Living in the Now


Sunrise from space
(Image: Sunrise by Hameed )

Much is made in new age and pseudo-psychological circles of living in the “Now”. Much money has been made from the concept, books written and celebrity gained. Yet, what does it actually mean? Is it even possible to understand what the “Now” is? Never mind actually live in a state of constant awareness of it…

To start with, there is much misunderstanding. Hardly surprising.

In the minds of many, the “Now” sits somewhere on a line which represents a continuum between past and future. In some rudimentary way, the “Now” is regarded as the present, or, at very best, the smallest possible unit of what constitutes the present.

1If we take a moment to consider it, there is one obvious difficulty with this model. The “Now”, irrespective of how small we divide the present moment, is a place of limbo. It is not quite the future, but constantly streams into the past; forming not what we wish to become, but, rather, the shadow of the latest we have been.

Even more alarming, is that such a model is, by its nature, restrictive. Rather than expanding the possibilities of the future moment, we find that the only step available lies on a singular path, defined by our past choices. The “Now”, like a bead on a string, moves from past to future along a line over which we have no control.

There is nothing to be found, then, in this concept of “Now”.

After all, by bringing awareness to the “Now”, our future possibilities are meant to expand; freeing us from the current limitations we feel exist in our lives. In the above model, there is no escape. We are merely able to observe our current misery as the time line of our lives continues to pass beneath us.

The “Now”, then, must be something else. The future spreads before us in a myriad of possibility. The “Now” that we seek, somehow, opens these possibilities for us.

2Yet, we are still restricted. As fast as we can consider the “Now”, it streams into our past. The “Now” is impotent. The future spreads out before us, but in the moment of contemplation, the possibilities are pushed forward, ever beyond our reach. This, ever changing, “Now” offers no respite. We may be able to glimpse an array of alternative futures, but they cannot be grasped. They are fleeting, illusory hopes slipping into the past as fast as we are able to conceive them.

The “Now” which we seek can only be found outside our ability to comprehend it. The “Now” is beyond space and time; and yet is so finely interwoven within that fabric that, though it permeates all of creation, it can be so easily overlooked.

Eternal and constant, “Now” can only rightly be thought of as the point of pure potential, existing beyond the event horizon of the present moment. It is not yet the future. It is dissociated from the past. We cannot see it beyond the barrier of the present.

3In this model, the “Now” is more representative of the form, spark, and essence from which a future of limitless possibilities unfolds.

Of course, there is a significant problem with this model too. Though we may perceive the past as a trail of consecutive events, one building on the other, leading in a straight line to the present moment, this is not the case. Every event on that linear, individual history is affected by multiple past events, many of which we are not even be aware of, most of which are completely out of our personal control. The accident of our birth, the economic situation in some far flung part of the world, the collision of cosmic radiation as it passes through our cell walls… all limit, or expand, the future possibilities which can open before us.  A more correct model takes all past events into consideration:

4“Now” is then seen in its proper context. “Now” is a singularity, beyond the event horizon of the present (a distillation of all past events), from which all future possibilities can unfold.

As a model, it may appear to bring into doubt the assertions of the gurus of “Now”. At this point, I must confess to having never actually read (well, certainly, not all the way through) any of the works of these self styled gurus. However, the “Now” is not some remote, inaccessible esoteric ideal, completely unreachable by the average person.

Look at the model again. The key to being in the “Now” should be obvious.

The present is naught more than a distillation of all activity that has come before. In the process, both the present moment, and the past itself, become fixed and immutable. The past merely serves to clarify the present. It is entirely passive and inert.

The activity of the present is an illusion. The present is a void which straddles the passive nature of the past, and the active nature of the future. The activity we perceive in the moment is nothing more than a reflection of the infinite potential of the future becoming fixed as actual events of the past.

The issue that most people face is that the past seems more real, and alive, than any of the infinite, potential futures unseen over the event horizon of the present moment. It is easier, then, to become fixated on the past; with all its disappointments, its triumphs, its comforts. We spend much time and energy animating, and reanimating, events over which we no longer have any control. They cannot be changed, they are powerless.

Living in the “Now”, is to turn our backs on the past. Entirely. The present is acknowledgement enough of what has come before. Becoming lost in the events which led to the current moment, we lose sight of the potential yet to unfold.

Living in the “Now” is to embrace our fullest potential, recognising that it only exists in the active nature of future events.

Living in the “Now” is to leap beyond the void.

