Nothing Exists But the Now

What time is it? It’s now. What times is it now? It’s still now. How about now?

Everything is now. Life seems linear. We’re young and then we’re older, and then we’re older yet. Or so it seems. That’s the story we live by. But in reality, the past doesn’t exist and the future doesn’t exist.

I’ve often thought our lives may be like the novel by Kurt Vonnegut, Slaughterhouse Five. In the tale, Billy Pilgrim has come unstuck in time. He continually shifts from one moment in his life to another with no apparent reason. One day he’s a boy, then he finds himself in mid-life, and then he’s a child.

Vonnegut may have been on to something about how we actually live our lives – in a scattershot of time rather than a linear progression. Yesterday, I may have been five. Today I’m in mid-life. The only continuity is now. Right here, now.

When I was a teenager – which may have been yesterday – a friend challenged the notion that we die. He was unconvinced. I said, “Of course we die.”

He shook his head and asked, “Have you died?”

I replied, “Not yet.”

He said, “Then how do you know you’re going to die? You think you’re going to die because people told you you’re going to die, right?”

“Yeah,” I said.

“How do they know you’re going to die?”

“Everybody dies,” I replied.

He laughed. “That’s just what you’ve been told, but you haven’t died. So you don’t know?”

At the time I thought it was a crazy conversation. Yet it haunted me. Now it doesn’t haunt me because I’ve come to see what he meant. All I’ve known is a constant now. I believe in the now, and what’s there to believe in anything else?

 

They Just Can’t Kill the Beast

If you quit feeding your beast, it will die. What’s the beast in your life? Fear, anger, sorrow, jealousy, anxiety, grief, depression. I could go on, but it comes down to fear in one form or another. It’s not only in your thoughts, it’s in your blood, it’s in your nervous system. We’re wired with fear, and if it’s fed, it kills us.

It’s a curse, passed on from generation to generation. We try to calm its ragged edges with alcohol, drugs, food, or relationships, but in the words of the Eagles’ song, “They stab it with their steely knives, but they just can’t kill the beast.”

This beast ruins the lives of those who feed it – the raging parent, the withdrawn and brooding child, the jealous lover, the resentful spouse, the conquering army. All of this is the beast of fear feeding on wounds that won’t heal.

The only antidote to the fear that surrounds us is not-fear. Some call it love. I’m not sure what love is, but I know what not-fear is. It’s well-being, it’s deep breath, it’s a wide open sky, it’s a bright and refreshed world each day we wake.

Courage isn’t the antidote. Courage is the ability, usually brief, to behave in a healthy, caring manner even while surrounded by and encompassed in fear. The antidote is not-fear, and we find this when we quit feeding the beast, for it feeds on us. We believe we will die if we’re separated from the beast, when it reality, it’s killing us.

We learn to quit feeding the beast by going within. When we go within, we go outside ourselves and find a world free from the beast, larger than the beast, a world in which the beast has never existed and never can exist. It’s not an escape, it’s a coming home.

How Does a Spiritual Awakening Help You?

How does a spiritual awakening change your life? You have the same personality, the same body, the same family and friends. At first, everything is the same. Yet when your spiritual awakening comes, everything changes.

You see that you are one with everything around you. You are not separate. That understanding takes away your fear. Maybe not all at once, but bit by bit, your fear begins to stop running your life. You come to realize you have nothing to fear. It’s not that you gain courage. It’s simply that fear has become irrelevant.

You come to see that you have been afraid most of your life. Your reactions, your responses, your decisions have all been based on fear, based on the belief that you are threatened, that you can lose everything that matters, and that you will die.

Lift that fear and you see that nothing that matters can be taken away. You see there is no such thing as death. You are free now. It doesn’t matter who loves you or who doesn’t love you. You suddenly have no argument with anyone – you have no argument with life.

Everything slows down. For perhaps the first time, you can catch your breath. The cloud of cares and worry begins to dissipate. You are lighter now, free of resentments and free of anger.

Your decisions are no longer based on what you need – they are based on kindness and how you can serve. This detachment doesn’t mean you don’t care. You care more for this world than you ever have. Never before have you really seen its beauty. In this caring, you become a caretaker.

You don’t renounce the world; you embrace the world, for the world and you are one.

You Are the Guru You Need

Your spirituality is within. You already have all need to know and everything you need to learn. Your spiritual journey is to the inside. Right this very moment, you are where you need to be. You just have to realize it.

Who is your guide on this journey to yourself? You are. Who shows you where to turn when you’re lost in the dark woods? You will show yourself the way.

How far must you travel? You are already at your destination.

