The Power of Experience

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Did you read ‘The Power of Now’ by Eckhart Tolle? If you didn’t you may well have picked up this wisdom elsewhere: Live the moment, live in the ‘here and now’ and be happy.

This ‘now’ philosophy has intrigued me for a long time. I can understand that living in the past or wishing your life away into some future is not conducive to happiness in the present.

Being a (closet) geek, I have tried to work out this strange equation of time: future > present > past. Why is one side of the ‘present’ so different from the other?

Now, if you are a clever person you’ll say: duhhh! But if you are the sort of person that thinks that mathematics is cool, then this time thing will have you stumped. Time is at the basis of a lot of physics and engineering. Take time away and our world will collapse.

Humans on the other hand, can’t experience time directly, nor distance for that matter. We can experience heat and light. We can feel substance and taste flavour. We can hear sound and we can see. But we cannot feel time or distance. We can observe them and measure them but not feel them.

So here is snag: how can we experience “here and now” when we can neither experience distance nor time? Well… [drum roll] … we can not! ‘Here and now’ are off bounds as far as experience goes.

We can think about here and now and we can say to ourselves, ‘I am here, I am now’ but that is a bit like saying ‘I exist’, a good reminder but not helpful.

So, if ‘here and now’ are off bounds, then what is Eckhart Tolle talking about? Why do meditation practitioners tell us we must centre ourselves and go into the moment?

Those same people make a big spiel about the cessation of thinking. To experience bliss, we must still our minds. We must let thoughts dissolve and experience the stillness of mind. As I do meditation myself, I know that this is indeed a necessary step to inner bliss. As Eckhart Tolle says, the brain is just another organ that we need to give a rest.

Compulsive thinking is like waving your arms and shaking your head vigorously like a mad person and we shouldn’t be surprised that such hyperactivity interferes somewhat with our experience of reality. The brain is even worse. When it goes off into a thousand tangents of distraction, how are we to experience the world around us? Well, with great difficulty.

Let me get back to that illusive ‘now’, that present moment that we are not equipped to experience. There is no mystery: there is no ‘now’ for us. Forget it when philosophers refer to the eternal now. There may be a ‘now’ out there, but it isn’t for us. The ‘now’, just like past and future can only ‘exist’ in our minds and not in the real world that we experience. Time is a pretty powerful illusion (read: construct of the mind) but as far as humans go, that is all it is.

But if there is no ‘now’, then where is the gate to the experience of enlightenment, I hear you ask? OK, you didn’t ask that, but sooner or later you just might.

Enlightenment is in experience itself. It is in the full experience of all of our senses at once. It is when our brain doesn’t interfere with that experience and let’s us be fully conscious of the experience of our senses. The ‘no mind’ in Buddhism refers to the complete absence of interpretation of the experience of our senses. When you smell fresh coffee, you don’t think fresh coffee. When you see a ‘stop’ sign, you don’t think stop and sign. When you taste a lemon, you don’t think lemon. You just experience these things in all their splendour and without commentary.

Is this possible? Yes. This is exactly what meditation teaches you. This is what enlightened people do as easily as a rose radiates its fragrance, colour and beauty. When you shut the mind down, the unadulterated experience will follow.

In fact, when you take a moment and try and engage all of your senses, there comes a point, relatively quickly, where the mind can’t handle the massive flood of experience and stops working. Which is perfect. When you try to feel your toes, your heels, your calves, your thighs, you basin, you belly, your chest, your shoulders, your arms, your neck, your tongue, your eyes and your crown all at once, you’re doing a pretty fantastic job, as awareness goes. And that is just the ‘feeling’ part. When, while you are feeling every part of your body, you try and listen to all the sounds without distinction, the noises outside, the fan on your computer, your own breathing, believe me, your mind will go into overload. It wants to go on a tangent with each of those sensory triggers but it hasn’t got the capacity. Now breathe in and smell the world around you. Can you still feel your body? Are you still hearing that world? Now if you can do all that and look around and see the world out there at the same time, your mind will have shut down.

Did you try this? It didn’t work, right?

The snag is that as soon as your brain gets triggers from the senses, it starts to make stupid comments like: toe, eye, fresh coffee, bird, table etc. When it does that, it overrides the senses and we stop feeling our toes or become deaf to our spouse who is talking about your mother in law.

