or educational plan is necessary; we cannot live in chaos. But obsessive planning tends to make our lives miserable. Our past mistakes are life experiences; they are meant to instruct us. They are part of our evolution, meant to push us forward in our journey towards self-realization. They contribute to our wisdom.
When we let our mind feed off the past and future, we are clearly encouraging the habit of compulsive thinking. This habit strengthens our ego. Worrying, judging, analyzing, building mental projections and expectations are forms of mental chatter which have no reality. The ego always finds something missing in our lives. It finds the need to rectify, amplify and complicate our lives. It is never satisfied. The ravenous hunger of the ego presents itself to us in the form of desires. These very desires force us to act and thus we write our own destiny and inevitably create karma.
The importance of this moment
Rinzai, a Zen master, would often raise his finger and ask his disciples, “What at this moment is lacking?” It was to root their attention deeply in the ‘now’. In the ‘now’, the ego has nothing to feed upon. If at this moment there is no thought about the past or the future and we are completely absorbed in what is happening at this moment, then we are deflating the importance of the ego.
Indulging our ego has left us with deep grooves and impressions on our minds. We have carried these imprints for endless lifetimes. These impressions have shaped our present mindset and will continue to influence our future unless we consciously change the pattern. It is not easy, but definitely not impossible either.
The good news though is what writer James Allen shares with us in his book As a Man Thinketh:
It matters not that by the unfailing law there are past thoughts and acts to work out and to atone for. By the same law, we are setting in motion, during every moment of our life, fresh thoughts and acts, and we have the power to make them good or ill.
Now, at this moment, we have the power to choose. We create our own present and future by what we give attention to today.
Meditation and simran are great tools to help awaken our awareness of the present moment. Our entire life has been given to us as an opportunity to meditate. It is a chance to change our future. So the choice is ours. Should we allow the mind to get fixated on our problems, or do simran and remember the Master instead?
When our attention is focused on simran, we are creating neither bad thoughts nor good ones. Consequently, we neither add to our good or bad karma. If we are with our simran it is hard to fall into the trap of the mind. We can start with a forceful round of simran every time our mind drags us into a thought of the past or future. Let’s not think about the thought, rather just bring the mind back to simran every time it meanders. This exercise has immense benefits: we become more focused – when we are concentrated at every task, we are more productive and with every round of simran we are adding to our spiritual treasure.
When you are fully engaged in what you are doing, your mind doesn’t wander. You enjoy life. And you are happier and more effective. You are intent only on what is happening at that moment. And that focus and concentration leads to your success.
Spencer Johnson, The Present
Maharaj Charan Singh also explains to us:
Our mind is never still and is always thinking about something. It is always thinking about worldly faces, worldly objects, and it is never still. So if we want to forget those things, we have to direct the mind into a different channel. In order to do that, we should repeat the name of the Lord while moving about or doing our work. There are two things that we are usually thinking about. Mostly we are unhappy thinking about what has been our past. We generally think about that and have a sense of guilt about it, and then we are sorry for what we have done and are always worrying and repenting, or feeling sorry for ourselves and trying to justify our actions. Secondly, we are always bothered about our future and that is always making us frustrated and unhappy. If you keep your mind constantly in simran, you will not have this sense of guilt or frustration or unhappiness; and, when you sit for your meditation period, because you have not allowed your thoughts to be scattered out into the world, you will easily be able to withdraw your attention back up to the eye centre and will be in touch with the sound.
Spiritual Perspectives, Vol. II
To live in the moment can be beautifully summarized as: “hands to work and mind in God”. This is a recipe for success.
The present moment is a gift. We owe it to ourselves to be present for it. Why waste our precious moments being negative, sad, emotional or confused? By living in the present moment we are renouncing all our worry and concern. It is a gesture of faith and trust in the goodness of the Lord – even if it is only for a moment.