About six months ago I started meditating** somewhat regularly. I am a pretty fidgety person with an equally fidgety mind, so meditating has been a challenge, but I’ve found the various moments or minutes during which I’ve truly remained in concentration to be very satisfying.
Through meditation, I’ve become aware of three different senses of the “present” or the “now.”
To live with such a model means to be constantly looking behind and ahead—meaning is all about feeling connected across time. As individuals, our sense of self and our mood at any given moment is often based on dis/satisfaction with whatever just happened in our lives or whatever we are anticipating coming soon. Cultures, peoples, families, and individuals make meaning and locate ourselves in the present through the stories we tell ourselves about our past and future.
2. “Now” as whatever I am immediately perceiving/doing
This is the meditative experience. From this perspective, “now” is just now—it’s this breath, this step, this awareness. Now is whatever is in one’s immediate experience.
In this model, the self as we know it is greatly reduced, radically filtered, perhaps not even there. If I am aware of just this moment now, then who am I in that moment of awareness? Just this awareness. I am this perspective. I am the observer.
This can be a strange or even disconcerting feeling—because when I isolate my experience to simply the present moment, meaning also seems to disappear. If meaning is about connection, then being simply present in the moment is meaningless, because being simply present involves only one point. There’s no story, no progression, no purpose. There’s just being here.
So that can be scary. And yet… it can be such a relief too. While resting in the immediate, I feel liberated from the pressures of time-as-continuum and self-as-narrative.
3.“Now” in some cosmic sense—eternity
I’ve never experienced this and don’t have much to say about it. It appears to be a kind of timeless time, seeing the whole span of time as a single moment. Of course, in the cosmic Now, the self also disappears, perhaps replaced by some cosmic Self.
So what? Well… I think this variety of Presents raises some questions:
- How should we value or prioritize each kind of Now? Is one the most important? Are there specific occasions in which we should sacrifice one kind of Now for another?
- What is the relationship between the Self-as-narrative, Self-as-observer, and cosmic-Self? Does each have a kind of wisdom for the others?
- Is there a lesson in these varieties that could be applied towards the questions of how we should comport ourselves towards the past or the future?