The present moment. It is more than just a quantity of time.
It is customary to measure life in units of time — days, months, years, and decades. Along with quantity, quality of life is equally, if not more important. The past becomes a growing collection of years. The future is also a factor of time. However, quality of life is an experience in the present. It is not in the past or the future, which are quantitative measures.
Quality of life is an experience in the present.
Just as we do with the past and the future, we view the present through the lens of time. The past may cover vast swathes of time, the future we imagine maybe even more prominent, but we do not equate the present with more than a few seconds or moments. When we relate it with time, it becomes hard to hold onto the present moment. One second we are in the present, and the next second we are not.
The mind skillfully employs time to separate a known past from an unknown future. There is a rigid dichotomy between the two. We may forget much of the past, but whatever we remember of it, we know, and we can relate. The future is always unknown.
Between the two, the mind continually travels. It becomes natural for the mind to slot in the present somewhere in between the past and the future. In effect, this adds a time element. The true essence of the present is not related to time. It does not have any link with the past or the future, and it is beyond the mind.
The true essence of the present is not related to time. It is beyond the mind.
We may be able to better understand the present through the lens of awareness. Mind and awareness are inversely related. The deeper we go into the mind, through attachment and identification, less is the awareness. Conversely, the more aware we become, the less is our involvement with the mind.
The art of life is learning how to balance both mind and awareness. The mind and its abilities help in interacting with the world. Awareness is essential for deepening the meaning and quality of life.
The higher our involvement with the mind, the more is the chance for not just happiness but also suffering. As awareness goes more in-depth, it leaves suffering behind in the shallow waters of the mind. This brings us closer to the source of happiness within ourselves. However, we can extract some benefits from the experience of suffering by employing the power of awareness.
It is easier to become aware of our suffering than to become aware that we are happy. With suffering, there is a distinct separation between two — the source and the awareness of pain. However, through attachment to the false self that suffers, the mind takes center stage, and there is deep involvement experience of suffering.
It is easier to become aware of our suffering than to become aware that we are happy.
If we can separate awareness of suffering and the experience of suffering, there is an opportunity to distance ourselves from the false self that suffers. By becoming aware of the false sense that suffers, as if watching from a distance, the pain eventually disappears. This happens through deep understanding that awareness brings.
An experience that brings happiness does not easily create such a separation. There is rarely, if ever, an awareness that we are happy. The involvement is total, and there is only one — the happy being. Here again, it is usually the false self that experiences happiness, just as it experiences suffering. Unlike suffering, which we question and ask ‘Why me?’ we don’t question happiness. The opposite happens. We cling onto the experience with all our being.
There is no requirement that we need to suffer to grow in awareness. It is only one avenue. Unfortunately, suffering in one form or another is such a common part of everyday life. Why miss any opportunity for inner growth?
For awareness to grow and stand independently of the mind, it takes time and effort. A ripe fruit no longer needs the tree as it did when it was a bud. It carries seeds that have the same potential as the tree. Similarly, when awareness is fully ripe, we are not dependent on the mind for happiness. Awareness carries the seeds of bliss wherever we go, whatever the external circumstances or the state of mind.
Awareness relates to the four planes of consciousness — the unconscious, the semi-conscious, the conscious, and the superconscious. Day to day human life revolves around the unconscious, semi-conscious, and conscious realms which correspond with the sleep, dream and waking states. The superconscious is beyond imagination, words, logic, and not easily attainable. As we get a firm grasp on awareness in the three planes of consciousness other than the superconscious, perhaps it won’t remain such a mystery.
We build the foundation of our life in the conscious waking state. It is a dependable anchor, one day leads to the next, and there is some predictability. We house our sense of being in the waking state. Just as we are very comfortable in our homes and are familiar with everything that we have in our place of dwelling, the waking state is our ‘home.’
In the waking state of consciousness, we can maintain our individuality and identity. Through identification, we also claim ownership over various objects. All of this makes the waking state a real experience. It must follow that awareness should also be a very prominent feature of the waking state. However, there are deep-seated habits and conditioning, which make us function like robots.
Consequently, awareness becomes dormant. Awareness is an active process and does not function as a passive habit. It requires our complete involvement and attention at all times. The mind may not have the stamina to maintain the necessary level of alertness.