That’s easy to say, but how do teach yourself the way? It’s simple and difficult. You have to be willing and open. Plus, you have to be diligent in exposing yourself to teachings that prompt the recollection of oneness.

The key to willingness is nonresistance. We become resistant when we feel threatened, and without spiritual bearings, we feel threatened most of the time. That’s an illusion that closes down our ability to stay open and willing.

A truck barreling down the freeway is a threat if you cross its path. But a perceived slight in a social situation is not. Yet even a minor slight may close you down with reaction and offense. Then you lose connection with the source within. These soul cut-offs happen all day long, and they can keep us perpetually locked up. Willingness and acceptance are the tools to stay openm open.

Exposing yourself to spiritual teachings, readings, workshops, and more importantly, discussions with friends, will open you up to the source of the oneness within. Seek this exposure. The teachers and the people you meet in spiritual context don’t have something you don’t have, but they will prompt you to yourself.

That’s all you need for a grand spiritual journey. Willingness and spiritual exposure. They will lead you to the oneness within, and that’s everything.

 

Looking for Love in All the Wrong Places

What Do We Want? And why is desire such a tricky guide?

Much of what we experience as desire is actually a yearning for connection, and the only connection that truly satisfies is spiritual connection. We desire something we already have: oneness.

As in the line from the country song goes, we’re looking for love in all the wrong places. We look outside ourselves for that which is inside. The connection we seek has always been inside, and it will always be inside.

Our passions and desires can go off the track so easily. Mine have. I’ve followed passion and desire off many cliffs – bad relationships, substance abuse, overeating. It’s not surprising that 12 step programs insist that the connection to a higher power is essential to overcoming the negative effects of desire gone haywire.

Passion is a powerful human force. Desire keeps us moving when all seems lost. Passion is the beating heart of creativity, the force that drives parents to sacrifice for their children. It is also the fuel that propels massively destructive human behavior, from a single brutality to horrifying wars across the globe. All passion.

The same passion quiets and nourishes when we realize we are not apart, we are not alone, and we are not threatened with annihilation. When that realization is true, the body is put to calm. We awake in peace, go through the day in wonder, and rest easily at night.

For the day is eternal and all our needs are met. We have no needs but connection, and we are always connected. We exist in connection because connection is all there is. There is nothing that is not connection. Our passion – once directed – brings us awake to this simple and eternal truth.

Your Spiritual Childhood

Did you have a childhood spiritual experience? Did you tell anyone? If you did, were you believed?

In the comments of this blog, a number of bloggers have described spiritual experiences they had as children. Most kept those experiences to themselves. One revealed her experience at church and was told it wasn’t real. Surprise, surprise.

I had a number of spiritual experiences as a child and never told anyone. For one, I didn’t think I would be able to describe the experience. To this day, I stumble over the telling. Secondly, I didn’t think anyone would want to hear about it.

When I was a child, spirituality was a narrow band of belief – basically Christian. Those around me believed the great spiritual experiences were in the past, many hundreds of years ago. If we were good, we would go to heaven and see Jesus and God. Other than that, there was no spirituality. It was only in retrospect that I even realized what I experienced was spiritual.

When my kids were young, I would quiz them about spirituality, trying to determine whether they were having spiritual experiences. Mostly, they said, “I don’t know, Dad. I don’t think so.” My autistic daughter said that God was with her. I asked her to explain, but she couldn’t go into detail. Finally she said she didn’t want to talk about it. She also said she had an imaginary friend.

As children, we are not less than adults. We simply have less experience in this world, at least by our recallable memory. But we are just as spiritual, just as one with spirit. We may be less articulate when we’re young, but we are not any less there, or any less capable of spiritual connection.

Who Needs a Belief System?

“We don’t need no stinkin’ belief system.” I’m riffing on the classic line from John Huston’s 1948 film, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre, where a band of  outlaws posed as Federales. When those being robbed asked to see badges, one of the outlaws replied, “Badges? We don’t need no stinkin’ badges.”

It’s a funny line, and it went on to become part of our cultural lexicon. And it’s true when it comes to spirituality – we don’t need a belief system.

When I experienced a spiritual coming to, I thought, “Gees, what do I believe?” I knew there was a presence about me, and I had started to learn how to increase the experience of that presence. It was changing my life remarkably. But what did that make me? A Buddhist? A Hindu? A New Ager?

I started combing books on spirituality to figure out what I believed. Since I was having all of these spiritual experiences, I must believe in something, right? Looking back, that seems a bit silly, but I truly did associate spirituality with belief or faith.

What I found in my search of world religions and spiritual practices is that the roots of most belief systems touched upon experiences similar to what I was going through. Yet once religions became well-established they tended to avoid or diminish these direct, raw spiritual experiences in favor of narrow doctrine. But when most religions were young, they tended to be a bit wild with radical awakenings.

