A Zen Story:
A Japanese warrior was captured by his enemies and thrown into a prison. That night, he was unable to sleep because he feared that the next day he would be interrogated, tortured, and executed. Then the words of his Zen master came to him, “Tomorrow is not real. It is an illusion. The only reality is now.” Heeding these words, the warrior became peaceful and fell asleep.
The ‘Now’. In Japanese, ‘Ima’.
Most of us have experienced the heightened awareness, the pure consciousness, the feeling of aliveness that is complete absorption in the present moment. This is what you experience when you are on a roller coaster, or when you drive a fast car, or when a bokken is descending towards your head at 100 miles per hour. Suddenly all your senses become alive, you are totally focussed, and you are in the Now. You have no thoughts about what happened at work yesterday, or what problems might be awaiting you tomorrow. You are only aware of the present moment.
This state of consciousness can, of course, also be triggered by ‘negative’ events. Anyone who is unlucky enough to have been in a serious car crash (as I have) will recognise this state. But even then, at the time of the incident, there are no thoughts of ‘this is a problem’, ‘this is going to hurt’, ‘what if I’m injured and can’t work’. There is just the experience of the moment. The worries come later.
So being ‘in the Now’ clearly has its advantages. We feel alive, our senses are heightened, our worries disappear. As the Zen story says, when you are in the Now the past is not real, the future is not real, and so there is nothing to worry about.
But the experiences of being in the Now that I described above are clearly not sustainable. They are triggered by a physiological reaction commonly known as the ‘fight or flight response’. This response ceases once the perceived danger or excitement has passed, and the body returns to its normal state. Also, the ‘fight or flight response’ is a stress reaction, and it does no-one any good to put the body under such stress repeatedly.
So how can we create that feeling of aliveness and joy without the stress? How can we be in the Now in daily life?
Sense perception is one way: Sensei Tony has sometimes guided us through a ‘listening meditation’, and this is an excellent example of how sense perception can take you into the Now. When we are only listening to the sounds as they arise around us, without labeling, without judging, we are in the Now.
But there are many ways, and if you want to achieve this you need to find your own way.
The book that has helped me enormously in my quest is ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle. This book is written in a ‘question and answer’ format that is clear and easy to understand, and it’s broken down into sections, which you’re encouraged to read and digest a bit at a time. Eckhart Tolle is not aligned with any religion, although he draws from the teachings of a number of spiritual traditions. You can find this, and other books by Tolle on Amazon and his web site is at: http://www.eckharttolle.com
I also enjoyed ‘Samurai Zen’ by Scott Shaw, which has a chapter on Ima (the Now) and includes some exercises.
Good luck to those of you who are drawn to follow this path.