Mind the Gap: Stepping out of Time — The present moment is where all the
05 Jan 2014
We think we want to be a somebody, but the deeper drive is actually to be a nobody. That is why drug and alcohol addiction is so prevalent — we find the conceptual self too suffocating. The solution is to step out of time, and this is how it is done.
FROM EACH MOMENT radiates an entire life, giving that moment a 'living' context. Often, however, we get so caught in the moment, that the mind no longer constructs that living context, so that the moment becomes complete in itself. At times like this we are said to be 'awake' — awake to what 'is', without the construction of a time-line to frame that moment.
Moments only need to be framed, only need to be sandwiched between a past and a future, by the conceptual self (or ego) that tries to control what the moment means to it. For if moments are not co-opted to validate the conceptual self, then that illusory self can no longer be maintained. A moment untethered is free of you and me, it breaks down boundaries and dissolves separation, destroying identity. This disappearance of self can seem frightening, but it is actually deliciously natural. It happens every night in deep sleep, and perhaps when we meditate. But it also happens throughout the day when we become lost in the moment, and in that moment we feel content and complete. And when we disappear, our sense of time and continuity disappear too, which is why we feel we lose time during those moments… we skip forward to another self-moment where identity is forced back on a system that has been allowed to freely breathe in non-identity.
These form holes in our day… holes were we have ceased to be… but the mind is clever at concealing the holes just as it conceals our visual blind spots. If it were not for clocks, we might never realize that we have lost time. All of us have these moments… all of us are realized at different times… but our mental habits pull us back into conceptual self. We think we are a somebody, but the truth is that we are a nobody much more of the time than we are a somebody. It is the mind that fills in the gaps just as it does when we are at the cinema and the film rolls before our eyes one static frame after another. There is no continuity of self… most of the time we fall into the gaps between moments… we are awake most of the time… we are just not conscious of it as the mind quickly hides this truth. It reminds me of the London tube: "MIND THE GAP." Yes, minds certainly do stop us falling into the gap. But we actually gap-dwellers.
When we first awaken in the mornings, often we are aware of the scramble to assemble an identity. "Oh, I am a lawyer and need to get to court for 8am," or "I am a murderer and am facing another day in jail." For a second or two, the prisoner is free before he remembers that he is behind bars. Or the woman who wakes up and feels free until she remembers that he has been sentenced to death the previous week by a doctor's pronouncement of terminal cancer. What a shock to the system to suddenly confine it to a particular biography! That is what is so great about children: they can be everything and anybody in the moment… they play at identity. But for adults, identity is a serious business and you only get one of them (two or more if you are psychologically challenged). For us, it defines what we think and how we behave. And we take it SO literally.
Who is the you reading this right now? How many of your responses to what I am writing, whether you agree with it or not, is a response coloured by who you think you are… your identity? What is your past? Is it here in this moment? If so how? How is your biography present here and now?
The drive to be a somebody is also deep, but not as deep as is the drive to be a nobody. The only problem is that the drive to be a somebody is in our faces whereas the drive to be a nobody is hidden in the ways we "let go" or "unwind", or in our pull to the divine. The drive to be a nobody is considered recreational. Those who make it the focus of their lives are considered to be spiritual nutcases, or else alcoholics and drug addicts. Methodologies differ, but the goal is the same. A drug addict has much in common with a monk: both have become disillusioned with the conceptual self.
When we are young, we are generally constructing the ego, we are becoming a conceptual person which is a necessary part of human development. A healthy ego is important. But we live in a society now that has become obsessed by youth, so that our media (including online media) has become a glorification of the conceptual self. We just love Facebook, Twitter, Second Life, blogs, dating sites, talent shows, rappers, rockers, film stars, online forums etc. because they are all about ego. The are all about the glorification of being somebody special — a personality — and many now feel that they can only be happy if they are a somebody special.
But the truth is the exact opposite, as it often is. We certainly get a buzz from being somebody special, but a buzz is very different from real contentment, real happiness. Psychological studies consistently show that people who spend long periods of their days promoting their 'sombodiness' using these sites, or who try to be a somebody vicariously by focusing on someone famous, are unhappy in their addiction to the 'me' conceptual self. 'Me' is actually the cause of most of our psychological suffering, but we do not realize it, and instead create whole institutions dedicated to promoting and extolling the virtues of the 'me', in the erroneous belief that a promoted 'me' is a happy 'me'. The entertainment industry is a prime example of a 'me' or identity industry. Today everyone seems to want to be famous; everyone seems to want ego-stroking. And yet we are all aware of how unhappy Hollywood stars are behind the false smiles, swaggering manners and expensive cars. But we just can't help ourselves… surely we think if millions of people join in our identity-fest, then we would be happy and feel loved. But like many things, our logic is confounded by experience. Reality has other ideas.
