Getting familiar with the present moment


“Simply be with the sense of the breath coming in, going out, allowing it to fill the body. Allow it to find its own right rhythm. You nudge it a little bit here, nudge it a little bit there to make it feel good, and this makes it easier to get pulled into the present moment rather than into the future or the past. You develop a greater and greater sense of mental seclusion by just dropping those distractions, dropping all those voices and attitudes that pull you back or pull you forward. You allow yourself simply to be right here, absorbed in working with the breath, settled down with a sense of wellbeing, settled down with a sense of familiarity.

“It takes time, of course, to get familiar with the present moment, because for the most part we’re just running through. We’re like a little kid who runs home — “Hi, Mom!” — grabs a sandwich and runs out again: That’s “dinner.” We have a fragmentary sense of the present moment as we rush through from the past to the future and from the future to the past.

“The only time we really take notice of the present is when pain transfixes us here. Well, during the meditation, get a sense of pleasure and allow that to transfix you in here instead. This is what creates true mental seclusion. The past and the future drop away and all you’ve got left is the body sitting here breathing — right here, right now. You’ve got mindfulness reminding you to stay right here, alertness keeping watch over what’s going on, and discernment absorbed in trying to understand it.

“That’s a much deeper and more satisfying sense of seclusion. Ultimately, it forms the basis for the third one, seclusion from craving. As the Buddha said, craving is our constant companion even when the mind is in the present. To cut through this craving, we have to call into question the things we’ve been identifying with. In his second sermon, the Buddha pointed out to the monks that if you let go of your attachment to form, feeling, perception, thought-constructs, and consciousness, what happens? In their case they attained Awakening. In other words, they became secluded even from their sense of who they were in the present moment — because our sense of who we are is composed of those five kinds of things, coupled with craving and clinging. Form: the form of the body. Feelings: You may identify with a pain, saying “This is my pain,” or you may identify with a more metaphysical feeling, a larger sense of light or wellbeing, a sense of bliss. You may think that that’s who your true self is. Then there’s the label that says, “This is my self.” That’s a perception. Thought-constructs: You identify with your thinking, or the Thinker. Or you identify with the moment-to-moment consciousness of things.

“As long as you identify with these things, you crave them. You’re still not secluded from them. You still have companions. But when you create that still center inside and allow yourself simply to watch these things, you step back and realize that you don’t have to identify with them. Self-identification is an act. Our sense of who we are is something we create. As you step back from these things and allow that activity of repeatedly creating your sense of who you are to fall away, see what happens. Then learn to drop your sense of identification even with the still center inside. See what happens then. The Buddha says that an even greater sense of freedom comes. See if he’s right.

“When you taste that freedom, you’re no longer a slave to these things. Instead, they become your tools. You can use them for good purposes.

“So this process of gaining seclusion is a process not only of growing up but also of gaining freedom. We look at all the influences rushing around in our minds and we come to realize that we have the ability to choose which ideas are useful and which ones are not, which of the phenomena we’re aware of are useful and which ones are not. We don’t have to be driven around by them all the time.

“For most of us, life is a story of just that: being driven around. And this involves a lot of conflict because there are so many conflicting voices in our minds. This or that person gets under our skin and all of a sudden we start identifying with their particular way of thinking; another way of thinking gets under our skin and that gets incorporated too. We never really have a chance to sit back and sort things through, to see where they’re harmonious and where they’re not….”

~Thanissaro Bhikkhu
from “Rites of Passage”
July 2003

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