Time – is there anything outside of the present moment?

293Most of humanity believes that time is a linear, unstoppable ‘movement’ through an ancient past, with an ungraspable present, into a hopeful, or for some, dreadful future.

But what is time? How can time be experienced? Where is time now in the here and now? Can you see it, hear it, touch it or sense it in any way, or just thoughts and stories about the supposed past and future suggest its existence?

When you look at a childhood picture of ‘you’, does this picture a proof that ‘past’ has existed? Or can the stories your parents tell about ‘you’ as a little child be the proof that it has ever happened? Of course, thoughts would suggest that they have. But have they really?

Simply remembering the ‘past’ and imagining the ‘future’ is not a proof that past or future exists. The act of remembering of the so called past does not point to anything real. The ‘past’ is just a current thought-image-emotion construct appearing in the here and now.

When a memory of the ‘past’ with a ‘negative’ label on it is projected into the ‘future’, fear and anxiety can arise. Future is nothing more than a projected ‘past’ memory appearing now.

And yet, how many thoughts and stories emerge in a day or just in an hour lamenting on past regrets: “he shouldn’t have talked to me like that”, “my whole life could have been totally different than it is, if I hadn’t made that stupid decision 20 years ago” or “how much happier I was when I was only 20”. And how many worrying thoughts arise just in an hour about tomorrow, or fantasies about a better and happier life?

But what about the present moment, the only ‘time’ that ever is?

“If I could get enough money, had a beautiful body, the best lover, loving children, then I will be happy” – this is a story, a fantasy. It is only a dream because it is rooted in the belief that happiness is coming from outside and from a future state, and it is not accessible here and now. The ‘I’ wants to get completion in the seeming future, because of the conviction that ‘I am not whole here and now’. But is this really true?

Does the ‘me’ really live through time?

The continuity of ‘me’ is created from memories of the seeming past and then it is projected into an illusory future. There is no solid entity living in the body, neither a continuous, progressing time.

There is nothing at the end of the road in the seeming future.
Everything is ever desired is here, in the present moment.
There is nothing else, but the present moment.

The only past or future there can ever be is a conceptual one that arises as a current thought right now.

The illusion of time is ‘created’ by thinking.
Past and future are mere conceptual constructs, nothing more.

The present moment is all there is.
There is nothing outside of this moment.

Is physical pain a source of suffering?

275We are taught from early childhood that physical pain is a source of suffering. The two words – pain and suffering –, sometimes even used interchangeably, as if they were pointing to the same thing.

However, physical pain in the body is nothing more than an arising sensation that is labelled as ‘painful’. When this label is put onto the raw sensation accompanied with a story about how bad this experience is – that is the cause of suffering, not the physical sensation itself.

The word ‘pain’ is not just a simple ordinary word, because it goes hand in hand with a bunch of other labels: ‘having pain is bad’, ‘I don’t want it’, ‘I want it to go away’, ‘I don’t want to be sick’, and so on. So even if just this single word ‘pain’ is put onto the raw physical experience, all the other conditioned labels are also automatically applied. When this happens unconsciously, and not seen for what it is – only a stream of thoughts – the suffering is guaranteed.

The bodily sensation does not have any innate attributes at all. It is just IS as it is. It is not bad or painful, only thought-labels suggest otherwise.

However, in order to see the difference between pain and suffering, it is not sufficient to believe these lines. You have to see it for ‘yourself’; not thinking about it, but LOOKING at it.

Next time when there is a physical pain, there is an opportunity for paying attention to the bodily sensation itself. When all the thought-labels are ignored, what is the raw experience like? Does it have a shape or form? Does it say that ‘I am the pain’?

What kinds of thought-tags arise interpreting the experience? ‘Oh, it hurts’, ‘this is pain’, ‘I don’t want it’… Are there any accompanying mental images about the body or certain body parts? Maybe a picture from the ‘past’ or an image projected onto the ‘future’?

What is left, when all the stories, thought-labels and mental images are just observed but not believed or resisted? When they are seen for what they are – simply thoughts and images passing by, like clouds on the sky… what is left then?

