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How to Be in the Now

Duncan Riach, Ph.D.
Nov 5, 2018 · 3 min read

Sometimes we’re advised to “be in the now,” so let’s take a look at what that might mean.

Let’s assume that now is a thing, and let’s find try to find it. Here is an experiment you can do at home: take your finger and point to something, anything, and ask “is this now?” Point to something else and ask, “is this now?” Keep looking around and seeing if you can find now. If you’re like me, you won’t be able to find it.

When I did that experiment yesterday, I started laughing until I cried (as shown in the photo above). It became so overwhelmingly clear that reality is infinitely more rich, full, and satisfying than the concept of now.

“No! Now is not a thing!” I hear you cry, “Now is when something is happening!” Ah, that sounds like a concept. Okay, well let’s try to find it anyway. Point to anything and ask, “is this happening now?” Then point to something else and ask, “is this happening now?” Keep trying to find something that is not happening now.

It turns out that everything seems to be happening now. It’s impossible to find anything that does not seem to be happening now. Also, if you keep pointing at the same thing, and keep asking if it’s happening now, it seems to keep happening now. However, if you pay close attention, you’ll notice that the experience of what seems to be happening actually keeps subtly changing.

The idea of being in the now suggests that there is some other way of being, so let’s look for that. Let’s look for the past. Think about something that apparently happened earlier today. When is that memory happening? Is that memory happening now? Apparently, it is.

Imagine something that might happen later today. When is that imagination happening? Is it happening now? Apparently, that’s true too. The past and the future can arise, but only as thoughts, and those thoughts are happening now. We see that past and future can appear in reality, but only conceptually.

In fact, if you look carefully, you will never find anything but now because now is just another name for what is real; it’s another name for reality. It’s not actually possible for anything to happen that doesn’t happen now, which makes now a completely redundant concept.

“Be in the now” could be short-hand for “notice that there is nothing other than what is obviously real.” It could also mean, “recognize that the concepts that are happening are only concepts.”

However, when we’re “lost in concepts”, that’s also what’s real. We could be lost in a sunset, lost in thought, scrolling through our Facebook feed, or meditating on our breath. No matter what is happening, that’s what’s happening. That is being in the now.

Now seems to be a concept whose only purpose is to prop up the concept that the past and future have any reality beyond being concepts. It seems to me that instructing a person to “be in the now” is like instructing a tree to “be a tree,” and there’s absolutely nothing wrong (or right) with that.

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