The spiritual concept “NOW” is widely spread in Western culture and yet difficult to grasp at times. It is probably because it depends on the person’s level of consciousness that makes her/him experience the NOW differently. All is good. From a Zen perspective, I like the picture of the clock going around on Facebook with the word “NOW” replacing all numbers on the clock. So, every time you look at your clock, it is NOW; every moment you breathe in or out is NOW. In short, human time is arbitrary, there truly is only the NOW. What else do you need?
There are two experiences of the NOW that I can speak about: (i) the awareness of yourself in the moment (like mindfulness), and (ii) the consciousness beyond time and space. I will refer to the latter as it goes with my Zen training. NOW is not the present, in opposition to the past or the future. NOW is a “state of mind” or a gate of consciousness that opens to a new frame of reality. Or, in other words, an experience outside of time and space: pure emptiness. In the NOW, you can still watch a movie, or enjoy a discussion with your friends, but your consciousness is wider. NOW has no beginning nor end. You simply step into the NOW consciousness, and your senses are different. You hear, smell, see, etc. on a different frequency. It is like seeing in colour suddenly while you have always seen in black and white. For example, when practicing chanting meditation, the goal is to become “one” with the sound. We say that to reach that point, you must first be in the NOW. Only then, can you hear the universe in the chanting. Everything can bring you back to the universe if you are in the NOW.
Walking in nature brings a peacefulness and a deep feeling of connection that can be associated with mindfulness. You listen to the wind, the birds in the forest, or the waves on the beach and slowly feel connected to nature. However, a step further is more empowering: you match your breath in and out with the waves coming and going on the beach; you synchronize your movements with the wind and let the birds’ chirping clear your senses (you do not simply enjoy it but vibrate with it). In so doing, you quiet your mind, meaning that you do not attach to any thoughts popping up in your mind and you stay focused on your breath. Breath in and out like waves on the beach coming and going. And nothing else. Only then can stillness settle in you. And even in the birds’ chirping you can hear the universe. That is a deeper level of experiencing the NOW. You can even dissolve your anxiety in that “state of mind” as things seem so clear to you. Your consciousness expands. And that’s the magic and power of the NOW. This is true walking meditation in the forest or on the beach. Zen samurais called it the “Walk in the bamboo forest.”
Beyond time and space
I like to use metaphors to illustrate the experience of NOW beyond time and space. Stephen Hawking, for example, explained why a straight line in the space-time gravity would look like a curve line in our three-dimensional reality: if a plane flies over a hilly ground, we will see the plane’s shadow going up and down the hill as a curve line. But the plane is flying in a straight line (fourth dimension).
As a metaphor to illustrate the nuance of the NOW, let’s use first our planet’s time zones. If it is 3:00pm EDT for you, it is 9:00pm CET for someone else, or 4:00am next day, in Korean time. Three different realities. If you are in New York City, you can call a friend in Paris and speak in that same moment in “time” (like the straight line of the plane in the sky) that is beyond day or night respectively for each of you. That “time” has no name, but we can metaphorically call it NOW.
It takes 8 minutes for a photon from the sun to reach Earth. Imagine a faraway star whose light requires 10 thousand light-years to reach Earth. Once that star dies, we will still receive its light and see it in the night sky for another 10 thousand light-years. Two different time and space realities. If we could communicate instantly (hypothetically, as communication would equally be delayed) with the people living around that dead star, we would be living in their past while they would be living in our future since in our “present time” we would still see the star’s light coming to us. Nevertheless, in that moment of instant communication with them, that would be metaphorically the NOW.
The third example is of a different nature. A long time ago, my former karate teacher and I were trying to perform a kata in harmony for a video shooting. We kept checking ourselves in the dojo’s wall mirror to make sure we were synchronized. It never worked. After the fourth time, we decided to ignore each other, and each of us focused on her/his breath and movements. We were in our own time/space reality. At our great surprise, everyone applauded at the end. My teacher and I had met in harmony in the NOW.
Last remark: when you are absorbed in an activity that makes you forget an appointment or be oblivious to what’s around you, this is not being in the NOW. Being in the NOW does not reduce your sense of “reality”, on the contrary, it expands it. Your consciousness is wider. You are aware of much more than what you are doing in the moment.
I will end by saying that meditation in general helps you be in the NOW: walking meditation, chanting meditation, and the best is sitting meditation. Don’t expect anything when you meditate. Just be open. Just connect with your breath and let the inner silence settle in you. And the NOW as a “state of mind” will rise by itself; the gate of consciousness will open by itself.
Why is it important to be in the NOW? It expands our consciousness and makes us connect differently with others and nature. We feel more the “oneness” with everything. Being in the NOW does not mean being enlightened. It means that you pass through the first gate of consciousness, you step into a new reality, a new way of existing. Being in the NOW helps you become the better version of yourself as you connect with something bigger than your ego and, hopefully, become the conscious human being of the 21st century that the world needs. It all starts with oneself. Namaste.