The story about the pain can be very tricky. Apart from some extreme cases, the physical pain is not constant at all. Only thoughts create the illusion of its continuity.

Let’s say, that there is a headache. The first sign of it emerged about an hour ago, and it has been in the focus of attention about ten times for five seconds (at each time), since the first experience of the headache arose. Some (or all) of these experiences have been stored in memory, and every time when the focus of attention goes to the sensation of pain again, the ‘brain’ links the current experience with all previously stored memories and creates the illusion of its continuity, by stating that ‘I am having this terrible headache for more than an hour now’. When this interpretation is believed, the continuity of time has arisen, and as a result, the illusion of a continuously present pain has also emerged.

Maybe it sounds complicated, but it can be observed in direct experience. The following exercise could be helpful to look at this phenomenon, if there is a curiosity to do so.

For the next ten minutes, label all experiences as they arise. When the focus of attention is on seeing, say ‘seeing’, when something is heard, ‘hearing’, when a food is tasted, ‘tasting’, when a bodily sensation arise, ‘sensing’. If thoughts come up interpreting the experience, ‘thinking’, when mental images appear, ‘imagining’, when pain arising, just simply say ‘pain’ or ‘hurting’.

The exact wording does not matter. The purpose of the exercise is to see that pain or any other phenomena ‘exist’ only when it is in the focus of attention. When the attention moves somewhere else, the experience of the pain is gone. Only the mental interpretation links together the memories of the experiences, creating the illusion of their continuity.

The source of suffering is not the experience of ‘pain’.
The source of suffering is the story about the experience.

Am I the body?

265Imagine that you are walking in a beautiful forest. There is a small walking trail meandering away into the distance among the huge trees. Look around. The sun’s rays are filtered through the green canopy, illuminating the fallen leaves on the ground. Breathe in the fresh air. Feel the stroke of the gentle breeze on your skin. Listen to the twittering of birds and the sound of the cracking twigs under your feet. Feel the movements of your body as you walk along the trail. Enjoy the peace and beauty that surrounds you…

Now, wake up. Where were you just a few moments ago? Here, in front of your monitor, or in the forest, enjoying the walking?

If ‘you’ were the body, how is it possible, that you felt the breeze on your skin and the movements of ‘your’ body, while all along the body was sitting in front of the screen, reading these lines?

When you are dreaming at night, all the happenings in the dream seem so real, but the body is lying immovably in the bed, and still, ‘you’ experience a ‘different’ body moving from one plot to another in dreamland.

For ‘you’ the dream is real. ‘You’ have no idea that this is just a dream and the body is lying in the bed. ‘You’ seemingly have another body now. So, are ‘you’ the body?

What is the body anyway? If you look into the mirror and observe the sight you see, can you say with certainty that image in the mirror is ‘you’?

Take a childhood picture and compare it with the image of the mirror. Which one is ‘you’? Could both of them be ‘you’? What if none of them is ‘you’? What if there is no ‘you’ at all that could own the body?

If you close your eyes, where is the body? You could say that I can see an image in my head about my body. Are you sure that this body-image is the body? This image is just a fabricated mental construct about the body, but NOT the body itself.

Where is the body without this mental image? What is left? Only pure sensations…

In direct experience, without this image, without referring to any memories, does the body have any shape or outline or a clear boundary? Without images and mental labels, where does the body end and the clothes start? Is there an inside or outside? Does the body have a size or a height?

The body-image is nothing more than a concept stored in memory about how we imagine the way our bodies look like. This image is heavily layered with conditioned thoughts and stories about the body and particular body parts.

The origin of human suffering is the belief that there is somebody inside the body, separate from everything else. When this belief is taken to be real, a seemingly existing ‘me’ energy is ‘created’ with doership and a need for a constant protection from the rest of the world.

There is no solid person, a ‘me’ inside the body.
What you think you are does NOT exist.
‘I’ is just a label on the body.
But the word ‘I’ does NOT refer to anything real.
The body is real*, but you are NOT.