In reality, we spend a lot of our time trying to escape the grinding suffocation of identity: we might take drugs or drink alcohol, we take prosaic, or escape into the virtual realities of computer games and movie sets, or into the senses with delicious food and orgasmic sex. These can feel that they liberate us from the 'me', at least in the short term. We are not actually happy being a somebody, but we would never admit this to ourselves. Our conscious minds are just too afraid to be a nobody. And yet being a nobody is so refreshing. So we spend our lives being a somebody who longs underneath to be a nobody.
But what is it that draws us into being a somebody? If we are always trying to escape identity because we instinctively know it brings suffering and unhappiness, what is it that pulls us back to identity? What is this fatal attraction?
It all rests of the concept of free will; it is free will that we sacrifice when we let go of identity. And most of us are not prepared to do that consciously, even if it brings us great unhappiness.
Free will implies that we are the doer of our lives. Free will puts us in the driving seat… it gives us control. And being in the driving seat means that we can go where the happiness is. We can construct lives that will bring us happiness; we can build relationships that will validate us as lovable beings. And this view is based on ignorance because true happiness is not something that can be pursued, because any movement is a movement away from where we are right here and right now. And happiness is a natural flowering of this moment.
You could call this ignorance a lack of faith. A lack of faith that happiness will find us, rather than us having to find it. An ignorance that makes us look for happiness everywhere else but here. We are happiness, but our minds are programmed to think we have to pursue it… we have to hunt for it. Well, if I marry this sort of person and get this sort of house, career, car etc., then I will feel happy. And of course when we get these things are we happy, at least for a moment, but only because the fulfilment of these desires brings us into the present moment. We are not being pulled elsewhere by unfulfilled desires. But then new desires arise in our restless minds, and off we go again to try to corral what we believe will make us happy. But we can only corral if we have free will… if we are the master of the sheep dog. That is why we refuse to be a refreshing nobody… we think we must control the process in order to find happiness.
The error is that we mistakenly believe that the relationships and things we have attained are what bring us happiness, but what has actually made us happy is the momentary pause in the chase so that we have a chance to be right here and right now. The things and people are nothing to do with true happiness… only conceptual happiness. We are hanging the natural happy expression of being on these material hooks. But because we do not understand this, when another desire arises, off we go in our endless pursuit of what we already have.
This is why desire is believed to be the root of suffering. Desire projects happiness onto things and people. It projects it away from where it actually is. And to fulfil desires we have to be a somebody: there has to be a separation between us and the thing or person we desire. So desire implies separation. Well that is not actually true… it is the mind's interpretation of desire that implies separation. Because desire itself is just a strong feeling in the body that we are uncomfortable with… it is the mind that links the potential cessation of that feeling to an external object, person or process. We feel the urge for sexual release, for example, and we then look to someone else to allow us to end that urge. We are uncomfortable with the feeling.
If we think that if we are a nobody… if we are not in control… we will be at the mercy of our feelings… perhaps for all eternity. Imagine that… being sexually frustrated forever… or being sad or manic forever! With no 'I' in the driving seat to bring relief, we believe that we are at the mercy of the feelings that arise in the body. What a terrible thought!
Of course, some will face that fear head on by experiencing what is going on in their body without moving to end those feelings. The body changes… feelings naturally come and go like clouds in the sky… and when we understand that we can reach a place where there is no knee-jerk response to fulfil desires. We deconstruct them; we unlink them from the story and see that they are just feelings.
We think it is all about the mind… about our thoughts. But thoughts without a body connection do not have power over us. The body gives the thoughts their gravity… their pull. And so it is the body that we have to face first and foremost, not the mind. It is the mind that constructs identity, and it constructs this primarily around the look of and feelings in the body. The identity scrambles to give meaning to the feelings in the body, a meaning that involves personalizing them. In this way, our 'self' becomes synonymous with the body. And this is why the dropping of body-identification is the primary goal of most authentic spiritual practice.
Minds generate identity; bodies process the energies. So the focus of the mind must be in letting go of 'identifying' everything (using self-enquiry or just simply stopping the continual self-referencing), and the focus on the body must be to let it feel what it does without resistance or distraction. This is the totality of authentic spiritual practice. It really is that simple… which of course means it is hard for us to grasp because we look for so much complication. Stop continual self-referencing and feel what you feel!
And both these practices can only be done in the moment. As soon as we are in time… on that time-line of life… those practices shudder to a halt. They cannot be done from a time-line perspective because time-lines remove us from intimacy with what is.