I came away from my investigation with the sense that spiritual experiences or awakenings are quite different from belief systems, spiritual organizations, or religions.

That’s fine. While it’s a pleasure to spend time with people who are also experiencing spiritual breakthroughs – and I learn from every person I meet in spirituality – I don’t need to have no stinkin’ badge.

The Diminishing Ego

Some remarkable things happen as you practice the presence within. Some of the painful needs that seemed so hard to fill in this world, those needs that haunted you for years, will lose their edge. Either they become less important, or, you’ll discover they are becoming satisfied.

Let’s look at the need for companionship. Loneliness results when this need goes unfilled. But two things begin to happen as you become more aware of the presence within. The need for companionship begins to ebb as the presence produces a sense of health, comfort, and belonging. What can be more companionable than the feeling of oneness and connectedness?

Also, the barriers to companionship begin to crumble. Often it is the ego – ever hungry, ever unsatisfied – that stands between our true self and the sense of connection. After all, the need for companionship is simply the need for connection. Without the edgy, needy ego in charge, we become more companionable. We become more accepting of others, more forgiving of ourselves. We become less of a problem.

Feeling the presence within does not eliminate the ego, but it does take it down a notch in its control over our self-perception and its control over our behavior. Without the ego so much in charge, we begin to see the dwindling of self pity, self loathing, and fear.

The ego holds and feeds our fear. The ego is terrified of death, and for good reason. The ego will die. But our true self won’t die. It cannot die. It is oneness. As we experience that oneness, the bitter needs of the ego become less pressing. In time, those needs will pretty much go away. And even if they don’t vanish altogether, they will become so unimportant as to not matter any longer.

Finding the Presence through Meditation and Awareness

So how do you find the presence within? The answer goes back a few thousand years: Be still and know that you are God. That’s the oneness. Much comes through the simple awareness that we are not separate, we are not apart, and we do not inherit pain, suffering, tension, or fear. They are part of the illusion. Our true life is in the reality of the presence. If we are in the Now, we’re in the presence. If we are still, we’re in the presence. If we truly realize we are not separate, then we are in the presence.

This shift in awareness can be prompted by a number of practices: meditation controlled deep breathing, yoga and other forms of stillness within.

Your meditation can be very simple. Sit in a place where you won’t be disturbed. Use silence or natural sounds. Natural sounds work better than music because any form of music comes with a point of view or intention from the composter or musician. Natural sounds are not encumbered by intention.

Try to quiet your thoughts. If your thinking goes on like a buzz saw, try repeating a set of words – some call this a mantra. The mantra works to block out thoughts prompted by worry, concern for the future, or simple to-do lists that rattle our brain when we’re trying to be quiet. You can simply say, “I am one with the presence; the presence is one with everything.”

Relax. Breath slowly and let your breath all the way out. Don’t over-burden your breathing. Let it become forgettable. In time, you may begin to feel a presence. It make take 10 minutes, it may take 30. You could meditate every day and not feel anything for a month. But in time, if you keep it up, you will feel something.

In the next blog we’ll look at how an awareness of the presence changes our experience of this life.

Finding the Presence Within

In the past two blogs, we looked at the nature of the presence within and explored the different ways people have experienced it. Let’s now look at ways to reach an awareness of the presence within.

I spent years wondering how to reach the presence inside. I believed it was real, even though I felt only a hint of it occasionally. The spirituality texts I read seemed intuitively true – the Upanishads, The Way of Life by Lao Tzu, The Bhagavad Gita, and many books by Alan Watts. Even mystical Christianity and the New Thought of Unity and Religious Science talked extensively about the presence of god or spirit within.

I believed it was real; I just couldn’t figure out how to experience it.

Interestingly, my first experiences in feeling the presence were through psychedelic drugs, including as LSD, psilocybin, mescaline, and DMT. That’s a rough way to feel the presence. For one, these drugs don’t always bring a sense of comfort or wellbeing. Some of these drug experiences can be frightening. Looking back, it seems odd to experience a mixture of the presence and outright terror. But indeed, that can happen.

Yet I am convinced the presence I felt on these drugs was real, even if the feeling of the presence came with a disquieting pinch of self destruction.

Drugs are drugs. They can blast the doors of perception open – as Aldus Huxley observed – but they leave behind a ragged legacy that’s often accompanied by painful anxiety. A couple friends of mine turned to heroin to relieve the uncomfortable after-edge of psychedelics. As you can imagine, that didn’t turn out well.

There are certainly healthier ways to bring about the awareness of the presence within consistently. In the next blog we’ll look at how you can reach the presence through meditation and breathing exercises.