What has this got to do with the Shaman? Hopefully the next post will make some sense of it…  and the last post give a clue…

About A Misanthropic Bear

Intermittent posting of random touchstones, memories and events. This wasn't meant to be what it would become... But then, is it ever?
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51 Responses to Living in the Now

  1. Pingback: When it’s not your time… | Stepping Stones

  2. Pingback: When it’s not your time… | Shamanic Paths

  3. Hi David and All, What is happening in our world that we are seeing has happened many times before in many different societies over thousands of years. Mankind has again and again risen to a high point in building, etc. and then destroyed all that was, not only of their own, but of everyone else within reach. We think of ancient societies as primitive, yet the structures they created, and some of their other inventions are highly developed and demonstrate that their thinking was actually quite advanced. So there is this duality in mankind and in all nature and the universe, and it seems to be what all cultures throughout the world have dealt with. I think this duality of mankind – the nurturing, loving and kind side and the destructive side, and the duality in the universe as we know it, is worth an examination. Has anyone on this blog read Gilgamesh, the oldest recorded literature known which originated in Sumeria? This is a good example of the duality of human beings. It is not too difficult to read, and I hope that some of you will read it and a good discussion will follow. It is a very interesting story, and you need to pay attention to the symbolism in the story. It is amazingly complex, and shows clearly the nature of human beings even back in those times. You might be able to find a free copy on the Internet to read.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. David Robertson says:

    I enjoyed this piece. The concept of an eternal Now has been present in all religions of the world to an extent, but it’s predominantly in Buddhism and Taoism, as far as I’m aware. A point of trying to center yourself in the present moment, in my eyes, is to help you experience life more and spontaneously, rather than being trapped in the constant anxieties for the future, or regrets/longing for the past. It’s about experience and perhaps seeing God in the small things, like truly experiencing a gust of wind, the rustle of leaves, the song of birds. Dropping conceptualisations that take you out of the moment, and directly appreciating things with your senses. It’s also a necessary part of surrendering the self to God, Tao etc., since it helps you give up your ego to the divine so that you can more fully join with it, and live a more godly life.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Running Elk says:

      Thank you, David. That is a wonderful expression of the heart of the matter. 🙂
      In an ever busier world, we hardly take time to notice the breeze, or listen to the birdsong, and miss so much in the process.

      Liked by 1 person

      • David Robertson says:

        Thank you. And I agree, it’s something incredibly valuable (for our own wellbeing I would say) that we seem to be slowly losing


  5. Our world is a continuum. While you can’t go back, you certainly can learn from what was and take it with you. “Now” and the future are essentially the same in any real way, at least as far as I can see. Anyway, I think what people mean by “living in the now” is simply to BE here, to not always be planning the future or yearning for the past.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Running Elk says:

      Thank you, Marilyn.
      I do wonder, however, if the future can be the now? In the simplest case, a turn left or right choice, it is only after we make that choice (in the now) that the possible future we did not choose falls away.
      Until that moment of active decision, a very real alternative future was available. It is the now which seems to provide the limiter by which our past becomes defined.


      • Hi from Anne, This issue about whether the now can also be the future or even the past came up on another blog, and I talked about that. Yes, of course it can, and in fact, it is. We, as humans need to put everything into nice little categories or boxes if you will, which we can deal with, and hence, one of the concepts we try to contain is the past, present and future. And this is not intended to offend anyone such as the writers who pen the words, Live in the now. The reality is that we are part of the universe, and as such, we are part of all of these. That breath you just took is the past, and the next breath you are going to take is the future. It is all within us, And yes, of course there is a past of memory, and a future of imagination too, for that is where they live in our minds. We are so much more than we can imagine. That grain of sand, that rhinocerous, that baby crying in the nursery, and those who have gone on before us are all part of what we are and who we are, just as this earth is made up of everything that is on it, in it, and above and around it. Thank you one and all.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Love it, Marilyn. Anne, Companion from The Silent Eye Mystery School

      Liked by 1 person

  6. besonian says:

    I think, Running Elk, you should be a little circumspect re the words of others which – beyond those of Eckhart Tolle – you may be dismissing as you say –
    “lol Oh, yes… funny that. When the system fails, it’s not the system that is at fault – it’s you! You didn’t pray hard enough, you weren’t ready, you didn’t stick with the exercises…

    Did you fail? Hell, no! You very successfully eliminated a system that doesn’t fit your personal need. 🙂”
    Krishnamurti and Lao Tsu are but two that spring immediately to mind.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Running Elk says:

      Hehe. Possibly.

      I’d like to convince myself that Krishnamurti would be OK with it: he refers to the forces of escape (essentially focussing too much on the past or the future) and the key to living in the present is when mind and heart are operating and focussed on the activity of the moment (refer response to Ben above).

