Spiritual Principles behind the Traditions
“Being in the present moment” is so simple it’s downright annoying at times. I can reduce (and often do) the entire subject of addiction recovery to this simple concept: waking up to the present moment. Last night, I watched an Eckhart Tolle lecture, which was an oral review of the book I had read about a year and a half ago. Nevertheless, I still found myself on an imaginary edge of an imaginary mental seat waiting for the answer to the title’s lecture to arrive. The title? “Living your Primary Purpose”. With all my knowledge and all my assumed lack of needing any review, it’s comical that I was so overcome by the correct answer. I thought I knew this already.
For those of you beginning to feel the same right now as I was then, I’ll end the dramatics. Your Primary Purpose? It’s whatever you’re doing right now. If you’re reading these words, then you’re reading these words. Fully present. Emphasis on the word fully. If you’re drinking a glass of water, you’re fully present—fully with the water as it slides down your throat, as it moves cool through your digestive track, etc. How often are we fully with the breath? To know that we take a breath, to feel it as it tickles, ever so faintly, the tips of our nostrils, to acknowledge the in-breath as it traces through our throat. Try it: feel it right now. Take a present breath.
Which is all well and good. Cognitive dissonance—the oratory art of creating and unsatisfactory condition: a presentation of a concept so unacceptable, our brains simply won’t rest until the dilemma is resolved. Good speakers and persuaders know this art well, and are able to develop terrible scenarios our brains are positively queasy at. Great persuaders are expert at providing the answers. Which is the point of good cognitive dissonance: “don’t want to leave your family abandoned and unable to pay the bills after you die? Then buy my life insurance.” The speaker, or sometimes the salesman, is giving us the way out of our unwanted brain queasiness.
Eckhart Tolle was no different in his method: he took his time presenting the illusory nature of the future. The future doesn’t exist. Moreover, and precisely the cause for dissonance, it will never exist. Yet some people inhabit their entire lives in this illusory state—reaching for a dreamed-of, distant place of “success” and “happiness” that ultimately doesn’t come. It cannot come, for the future doesn’t even exist. Now, even in the cause of reading, I’m imagining brains already working to ease the dissonance. One way is to reject the truth of the last idea. However you do it, perhaps attacking the logic in some way or not accepting the idea that the future never comes—point is, in the mere act of rejecting this statement, cognitive dissonance is at work. Now, if it’s truly worked to its fullest capacity, you’re still with me on the fact that the future doesn’t exist, and that the majority of humans spend an entire lifetime trying to fulfill happiness based on this erroneous conclusion. What are we to do about this?
Be in the present moment. In the only moment that ever exists. The future can only be experienced in the present. The past as well. In fact, the majority of people spend the majority of their time experiencing these illusory states in the present moment, while never taking the time to actually experience…the present moment!
Which again, is all well and good. But I’ll be the first to admit (and perhaps the first to think—I only know that I have the thought arise myself) that this whole train of thought can sound like a whole lot of fruity, mumbo-jumbo. A nice philosophical trick, perhaps, but just another unpleasant thought I’ll have to riddle away so my brain can feel at ease (matter of fact, by calling it just another unpleasant thought and philosophical nonsense, I’m on my way to relieving the dissonance). So what? How is this silly train of thought actually going to change anything? How does this change my life? How does ‘being in the present moment’ affect anything?
And the answer is: a lot!! Again, I can reduce the whole of addiction recovery by adherence to this simple concept: Being in the present moment. It often comes back to this simple truth; again and again. One day at a time. One breath at a time.
One of the blessed things that a mediation practice has given me is less sense of dependance on my logic for all the answers to my life. Thoughts are nice, sure, but sometimes they aren’t. Which is Okay, too. I just recognize them for what they are (when I’m practicing being in the present), and don’t depend on them for the end. For, as the answer as Eckhart Tolle gives it for our little dilemma, thoughts need to be seen as simple forms arising, forms behind the actual Presence which we inhabit, eternally, in the Now.
So while I know the trap religions can have when they start to use scientific data to infer the existence of whatever deity behind (or lack thereof) their belief system, the developments in quantum physics has to many correlations to not jump upon when discussing “recovery” and “spirituality”.
“In most branches of physics, space and time are treated as though they were infinite, uniform, and perfectly smooth: a static background through which objects move and events happen. This is a very workable assumption for examining the nature and properties of both large bodies of matter and subatomic particles. But when it comes to examining time and space themselves, the situation becomes very different.
“At the level of ordinary human perception, the world looks sharp, clear and solid. A plank supported by four legs appears on the level of ordinary perception quite obviously to be a table. A cylindrically shaped object with a flat bottom and an open top appears quite obviously to be a glass.
“Now imagine looking at a material object through a microscope. You might reasonably expect that by gradually increasing the microscope’s level of magnification you’d see a sharper, clearer image of the object’s underlying structure. Actually, quite the opposite occurs. As we approach magnification where we are able to see individual atoms, the world begins to look more and more ‘fuzzy’, and we leave most of the rules of classical physics behind. This is the realm of quantum mechanics…particles jitter about in all possible ways and pop in and out of existence with increasing frequency…continuing to increase…to smaller and smaller objects, we eventually find that space and time themselves start to jitter—space itself develops tiny curves and kinks that appear and disappear inconceivably fast…
“…at this point physics itself begins to jitter, because the study of matter, energy, and motion, and they way they relate to one another, cannot even be formulated without an underlying reference to time. At this point, physicists admit, they have no idea to describe what is left. It is a state that literally includes all possibilities, beyond space and time.”
