What is the present moment?
It is hard to define the present moment. By doing so, it loses its timeless and limitless quality. The mind operates in the framework of time. The ‘present’ which the mind sandwiches between the past and the future is time-bound and limited. We can be aware of that interval we call the ‘present’ just as we can be aware of thoughts of the past or the future. The source of perception that leads to awareness of the thoughts of the past and the future and the intervening time we refer to as the present moment is a constant factor that does not change. As we get closer to this source of perception within us all, which is pure awareness, we gain proximity to the real present.
We are accustomed to perceiving everything through the mind with the help of the senses housed in the body. The real present is not a time point we work towards, nor is it not something we can reach through the body and the mind. The mind is subject to the influence of time, which supports its existence.
Depending on the thoughts on which our awareness rests, we call it the past, present, and future. What we already know becomes the past, and what we imagine will come becomes the future. Whatever lies between knowing (the past) and imagination (the future), becomes the present. Just as a bridge has anchors on either bank of a river, this bridge we commonly call the present is anchored in the past and the future.
From the perspective of the mind, the ‘present moment’ does not last and is often momentary. That which was the ‘present moment’ some time ago disappears, making room for another one. This narrow band of time between the past and the future is like being at the bottom of a deep and narrow gorge. It confines us to the mind which is hard to leave, just as it may be challenging to scale the tall and steep walls of a canyon.
We can compare the ‘true present’ to the moon. The moon does not change its shape, but when we view it from the earth, its form appears to go through a transformation. From a full circle one day, it begins to change shapes on subsequent days, finally turning into a faint crescent before disappearing and reappearing again. Similarly, the ‘true present’ keeps changing from the viewpoint of the mind. When our awareness filters through the mind, depending on the depth of involvement, we may or may not be with the real present.
When we rent our awareness to the mind, it becomes the lens through which we view the world. The mind keeps changing, that is its nature. As the mind changes, the world appears to change. What the senses perceive at this moment becomes the present from the mind’s perspective.
The true present is beyond comparison and hence, time. The concept of time comes about through a contrast between the past and the present, the present and the future, and so on. The length of the past depends on the number of experiences we store in memory that we closely relate with, and the extent of the future depends on our imagination and projections of our desires and aspirations into a future timescale. There is nothing real about the future at this very moment.
Thoughts are objects in our field of awareness, and they do not obstruct the true present. Thoughts are like distant stars. Just as stars in the sky don’t obscure the view of the moon, the existence of thoughts should not limit our ability to remain in the true present.
When we move from what is in the field of awareness to awareness itself, we begin to scratch the surface of timelessness. Just by looking at the ocean, we cannot determine the age of its waters. But the age of the creatures that live in the ocean may be estimated. The water remains a constant; the creatures living in it come and go and are subject to birth and death. At any given moment, hundreds and thousands of fish take birth while numerous others die. The water remains unaffected. It never ‘dies.’
In the field of awareness, thousands of thoughts come and go every day, just like birds flying across the sky. When awareness is on fleeting thoughts, we are affected by their coming and going. Awareness then becomes subject to the same limitations and constraints that apply to transitory thoughts. When we become aware of the space in which these changing thoughts take shape and disappear, we remain unaffected. In that space, we begin the search for the true present.
Depending on our perspective, time has a linear trajectory, or it rotates on a fixed axis. When thoughts bind awareness, the linear dimensions of the past, present, and future come into existence. But when awareness is on the space containing thoughts, we perceive various stages in the evolution, maintenance, and dissolution of thought-forms. But rather than time moving linearly, we become aware of its rotation through the evolution and extinction of thought-forms.
When awareness is on the contents of our thoughts, time becomes a linear line from the past to the future. When awareness is on the space in which thoughts play out, time loses its linear quality.
The ability to witness that space in which thoughts transform takes us towards the real present, which is not related to the movement of thoughts and the mind.