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 the 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 pas’ 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.

What dies when I die?

254The ultimate fear of humankind is death. We fear to cease to be. But death is not what we think it is. If our parents or society had not told us anything about dying or death then we would not have any idea about it, we would not even know what it is, let alone fear it.

Then what is death? There is a constant flow of experiencing while the body is alive, until it is not. We label it as death. In one moment the organs of the body are functioning; in the next, they are not. They are changing into something else. Is this bad? Does this change have any innate nature of badness?

In one moment there is experiencing, in the next, there is not. Can death be experienced when there is no experiencing? When you go to sleep, do you experience death? Do you fear not waking up the next morning? Is there any difference between going to sleep every night and death?

Death cannot be experienced, because death is an idea. Fear of death is a resistance to the concept of death. Fear lives only in thoughts. Without believing thoughts there is no fear, just the flow of life, perfect as it is.

Death does not exist in direct experience; and yet, this is probably the biggest bugaboo the mind could ever invent. Fear of death could not exist without projecting the belief in the separate self onto the body. If I think that I am the body, then I fear death. But I am not the body, because the ‘I’ is just a thought. Can a thought fear another thought?

Actually, what we really fear is losing our-selves. We think that there is a separate entity sealed behind the skin, and when the body perishes, this supposed entity will cease to be.

The ‘I’ that fears death cannot die because the ‘I’ has never existed. If this is seen then there is no fear of death because there is nobody to fear it. There is nobody to die with the body, because there is no entity living behind the eyes.

What are lost during the process of dying are the beliefs that constitute ‘me’. The components of self-image crumble, and when it is resisted it can trigger fear. “What is going to happen with my precious collection of matchboxes? What about my achievements? I am not finished yet with my plans. I have always dreamed about a happy retirement with lots of travelling, and spending time with my grandchildren. How could I accomplish all of this if I am gone? Has there been any meaning of my life at all?”

But in reality, nothing is lost. All of this was just dreaming about a non-existent past and future, with a ‘me’ that lives only in past images and future fantasies.

Nothing ever dies, only the imagined story of ‘me’.
‘I’ cannot die. What has never been born cannot cease to be.

Fear is not fearful

249In order to better understand what fear is, we have to make a distinction between instinctual fear, which is genetically coded into the human organism, and the projection of fear, when a fearful story is projected into the future about what might happen.

Examples for instinctual fear could be a fear of falling from the edge of a cliff, or being frightened by a sudden loud noise. However, humans experience instinctual fear rarely. When it happens, there is an instant adrenalin rush in the body which signals the organism to move away from the danger. Still, the adrenalin surge is not the result of thinking processes. Although, a few seconds later, thoughts may come up interpreting what happened, saying that ‘I am afraid because I almost fell off the cliff’. But the surge of adrenaline works perfectly without thinking, and by itself it does not imply fear.

The same adrenaline rush could be tagged as ‘excitement,’ if I jumped out of an airplane with a parachute fastened to my back. Or, it could be labelled as a ‘sign of love’ when I unexpectedly spot my new lover at the other side of the street. Fear, excitement, love – the sensation is the same, only the label varies.

Even though instinctual fear is rare in our everyday life, we still experience fear quite often, due to mind-made stories being projected into the future: ‘I fear growing old’, ‘I’m afraid of being ridiculed in front of all my colleagues’ or ‘what if she leaves me’; the list is endless.

When my friend tells me that their company decided outsourcing a whole department, thoughts might come up: ‘What if my company will do the same? My job is definitely not indispensable, what if they will fire me? What would I do? I am too old to get a new job. How am I going to pay the mortgage?’ And the fear is set in motion.

But this fear is not caused by an adrenalin rush; it is caused only by believing the story – the story of ‘my’ life. It has no reality, except as a string of thoughts. It is real only as an appearing thought-story, but never its content. Only believing the story creates the emotional response.

When fear arises, is it really fear that is experienced, or is fear just another cover story? When I think ‘I fear that I might lose my job’, would not it be more appropriate to say that ‘there is a resistance to this story’? Do I really feel fear or I just resist what was made up about what might happen?

And what is fear anyway? How is it experienced? When the fear as emotion arises, it is nothing more than felt sensations in the body with the added thought tag ‘fear’. In direct experience, most of the emotions that are labelled as ‘negative’ are experienced quite similarly, as felt contractions in one or more parts of the body.

What is the difference in direct experience between fear, shame, guilt or anger? Is there any apart from the labels as ‘fear’ and ‘shame’? Does the felt sensation contain by itself any innate fearness or angriness?

Is fear real at all? Or is it just a resistance…?
With or without the story, reality is the same – neutral.

Fear is just an artefact, a fabrication. It is nothing more than a sensation in the body plus an attached ‘fear’ label. This is the case with all emotions. The sensations by themselves are not negative, positive, pleasant or unpleasant. They are totally neutral. Only the attached tags differentiate between them.

When this is seen, fear evaporates. It becomes an empty word.
Because fear is NOT real.
There is just a sensation.

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 seen experientially, 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 sensations 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.