That was the latest, quick synopsis I read regarding the quantum level of physics. If you want a morein-depth look and more concrete examples, I would highly suggest picking up a copy of Gary Zukov’s The Dancing Wu-Li Masters. Basically, and there is scientific theory to back this up (however much like science fiction or…eastern spirituality…it may sound like), quantum mechanics goes something as follows: When we try to break down the fundamental building blocks of “matter”, when we try to see what exactly it is that gives substance to this material realm we live and breath in, at a certain point it breaks down. Never mind the fact the indivisibility of the universe—experiments have confirmed that the subject doing the experiment can’t help but influence the outcome. There is no objective, disconnected world “out there” to objectify, in other words. Never mind that fact, because what’s more: essentially the building blocks of ‘matter’ come blinking in out of existence, coming from a mystical (yet scientific) land of ‘unlimited possibility’. Once arrived from this “land”, said particle follows the cause-and-effect relationship we try to carry back to the universe’s origin (until, that is, quantum physics came along and complicated this issue a bit).
Put another way: the physical realm we inhabit—with forms and causes and effects—springs forth from a non-material realm. A non-material realm with infinite possibility. A realm, in other words, of spirit. (Which, by the way, every religion has a mystical strand which talks about this subtle realm of spirit, often outlining the ways in which pure Spirit, or God as they sometimes name it, begins to manifest Itself more concretely into the physical realm which we currently inhabit). The forms, moreover this universe, is only one of many possibilities of a universe, which could and most likely also exist.
So much for addiction recovery. It feels like I’ve taken a few hits of LSD.
Seriously, though, these scientific findings are quite breathtaking. But what’s to be made of them, if anything. Well, since I like to focus on how things apply to the 12-step perspective, I’d like to show how this relates back to precisely that.
“From a Buddhist perspective, the description of reality provided by quantum mechanics offers a degree of freedom to which most people are not accustomed, and that may at first seem strange and even a little frightening. As much as Westerners in particular value the capacity for freedom, the notion that the act of observation of an event can influence the outcome in random, unpredictable ways can seem like too much responsibility. It’s much easier to assume the role of victim and assign the responsibility or blame for our experience to some person or power outside oneself. If we’re to take the discoveries of modern science seriously, however, we have to assume responsibility for our moment-by-moment experience.
“While doing so may open up possibilities we might never before have imagined, it’s still hard to give up the familiar habit of being a victim. On the other hand, if we began to accept responsibility for our experience, our lives would become a kind of playground, offering innumerable possibilities for learning and invention. Our sense of personal limitation and vulnerability would gradually be replaced by a sense of openness and possibility. We would see those around us in an entirely new light—not as threats to our personal security or happiness, but as people simply ignorant of the infinite possibilities of their own nature. Because our own nature is unconstrained by arbitrary distinctions of being ‘this way’ or ‘that way’, or having only certain capabilities and lacking others, then we would be able to meet the demands of any situation which me might find ourselves in.”
(all emphasis of the above quote my own, not the author.)
These are more than words on a page for me, these are notions I’ve experienced to be true. All by simply waking up to the present moment. By realizing that happiness is not coming around the next corner or the next job, or the next girlfriend, or the next thing ‘out there’, but that it exists eternally within, we can begin to wake up to the present. Which is painful. Because one of the things I learned when waking up to THIS moment, was that I wasn’t so innocent as I had thought.
I had thought for virtually my entire adult life that the world had taken a giant shit on me. I had gotten the raw deal all my life—I got cut from the basketball team because I wasn’t Mormon enough (I’m not sure if this is the real reason, but it was the story I told myself, and don’t the stories we tell ourselves—over and over and over again—define our reality?), my girlfriend didn’t love me enough, etc. But then I began to look at my “character defects” (as they’re coined in 12-step literature). One of my most highly developed was what I began to recognize as “self-pity”.
I miss the comfort in being sad. It’s an old Nirvana lyric, but one I find brilliant. There’s a lot of strange comfort in being sorry for ourselves; often, we unconsciously invite all those we come across to enjoy our pity-party. But when we stop blaming everything and everybody else, and look at our role? Why, that’s too fucking scary. There’s too much fucking freedom.
I don’t have the book anymore, but one of the best I’ve read on therapy techniques stated that the essence of all good therapeutic practice, in terms of getting the behavior to change, is to get the client to assume responsibility. As soon as, and moreover not until blaming ceases, the client is able to realize his own action in the matter, he assumes responsibility for change. You see what Being in the Now can do?
Story-lines. A subject for another day. Have you noticed yours recently? (Being in the Now begins with bare awareness. Become aware and become present).
Well, I certainly had forgotten the message I already knew, swept up in my plans for a brighter future, living in the imagined good results instead of the present process to achieve them. Now you’ll have to excuse me: I’m going to get busy working on my brochure for my English School/Business I’m starting—no use bitching about the low pay and paying the victim, when I could be out there “playing” and creating my own business and marketing. There’s so much freedom out there. Really, every day is new and holds so much opportunity.