As we fall asleep, there is a temporary loss of our individuality and identity, and we begin to lose awareness of our being. In deep sleep, awareness entirely ceases. We become absent, and our beingness disappears. This is the plane of the unconscious. It is the complete opposite of the waking state, just as the brightness of the sun at noon contrasts with the dark sky at midnight.
In between waking and deep sleep is an intermediary state, the phase in which we dream. In this semi-conscious state, there is a rolling identity. It changes according to the content and context of our dreams. Every dream is a new experience, unlike any other. There are no ‘habitual’ dreams that repeat like habits in the waking state of consciousness. There is no continuum from one night to the next, and there is no past or a future in the dream world. Time is not a steady and predictable occurrence in dreams.
Time is most relevant in the waking state of consciousness. It is a constant and measurable quantity that is irreversible. When we are in a dream, time gets murky. We could be in the past or the future. There is no calendar that dreams follow, unlike the waking state where the same timescale applies to everyone. In deep sleep, time is nonexistent. In the superconscious state, time is irrelevant.
Unless we add in the element of being aware, as an independent witnessing entity, experiencing the present may turn into a mental exercise. We can create an island of ‘present consciousness’ in a space that is surrounded by mind-matter, thoughts, experiences, and ideas. We do this by pushing aside thoughts and clearing space amid the clutter in the mind. However, the sheer weight of the past and the immensity of the future collapse onto the tiny island of present consciousness. The ‘present’ ends up becoming another thought in the mind.
From the viewpoint of the mind, the present moment appears very transient, as the mind is accustomed to measuring moments as fleeting seconds, In this transitory phase, adding the element of awareness as a witnessing entity becomes exceedingly difficult.
From the viewpoint of the mind, the present moment appears very transient.
Awareness can remain independent of the mind, and there is no requirement that we participate in the activities of the mind. It is almost like having two tracks inside of us. Part of our being is on the track of the mind as an involved participant. The other is on the path of awareness, watching the mind, but uninvolved.
Awareness makes the subjective mind an object of perception, just like any other external object. We may have fleeting glimpses of this, but to truly experience the present, we will have to sustain this type of awareness at all times effortlessly. However, a conscious effort towards this end is the first step towards effortless awareness.
In our waking state, it is hard to jump into witnessing awareness and be in the moment. To accomplish this, we will have to cast the mind aside. The mind cannot easily grasp this concept. It is easier to experience when we put it into practice.
Being conscious of the movements of the mind but not becoming part of that movement is like watching moving clouds in the sky against the backdrop of the changeless blue depth. Similarly, we can witness the changing mind-matter in the form of thoughts on the screen of empty inner space.
Just as there are significant wind currents invisible to the naked eye which move and change cloud patterns, our desires create currents that move thought patterns in the mind space. These currents that are related to our desires stay alive as long as our active involvement remains. Without our continued participation in the world of desires, their currents dry up. Along with this, they lose their power to move mind-matter in the space of the mind.
There is no rule that we should equate a moment with a specific unit of time, such as a second. As a practical exercise, we can expand the concept of the ‘moment’ to a more manageable unit of time. Instead of a moment equating to fleeting seconds, we can instead compare a moment to a minute.
A moment then becomes a ‘living minute of awareness and witnessing.’ It is more comfortable to use a minute to gather our awareness and train it on witnessing the happenings than a fleeting second. A timer may help as we focus our efforts on building awareness during that minute.
During this ‘living minute,’ as awareness builds through witnessing the mind, the mind becomes compressed into a ball of energy. It cannot entirely disappear, but all the thought-forms start to condense. The mind needs a larger time scale than a minute to unravel the past and the future.
Maintaining awareness in that living minute blocks the ability of the mind to extend time into the past and the future. As a result, there is a confluence of time during that minute of practice. The energy of the mind when it is not spread out in the vast field of thoughts becomes a potent force. Awareness unlocks that potential energy.
The more we practice, the quality of the experience of life changes from the continual movement of thoughts in the mind space to a more static area in which our awareness settles.
When we fully grow awareness in the waking state of consciousness, the present replaces the mind with its constituent past and future factions.