* (The body appears real in conventional reality, but not in direct experience)

Memory is not ‘me’

Visual illusion - Akiyoshi Kitaoka

Visual illusion – Akiyoshi Kitaoka

We were taught since early childhood that there is a solid, separate entity, a ‘me’ in the body, looking out to the world through the eyes. But this is just an assumption that has never been questioned before.

When the curiosity arises to look closer and challenge this strongly held belief, it turns out to our surprise that the ‘me’ is nowhere to be found. It is simply not there. Similar to visual illusions, where it seems that there is an animation in the picture, but it is just a trick of the mind.

However, reading these lines and believing that there is no self, is not sufficient to see through this illusion. In this case, just another belief would be placed on top of the idea of the self. The belief of the mirage of the ‘me’ needs to be deconstructed and dissolved, and not covered up with another layer of beliefs.

The ‘I’ seemingly lives in memories and beliefs. But in the present moment, where is this ‘I’? Not in a memory, not in a future image, but here and now? Is it in the body? Exactly where?

A memory is nothing else than simultaneously arising mental images, thoughts and bodily sensations, which are firmly welded together and appear as a coherent and real depiction about the assumed past. But this mental construct of a seeming past experience arises in the present moment. There are no little shelves in the mind holding small segments of the past as memories. All memory is constructed again and again in the here and now every time ‘we’ think about it.

The image of me playing in the garden as a five-year old is not ‘me’. Although, the thought label of ‘this is me, playing in the garden’ is fused with the picture of the five-year old body and the bodily sensations of the associated emotions. But thoughts, mental pictures and emotions arise in this body, here and now. The emotions and the remembrance of warmth of the sun on the skin are felt now.

There is nothing outside of the present moment. The ‘I’-thought that emerges as part of the memory is nothing more than a thought.

There is no ‘me’ looking out of the eyes, who is separate from the rest of the world. The idea of separation is created by thought. Only thoughts separate.

Between two thoughts there is no ‘me’.
The sense of me emerges when an ‘I’-thought label is put on the felt aliveness in the body. But the sense of self is NOT the self.

When a memory is dismantled into its components – thoughts, images, emotions, bodily sensations and beliefs – and each piece is examined closely looking for the existence of ‘me’, the glue that hold the memory together creating the sense of self, releases and dissolves. What is left is just the pure experience of thoughts, images, sensations and emotions, without a ‘me’ who could own the experience. There is no individual person.

This is what ‘we’ are seeking.
This is peace.

‘I’, as the centre of the universe

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When the identification with the ‘I’ thought set forth, from then on, literally everything is viewed from the perspective of a separate individual. The ‘I’ becomes the centre of the universe, and contrary to popular belief, this egoic perspective never stops until the end of the organism. The only way to break the spell is to awaken to the realisation that there has never been a self, who could own life, in the first place.

The sense of ‘me’ is constructed by the brain from the concoction of the mental image of the body, the collection of memories – which is the base of ‘my’ life story –, the compilation of thousands or millions of beliefs with the associated emotional responses and conditioned, habitual judgements.

With every thought and every belief the sense of ‘I’ is ‘created’ again and again. ‘I’ am the centre of everything. The ‘I’-thought is so pervasive that it is there even in the most seemingly innocent judgements, like ‘This flower is so beautiful’. Apparently, the word ‘I’ is missing from this statement, and yet, it is still there implicitly, because ‘I’ am the one who makes this judgement about the flower, according to ‘my’ definition of beauty. A flower does not have an innate attribute of beauty. The flower just IS. ‘I’ project beauty on it. ‘I’ put the mental label of beauty on it.

Reality is neutral.

All the input that comes from our senses is filtered through a huge, intricate web of beliefs. As a result, a flower may look like ‘for me’ as if it has independent and inherent attributes as its own. But in direct experience, there are no attributes, just colours, shapes, movements, scents, textures.

When these judgement and beliefs are seen for what they are – simple thoughts passing by – then the heavy veil of life gently becomes translucent until it disappears back to nothingness.

This is peace.
This is what ‘we’ are seeking.
Freedom from ‘our’ selves.