The practice of mindfulness, i.e. theΒ absenceΒ of mind (?!), is about shifting our awareness from incessant thought to full sensory experience. Although bliss and enlightenment are often portrayed as illusive and rare, they are literally at everyone’s fingertips. If only you could shut your brain up whilst staying conscious…!

I have the audio version of The Power of Now and have listened to it many times. The book is full of good and accessible advice. It is practical and has helped many people find happiness and peace of mind. It has a catchy title but for me at least, that title sends us into the wrong direction.

There is no power of now!

The ‘power’, if you like that word is in the experience. So, don’t beat yourself up when you are trying to be in the ‘now’ and your mind drifts into a memory or a future fantasy. It is not about time, past, present and future, it is all about engaging the senses fully.

This absence of now, and the fictitious notion of time and space for the human experience has many other interesting implications but to go there would take us into the abyss of geek-hood and what you find there will only disturb our poor minds even further.

Not now, another time perhaps.

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21 thoughts on “The Power of Experience

  1. Wow, genetic fractals! What a great article! I really like what you say about the now and how engaging the senses fully is the key. This also relates very well to what you wrote earlier about making meditation a part of your experience instead of something you do to take a break from life, so to speak.
    BTW: when I even read the word ‘meditation’ I find my breathing slows down and my hearbeat too. (Not dangerously, but perceptibly.) πŸ™‚

  2. Any word will always have its own limitation to express. Any identification (now, future, tomorrow) will require a labeling too. That experience in which there is no labeling is taking place and the whole experience is being perceived as a scene, could be, what I consider “Now”.

    1. Very true, well put. Using ‘now’ as a name for that, is much better than seeking the experience through the common meaning of that word. I often do so myself πŸ™‚ Thanks for stopping by!

  3. Yet another superb, thought-provoking post. I think this leads very neatly into the notion that our own minds, our sense of self, is itself an illusion our brain constructs to help us create all these filters through which to interact with the world.

    1. It does, Troo. But when you visit these amazing sites in Japan, in particular there, you pop right through these layers and get a glimpse if what is really out there. And so you keep going … :). Thanks for dropping by.

  4. Nice. Even from a more philosophical point of view, time is just an inference. We have memories, but they could have been fabricated. All there is is an informational state.
    On not hearing “lemon” when you smell a lemon: I experimented with this for some time and got some really disturbing consequences. I was messing with my minds, trying to disconnect concepts from perceptions. When I finally managed, the result was a feeling of numbness. I felt like a zombie. And the worst part was that I couldn’t get myself to go back to normal. This seems completely different from your experience, so I’m guessing I did something wrong at some stage. Any help would be appreciated, since I’ve gone back to meditation but I’m still scared to go back to that state.

    1. I didn’t want to destroy time completely but agree that it is a well thought out hoax πŸ™‚
      I have, as you I suspect, seriously abused my mind over time. I have used subconscious mind as a quantum computer and virtual reality engine. That worked relatively well. However, when I reprogrammed my reflexes and responses, it invariably led to a mess and like you, it took time to get things back in place. “Don’t try this at home” applies.
      If there is one thing I have learned is that the deepest answers about life, the universe and everything aren’t to be found in the mind, though it is a useful tool to use in the process.
      When I mentioned lemons, I don’t suggest to suppress their mind’s image but to avoid the chain reaction of association that follows it.
      There is a lemon experiment that works along these lines. You’ll need a likeminded accomplice. Get blind folded and ask you accomplice to select random foods for you to taste. Since you don’t know what you’re biting into, you need your senses to feel the texture, taste the taste and smell the smell. For a short moment, a few seconds, you will taste this food as if you’ve never tasted it before. At some point the brain works it out and the chain reaction of association will kill the experience and revert to preconceived opinions on that food.
      I once had that same experience when I took morphine following an operation. Overcooked hospital broccoli tasted as if it had been freshly plucked from the garden of Eden.
      Enjoy!

