Affirmation: I live in the now, and divine understanding is active in me.

On Being Present: Achieving the Freedom of Now

The terms “being present” and “living in the now” have become clichés on the New Thought spiritual path and in the nondual tradition in general. We speak of the power of now, the timeless moment, and that there is only now.

In New Thought, we released sin as a stumbling block then replaced it with the charge of negative thinking. Now our greatest put-down is the accusation of being distracted and therefore not present to what is!

I am being slightly facetious, but the essential point remains: The key to awakening is in the awareness of what is. This is true in all traditions.

An Idea That Crosses All Traditions

The Sufis say one clear moment is all it takes. The Zen tradition asks the challenging question, “What in this moment is missing?” Jesus continually spoke of the kingdom of wholeness and perfection as an ever-present reality.

Modern Hindu teachers like Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj and Papaji invite us to simply be quiet and rest naturally in the I AM consciousness. “Sailor” Bob Adamson, an Australian student of Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj, asks us, “What’s wrong with right now—unless you think about it?”

Ah, yes. Thinking can get in the way. Thinking involves memories from the past and projected ideas about the future. As we learned from babyhood on, discursive reasoning formulates and then reinforces a linear view of reality based on an idea that a “self” is moving through time. This sense of self, often called ego, only conditionally exists—it is not our reality.

Yet so often we try to use it to find that reality. There is the sense that if I can work hard enough, or let go long enough, I will find the timeless moment and be free. We can’t. It is as impossible to think ourselves into enlightenment as it is to find enough time to be present.

“I live in the now—there is no other place to live.”

The Good News, and the Bad News

If there is one bit of crucial understanding that we can take into our hearts, it is that intellectual knowledge, however subtle or profound, is incapable of awakening us to what is. There is no substitute for direct experience.

The good news is that the present is right here, right now. We are immersed in the ocean of infinite, timeless consciousness as fish are in water.

The bad news is that the habit of linear thinking is hard to release. The long years that monks spend meditating in a Zen monastery searching for satori attest to that, as do the seekers testing the patience of the guru with the same old questions arising from a yearning to satisfy the discursive mind and its neediness.

Every day in every way it’s getting better and better, says the positive-thinking spiritualized ego. How could that be, if every moment is perfect? replies the inner guru.

How to Not Give up on the Search for Inner Freedom

It is at this point that many of us fall away from the path. After initial enthusiasm, we complain that this stuff doesn’t work and become disenchanted. Hold on. It is salutary to ask ourselves: Do we want radical freedom or a more comfortable and self-satisfied imprisonment?

Assuming we want freedom, how can it be achieved? I offer five approaches that I invite you to look at without much thinking:

  1. You are already here. You are already free.
  2. Consider letting go of the story, whatever the story is.
  3. Laugh, with compassion.
  4. Investigate buoyancy.
  5. Be quiet.

Each of these approaches is like a mantra with an action component. We chant, we contemplate, then act. It is the practical application that prevents us from getting lost in thought.

Once we have experienced a moment of being present in this way, the affirmation is no longer just a nice, positive statement. Now it becomes a living reality.

I live in the now—there is no other place to live. When I do, divine understanding is active in me because I release the extraneous for the essential. Being present sets me free.


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