Being in the Present Moment

Posted on 29 July 2005

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Many spiritual teachers advise students to “stay in the present” or “be in the present moment.” But why is “staying present” considered important or valuable? In short, this teaching is an antidote to the habit of being lost in thoughts (which are usually about the past and the future). To help us become more aware of this habit, the teaching of “stay present in the moment” is given as a kind of precept to help us notice our thoughts and not be as caught up in them. The goal is not to get rid of thoughts or stop thinking, but just to be more aware of thinking and not so lost in it. This is important because so much of our suffering is caused by being caught up in thoughts and mistaking our thoughts and thinking for what is really going on. The more we are able to see our thoughts as just thoughts, the more free we are, and the more happy we are.

There is also a deeper truth to be discovered when we are no longer caught up in thoughts. It is seen that time itself is imagined. The past and the future are, by definition, not presently being experienced. And we never experience anything other than the present. The “present” is then no longer experienced as a limited point in a temporal continuum extending from a distant past into a distant future, but is revealed to be an open space beyond time in which everything arises and passes. This “present” is a timeless present, what some call the “eternal now.”

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