Are You Time Travelling or Staying in the Moment?
When I was 11 years old, my mother took me on a trip to India. It was an eye-opening experience, to say the least; an adventure that I’ll forever be grateful for, full of magical moments. I’ll never forget the way the marble at the Taj Mahal felt cool to the touch on a warm day, or chasing away the monkeys who kept trying to steal my stuff at the ashram, or the glowing love that radiated from Siddhi Ma while in her presence.
But all these years later, the one thing that really stands out to me about my trip to India was how the concept of time simply felt different when I was there. There was no past, there was no future. There was only the present; there was only the Now.
It was an amazing feeling. I wasn’t bored or restless. I wasn’t just waiting for the next cool thing to come along. I was an 11-year-old kid simply basking in the glory of staying in the moment, perfectly content with where and who I was. It was the kind of feeling that you wish you could bottle up and take with you wherever you go.
These days, I often feel like a time traveler, flittering between the past, present, and future. When I’m living in the past, I feel regret. When I am living in the future, I feel anxiety. Living in the present is the only way I feel at home in myself and in this world.
Time Keeps On Ticking
Here in the West, the concept of time is like a metronome–a steady beat marching us forward to an uncertain future. Maybe the beat occasionally speeds up or slows down, but it’s always there to remind us to keep on keeping on. It always reminds us to have an eye towards the future.
And these days, with the never-ending social and political drama that encapsulates our lives, how could we possibly not think about the future at every turn? The way things feel, the world could end at any moment now. Worrying about the future seems like an extremely prudent exercise at a time like this.
Well, to quote the great saint Ramana Maharshi, “Why should you worry about the future? You don’t even know the present properly. Take care of the present and future will take care of itself.” So, how do we take care of the present? How do we stay in the moment and not time travel to the past or future?
Revisiting Be Here Now
Fortunately for us all, there’s this little book from Ram Dass called Be Here Now. Maybe you’ve heard of it? If not, now is a really good time to check it out. The main part of the book, “From Bindu to Ojas,” is perhaps the best way to grok exactly what being here now means. I highly suggest getting lost in the “brown pages” whenever you have a chance.
One of my favorite pages goes:
“What are you doing? Planning for the future? Well, that’s all right now. But later? Forget it. That’s later. Now is now. Are you going to be here or not? It’s as simple as that!”
After “From Bindu to Ojas,” you’ll find a section called the “Cookbook for a Sacred Life,” which is what inspired us to put together the Cookbook for Awakening. The “Cookbook for a Sacred Life” contains a really great exercise for staying in the moment. Here’s a condensed version:
- Ask yourself: Where am I? What time is it? Answer: Here and Now. Say it until you can hear it.
- Set your alarm clock to go off at times during the day when you are in the midst of various occupations and repeat the questions and answers in step one. Each time you do this, try to feel the immediacy of the Here and Now. Begin to notice that whatever time it is by the clock… it is ALWAYS HERE AND NOW.
- For specific periods of time focus on your thoughts in the present. DON’T THINK ABOUT THE FUTURE. DON’T THINK ABOUT THE PAST. JUST BE HERE NOW.
- Reflect on the thought that if you are truly Here and Now, it is ENOUGH, and you will have the optimum power and understanding to do the best thing at the given moment. So when the future becomes the present, you will be in the ideal position to do the best thing.
More Methods For Staying In the Now
Being in the present is all about quieting your mind and opening your heart. That’s why meditation is such a useful tool for remaining in the moment; it really forces you to focus on the Now. And every time our mind begins to wander, we learn how to bring it back home into the Now. But it’s certainly not the only method:
- As with meditation, kirtan (Indian chanting) is a wonderful way to quiet the mind and open up your heart.
- Not someone who likes to sit still? Try using a physical activity like yoga or Tai Chi to bring yourself fully into the present.
- You can use service as a vehicle for awakening into the Now. Ram Dass has talked a lot about how instrumental working with death and dying has been to his spiritual journey.
- Try to cultivate the witness and begin the process of extricating yourself from your identity. This brings an increase in awareness, which helps keep you in the present moment.
Even the mundane moments of everyday life can be used as a tool to tune into the Now. Here is Ram Dass talking about how driving a car brings him back to the present:
“Very often when I’m driving, I’m busy going somewhere, until I think, ‘Where am I?’, just the question, ‘Where am I?’ ‘I’m driving. My hands are on the steering wheel. My foot’s on the accelerator.’ And then going deeper, and the ‘my’ disappears, and there’s just ‘hands’ on the steering wheel and foot on the accelerator, and passing images, and you just keep using everything to come back into the moment.”
So, there’s really no reason to be a time traveler. Living in the Now, living at home in your heart, is the only time and place to be.
Written by Noah Markus for the Be Here Now Network
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