"Now" is utterly transcendental and not knowable as a particular "something" that we can "be" in, by decision.
In the Upanishads, the esoteric Hindu scriptures, and elsewhere, reference is made to the three "times" -- past, present, and future. We are said to exist only in the present.
Eastern spiritual and Western psychotherapeutic teachings exhort us to "be here, now" as the gateway to health and sanity.
While there exists a measure of benefit to following that advice, it leaves in place the very habit that leaves us subject to distress and strife.
It's helpful to re-cast the three times in other, familiar language. As we will discover, there are only two times -- past and future -- and what we call the present is actually the past. There is no "now" in which to be, here.
The past is memory. The future is imagination. The so-called present is considered the infinitesimal "edge" across which "future" enters our experience and becomes the past.
Psychology teaches us to "live in the present". The expression is, "Lose your mind and come to your senses." As noble as the intention behind it may be, even that advice leaves us in bondage to memory and habit.
Time is fleeting. No one has identified how infinitesimal the "edge" of the present is. I submit that it does not exist, but only appears to exist because of memory.
Everything Happens Before We Know It
This is not just a figure of speech. It's an observable fact.
There once existed a game show, "Name That Tune." Players competed to guess the tune being played in the minimum number of notes possible. No one guessed before the first note. The tune had to play for a certain number of notes before recognition was possible. My point is that contestants needed a certain span of time to recognize the tune.
There always exists a span of time, after an experience has started, before we can recognize it. Every event happens before we know it. We live, always, in the past.
Test my words.
Sitting as you are, now, turn and look elsewhere -- wait! Before you do, decide to notice how long it takes to see what you are now facing. Now do it.
You notice that you need a certain amount of time before your eyes can focus well enough to see what you are looking at -- and even more time to discern details. See?
Another example: Turn on the radio or some other source of music that someone other than you has programmed. You'll notice that, not only don't you know what's playing, at first; you don't even know the rhythm for some time. The music happens before you know it; you know it only after the fact.
Same with "The News": "news" is a misnomer -- it's old before we hear it. It may be a new development since the last time we heard "news", but if it's not "right now", it's old. Even "breaking" news with live coverage happens before we know it, since we need time to comprehend it, and then our emotions rise before we know it. "The News" ain't new. Interestingly, to give the impression of immediacy, news media commonly print headlines as if stating a general truth in the form of a generality:
GIANTS DEFEAT PATRIOTS
GIANTS DEFEATED PATRIOTS
You meditators -- here's one for you.
Some people make an effort to quiet (or silence) the mind in meditation. The vexing thing is that thoughts always seem to be arising and to exist before we can quell them. Ever notice? Thinking happens before we know it. Then, we may try to stomp on thoughts to get the mind quiet or we may try to "listen to the silence between" thoughts. The only problem: these strategies depend on thought (or intention -- same thing, for all intents and purposes. There's an "out" for that. Click here.)
Well, folks, there's no escaping it: Everything happens before we know it, both outside us and inside us, and everything we experience is memory (or perhaps, imagination, or both).
There are some, I know, who attempt to "hedge" on this observation. They say that events happen so recently in the past that they are, for all intents and purposes, in the present. This is a stand for the notion of "free will".
These people forget that their own reactions also happen before they know it -- and their efforts to control their reactions also happen before they know it. They confuse the past with the present, confuse memory with now-ness.
Likewise, people who believe that living in their sensations (or with mindfulness) constitutes "living in the Now".
Earlier, I showed how living in the senses always entails a delay between happening and recognizing. Now, let me drive the point home, some more.
I'll take two approaches that drive toward the same point.
Approach #1: The Limits of Physiology
It's an accepted physiological fact that our senses deliver information along nerves, from sense receptors (retinas of the eyes, inner ears, touch receptors, etc.) to our brain. Nerve impulses travel slower than instantaneously; they take time to reach the brain and time for the brain to process them. There's always a delay between stimulus and sensing the stimulus (never mind "reaction time"). We are always and only sensing the past (but paradoxically, in the present).
Approach #2: The Basis of Perception
Perception always depends upon recognition, and recognition always depends upon memory.
We have, at minimum, a memory of the difference between "something" and "nothing". The sense of "something being there" comes from the act of fixating (or holding) attention someplace. If you don't hold your attention steady in some way, at least momentarily, there's no possibility of experiencing something as "being there"; you don't perceive it. Holding attention steady depends upon a memory of "movement and position", so the ability to distinguish something from nothing depends upon memory.
Everything else follows from that. Recognition of persons, places, things and processes depends upon pre-existing, similar memories. If you don't have a similar memory to be activated by an event, you can't recognize the event; it's incomprehensible to you.
It has been said that the Indians of Central America failed even to see the ships of the approaching Spaniards because they were so unlike anything the Indians had ever seen. For them, this new thing happening (before they knew it) was the same as nothing happening -- and the Spaniards conquered them before they knew it.
Perception depends upon recognition, and recognition always depends upon memory.
In other words, perception of the present depends upon memory of the past.
Let's take a deep breath, here, and then I'll summarize.
It distills down to this:
Our experience of the present, even of the sensory experience that some call, "the now", is actually the experience of memory -- of the impressions of our past. Without memory, we have no experience of the so-called present.
"The Now" is a fabrication.
"Now" is indeterminate -- the experience of infinity, which is not some bizarre insanity, but without form, formation, or definition, most ordinary, but unnoticed.
What does that leave us with?
I said, earlier, that "now" is utterly and entirely transcendental. It is not one or many objects in time; objects-in-time are memories.
More than that, the presumption that we are "living in the now" when we are living in our senses leaves us sensing our memories, since perception depends upon memory -- and thus our sense of "the now" is our sense of "the past" (memories) confronting experience emerging before we know it. Take another moment with that, if you like.
We cannot exclude memory (or our perceptions or our motivations or our insights, either) in order to "live in the now". Motivation depends upon memory, even the memory of a "spiritual" or "psychologically healthy" intention. If you can operate upon it, it's memory operating upon memory, enforcing memory (the past) in the name of "the Now".
Thus, it has been said (for all you Buddhists) that "the more we pursue it, the further we go from it," and "You may polish a tile forever, but it will never become a mirror."
There is one loophole. It's the usual one: "The way Out is Into and Through."
If we recognize memory as "memory", if we recognize the so-called "now" as "memory", we intuit the subtle field of awareness within which memory exists (which is not a thing with a location) Now and Always. We intuit -- by another name -- The Universal Eternal (not a thing -- gotta recognize memory of "The Universal Eternal" as memory -- then the intuition flashes forward).
That recognition levels the playing field. We no longer seek to exclude memories or imagination in order to "live in the Now". We no longer seek, "The Power of Now", since it is always already the case, and never a "power". There is no "other" to be sought as Truth; there is only the simultaneous recognition of All Things and the Formless Field in which they arise as perfectly coincident ("not two"), and there is no way to escape Now. Memory loses its grip, even as it persists, and we fall through.
So, why does it appear that we must make an effort to intuit Now? It's because of entrapment in unconscious, habituated memory. Here's the next step, and it's the opposite direction, perhaps, to the one to which we have become accustomed.
Hee hee hee.