“Nothing has ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now.
Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.” ~Ekhart Tolle
This week’s quote is a reminder that the past and the future are merely constructs of the mind, while the present moment is the only tangible reality there is. It’s strange to think that nothing has ever happened in the past. However, the present moment is really the only time that anything can happen. Events don’t happen in the past, they happen right now, after which they turn into memories. Similarly, the future exists only as intention and expectation until it is eventually experienced in present time.
As a kid, I remember thinking that time machines were a real thing, and that people could legitimately time travel. I thought you could visit any year in the past and it would be full of people going about their daily lives. I also thought that the future was a real place you could visit, full of advanced robots, ultra-modern skyscrapers and flying cars. Now, thanks to people like Ekhart Tolle, I realize that the past and future are just thoughts inside my head. I’ll never travel back to the past because it’s gone- it’s not there anymore. Likewise, I’ll never be able to travel to the future since it hasn’t even happened yet.
The truth is, the present moment is all there is and all there ever will be. It’s also the only place you can ever be. By internalizing this truth, you can change your entire concept of time. You might believe, for example, that time is linear, with past events leading directly to future events. But, as Alan Watts would say, “The past cannot push your future forward any more than a wake can push a boat.” As Ekhart Tolle puts it, "The past has no power over the present moment." This is because every moment is unique, existing independently from all other moments.
So, free yourself from past regrets and future worries. Don’t allow your past experiences to color your experience of the present. And don’t let your anxiety about tomorrow prevent you from enjoying today. Remember that time is not so much a linear progression as it is a constant unfolding of the present moment. Since both the past and future exist only as thought forms, find your joy in the eternal now.
“You may have expected that enlightenment would come ZAP! instantaneous and permanent. This is unlikely. After the first ‘ah ha’ experience, it can be thought of as a thinning of a layer of clouds.”
~ Ram Dass
This week’s quote from Ram Dass contains a very important lesson. You might think of enlightenment as a sudden and profound revelation about the true nature of the self- one that comes to you in a flash and continues for the rest of your life. However, Ram Dass reminds us that enlightenment is neither instantaneous nor permanent. Instead of being a single moment of insight that imbues your consciousness with everlasting clarity, enlightenment is more like a series of realizations, each contributing to the gradual awakening of your inner wisdom.
If you imagine your consciousness as the expansive sky, you can see how your thoughts are like little fluffy clouds, gently passing by. However, any fear based beliefs or misconceptions that you held about yourself or the nature of reality would act like layers of clouds in the sky that obscure the sunlight. The purpose of the spiritual path, therefore, is to dispel the clouds of ignorance that prevent your radiant inner light from shining through.
How exactly is this accomplished? According to Ram Dass, after the initial ‘ah ha’ experience, enlightenment becomes like the thinning of clouds. But, what exactly is the first ‘ah ha’ experience? Perhaps it is the realization that you are not the clouds, you are the sky. In other words, you are not your thoughts, you are the consciousness that is aware of your thoughts. Or, perhaps the first ‘ah ha’ experience is best summed up by Thich Nhat Hanh who once taught that, “Enlightenment is when a wave realizes it is the ocean.”
Either way, the most important takeaway here is to embrace the journey itself, rather than focusing solely on the destination. You don’t want to spend your whole life chasing after enlightenment, only to realize too late that the answer was right there in front of you the whole time. Keep in mind that enlightenment is not like a sudden lightning strike, it is more of a gradual process like the blossoming of a lotus flower. Just as a flower blossom reveals the beauty of a plant’s inner essence, trust that the process of enlightenment will do the same for you.
“It's better to have a short life that is full of what you like doing, than a long life spent in a miserable way.”
~ Alan Watts
This week’s quote brings up an important point. Your quality of life is not determined by how long you are able to stay alive but by the richness of your experience. There is nothing wrong with wanting to live for a long time, but the length of your life should not determine your overall satisfaction with it.
Movies, for example, are not judged solely by their run time. If total time elapsed was the only thing that mattered, then all the best movies would be the longest ones. The same is true for music. You wouldn’t say that long songs are necessarily better than short songs. What matters is the quality of the tune, how the music makes you feel while it's playing.
We are taught to believe that more always equals better, that the goal of life should be to live for as many years as we can. But, living longer is not the same thing as living better. It's not really about the length of your life, it's about the depth of your experience.
So, don't worry that life is too short. Instead, figure out what you like to do, and then do it as much as you possibly can. Life is not about how much misery you can endure, but how much joy you can create. Whatever you choose to do in this world, do it passionately and with all your heart. In the end, a life lived in alignment with your passions is a life well-lived, regardless of how long it lasts.
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About The Author
Nick Hughes is a massage therapist, yoga instructor and co-owner of Well Being. Influenced by the ideas of Alan Watts, Eckhart Tolle, Ram Dass, and Deepak Chopra, Nick presents his unique take on human existence with the goal of helping others live a happier life.