  5. Great post, that said – I’m scratching my head just a bit. I find it curious when people speak of living in the here and now. As someone of the “electric kool-aid acid” generation, I witnessed the explosion of self help philosophies during the 70’s and 80’s – call me jaded but I found it impossible to see them as anything other than gimmicks.
    I work in the hospitality industry; my years spent managing conferences at the Hilton allowed me to witness seminar after self help seminar – attendees paid top dollar to “snake oil” con men for a day of role playing, chanting, and nice lunch. Holy crap. Often it crossed my mind that if I had an evil streak, cashing in on self help rubbish would be like taking candy from a baby..
    Back on point….

    Living in the here and now wouldn’t be possible without past memories. Time is both a gift and curse. Our past makes us who we are; none of us would be very interesting without our youthful stumbling.It took me 40 years to figure it out – the key to “now” is as simple as realizing each one of us is human. We can all live for “now” once we forgive our human frailty, and the frailty of those people in our lives. I loath being 53 – our society is based on youthful beauty – but time can kiss my ass! I started living for “now” the day I stripped those I cared for of stereotypical definition and saw them as real people for the first time. Life doesn’t come with a manual; imagine how dull it would be if answers simply came from a book. Who needs meditation – not me it seems. I live for “now” because I’ve had so much time to learn the hard way; I feel alive, strong, and compassionate and wouldn’t have it any other way.

    Toss the exercises – forgive yourself and those you love for tripping along the way, and doing the best they can. πŸ™‚

    1. Love it, Notes πŸ™‚ I’m 51 and if I thought cynicism was cool, I’d be the most cynical man on earth. Deepak Chopra charges 5000 bucks for you to spend a couple of hours in his presence. Will you be enlightened? No, you’ll either be cured or you’ll engage in the next instalment of an elaborate new believe of which the only credible part is the part he didn’t invent: the ancient beliefs of the hindus and the Buddha.
      I’ve been (am) in corporate life too long to still believe any of the gospel that is preached there. When business gurus speak, they are no different from Deepak. But people want to touch their robe, it seems. When I am in full corporate business mode, I sometimes have a hard time not breaking out in laughter because even the stuff I even say myself. It’s all an elaborate scheme to fool customers and employees to believe there is something good for them and to ensure you get paid.

      But then, I’m not given to cynicism and will mostly just go for a coffee or a walk instead. Same but better.

      Fortunately, in spite of all the bumps and holes along the road, I haven’t lost my childlike curiosity and still contemplate the stars at night. Some people call that meditation. And if it is a cloudy evening, I’ll just sit on the porch and enjoy the absence of stars. How difficult does it get?

      And yes, be nice to yourself and others πŸ™‚

      1. You should hear my motivational rah rah training speeches. Yikes. On the upside – I’ve been “bumped” from more than one job for refusing to play nice with batshit corporate dogma. The way I see it – I sleep well at night knowing who I am and treating every last person I encounter with the same respect. People ride the slippery slope when the let their job define them. I work in hospitality because I love solving problems, and never know what’s around the next corner. I use my life experience to control situations, unruffle feathers, and make magnificent parties happen. I guess I’m lucky in that other than drinking too much – I’m one happy camper.

        I love who I am, have never read a self help book or felt the slightest compulsion to change or regret my dusty corners. I wouldn’t be who I am without my mistakes, and feel sad for lack of a better word, for those who are unable to accept that there is no shame in being human. πŸ™‚

      2. Ha ha, yes, motivational speeches are wonderful. I love the one where W Bush consoles the nation, promises revenge and then when the camera goes off, he’s on a golf course and tells the camera man he’s interfering with he’s swing.

        I have quit my jobs on average every 5 years when I couldn’t subscribe to the bla bla and pretence of it any further.

        I’ve read stacks of books on philosophy, new age and self improvement. I’m trying to get to the bottom of that old question: what is life, the universe and everything. I grew up in a Christian family and it taught not to take anything for granted or to believe anything that anyone would like me to believe on trust or faith. If I can’t understand it, it ain’t true for me. I’ve had great fun exploring this and if anything my motivational speeches are of the highest order…!

        Being born with a mind that questions everything is a curse at times, but it never stopped me from being happy!

      3. I was raised on Greek mythology, my poor mother’s one attempt to do the right thing saw me kicked out of Sunday school at age 5 for asking too many questions and upsetting the other children. I’ve never studied philosophy or read a self help book yet somehow after 50 odd years both of us end up in about the same place.Gotta love it. πŸ™‚

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