This is why all the psychological techniques that are so common in the New Age all come to nothing in the end because they involve time. They involve causality… this causes that… a before and an after… they are predicated on becoming… whether it be whole, happy, healthy or wealthy. Stepping out of time takes away the fantasies of causality, so that the story-telling ends, or at least we become more conscious of its contrived nature, becoming less inclined to label these stories as Truth.
I have used the word 'moment' freely here, but it is also problematic in itself. The word moment implies a tiny interval of time, but it is still time. 'Moment' implies that there is a moment before and a moment after — it implies a time-line. When we actually enter this 'moment', time disappears and so the word is not ideal because it tries to drag time along with it. A better perspective might be to see this process as "stepping out of time" altogether rather than stepping into a moment of time. We are discarding time altogether, and in doing this we discard causality and identity, for these are predicated on the concept of time.
What would the world be like if we let go of time? Would we still be here? What would reality be like without causality? How would we function?
The answer to these can only be discovered experientially. We may use drugs and alcohol, but the problem with these is that the process of stepping out of time becomes largely unconscious, like going to sleep at night. Sleep is refreshing, as can be going on a bender with friends at your local bar, but if we want to be conscious in the present moment, our minds should be clear to face what is, and our bodies should be clear to feel what is. Otherwise we do not consciously awaken. (The only drugs that can possibly help in this process are non-recreational natural drugs like ayahuasca and ibogain, drugs intertwined with shamanism. But these are double-edged swords, and if they are not used with sincerity and consciousness, they can easily end up putting us to sleep spiritually, becoming inoculations against awakening.)
Our experience of time rests on five interrelated illusory foundations:
- identity (separation)
- free will (control)
And because these illusions are so interdependent, working on just one or two of them can free us from the others as well, allowing us to step out of time. Which we chose to work with will depend on our personality and culture.
If we choose identity, we work with self-inquiry. We look to who or what we are. And if we do it authentically, persistently and deeply, realizing that we do not exist, and in that realization we dissolve the separation between us and everything else. All becomes one. And in toppling the conceptual self we also topple causality, free will and the tyranny of memory, and step out of time. There are many great teachers on self-inquiry such as Nisargadatta, Papaji, Gangagi, Adyashanti, Tony Parsons, Jac O'Keeffe and Mooji, just to name a few.
If we choose causality, then we let everything be as it is. This is the way of authentic meditation. We allow whatever happens to happen, and in doing that identity disappears as does memory and free will, and if we can do it authentically and completely, we also step out of time. Adyashanti has a great meditation called True Meditation that focuses on this letting everything be as it is.
The third way is free will and is the path of devotion to a master (living or dead). We do whatever he or she says or wrote… we give away our free will and submit to another's control. And in doing that we end up giving away identity, memory and causality, because we have surrendered to a higher authority. If we are ardent enough and graced by an authentic teacher, we step out of time. (Choosing an authentic teacher can be difficult as there are so many fakes around. Probably, but not always, better to chose someone who has come from a long lineage rather than someone who is self-proclaimed.)
The fourth way is to work consciously on letting go of the grip that memory has in our lives. Memory keeps the whole illusion going by allowing for the illusory experience of time's flow — of us having a past and a future. So each time memories surface, we recognize them as illusions of the conceptual self, which indeed uses memories to validate its continuation. We do not realize how much of our existence is played through memory, and by learning to drop conscious memory whenever it pops up (unless we actually practically need to remember something) is an important method for stepping out of time.
The fifth way is to let go of resistance to what we feel. It is resistance that keeps us stuck in time. When we let go to what we feel in the body — when we stop tying to control or numb out what we feel — we end up identifying with the resisted feeling and stuck emotions, so that those bottled feelings and emotions are used to underpin our identity. Free those feelings by spending time in unconditional body awareness, and we end up freeing ourselves and stepping out of time. This is the way of many different holistic body therapies as well as awareness meditations.
These are just five primary factors that help us step out of time. There are others and this list is in no way comprehensive.
When by grace we do step out of time, our whole modus operandi is turned upside down and we become expressions of the universe because we are one with All-That-Is. The universe acts through us; what needs to be done gets done, with no doer involved. It's a paradox, but so is every great truth. It takes courage and commitment to turn upside down like this, but fortunately, deep down, all of us hunger for this orientation because it is actually the natural orientation. Being an upside down nobody is what we actually are, but we play this game of "let's pretend". There is nothing wrong with games — they can be fun — but there is a problem when we find ourselves playing unconsciously so that we get stuck in character… in time. And when that happens, something that might be labeled 'grace' calls us back to who we actually are.
Grace is unfortunately anything but soft; her alluring voice is a Siren call, and we WILL be smashed to pieces on the rocks… of that we can be certain. But 'something' remains… 'something' is left.
Find out what it is… for it is who and what you really are.