      Unfortunately, I don’t recall Lao Tzu’s philosophical elements which pertain to the subject (other than the pappy new age stuff wrongly attributed to him that I see scrolling across my social media feeds occasionally).

      I must revisit… each time I do, something else unfolds; yet invariably it is the wisdom of Chapter 70 that always seems to resonate most powerfully…

      “My words of Tao is easy to understand and to practice.
      However, the world can neither understand nor practice them.
      In my words of Tao, there is the subtle truth.
      In my deeds, there is the Way of Tao.
      Because people do not understand these,
      Therefore they do not understand me.
      Those who know me are few.”

      … there is much which remains hidden! 😉


  7. Pingback: Living in the Now – Shamanic Paths | Sue Vincent's Daily Echo

  8. Sorry. My role in life seems to be that of a pest. A “nudge” is the slang word my father used to use. Just ignore my prodding. 🙂


  9. Thank you so much for your many “likes” on my blog!! I look forward to reading something from you!!


  10. Coach E says:

    I’ve always seen it this way:

    We’re walking through a dark forest with only a flashlight trained just beyond our feet.

    What’s behind us represents the past – we’re influenced by it, but it’s behind us.

    Where we stand is the present – that area of transition between present and past.

    Ahead of our feet is the future – mostly unknown, except for …

    What the flashlight shines on. That’s the now, almost like a filter for the future to the present and influencing our next steps.


    • Running Elk says:

      Love this! Thanks for taking the time to share such an “illuminating” analogy. 🙂

      Hey! No groaning at the back… 😉


  11. alienorajt says:

    Brilliant! A beautifully written piece, which has made me think. xxx


  12. <>

    Yes… very true! We’ve relied on “past knowledge” and “past experience” (remembered) to help us regarding survival (over millions of years). Such remembrance is has been very beneficial (and certainly still is); however, we have put all of our eggs in this one basket. That is just a shame, as it is so limiting and confined (i.e., restrictive). We’ve made the tool (that helped us) out to be so important that — in a big way — it is now becoming our essence. We dwell almost exclusively through (and “as”) these tools (i.e. the tools of thought).

    I am in no way against knowledge. I was — before I retired — a teacher (of the multiply handicapped)… and i strongly feel that knowledge has its place. Direct perception and “going beyond knowledge and knowing” also has its place, however.

    By encouraging people to live more “in the present,” in the “now,” i hope that some will listen and that they will actually change. Enlightenment (nirvana) comes only when one lives beyond the dead past and actually often exists in (and “as”) the insightful, sensitive “present.” However, one cannot bring about enlightenment. Enlightenment (nirvana) is like a universal gift to whomever it occurs to; there is nothing that one can do to finally achieve it. One may live a lifetime in the present, with sensitivity, purity, and keen awareness, and yet enlightenment may not occur. All we can do is keep the great campfire (and passion) burning; it doesn’t mean that the great guest will arrive! 😉

    In a way the present has enough treasures of its own; we don’t have to have mystical or divine things happen within that present. If one has insight and sensitivity regarding perception… there are miracles about one all the time, each and every day, in places many people see as plain and normal!

    To really live in the present, one has to die (psychologically) to the past. To die physically stinks, but to end endless, symbolic, representational sequences is cool. So dying to the past is necessary. Most people are unwilling, too frightened, (or unable) to do that.


    • Running Elk says:

      Apologies, Thomas. Not sure how I missed this… other than the issues I’ve been having accessing notifications recently… 😦

      Wonderfully thought provoking (as usual).

      It certainly seems a weird age we are currently passing through. Information abounds, yet knowledge (true knowledge) seems rarer by the day. Discernment appears to be what is missing…

      Maybe I have a warped sense of what education was (and at a dim and distance point in the past, I seriously considered joining your noble profession, until an old teacher warned me off, indicating how “bad” things were becoming), but we seem to have, certainly in this country, stopped training young minds to think for themselves; choosing to focus instead on “facts”, learned by rote in order to pass the next arbitrary test. Such folly… but wonderful in producing (probably 2 now) generations of automatons eager to maintain a semblance of status quo, propping up outmoded systems of politics and commerce. Maybe that, too, is oversimplified… but could there be an “Arab Spring” (ironically yearning for the yolk of dying Western systems) in the UK? We might grumble a bit… :/

      Off to set some kindling… just in case of unexpected guests… 😉


    • Hi Thomas, I believe that we live in all phases at once. We do not need to die to the past or the future. We are here on this universe, and present in all time, for the universe represents all time. It is just the limited vision that has to quantify or define everything we encounter in terms we can deal with. To think of ourselves as being present in ALL time – present, past and future – is truth, and it is huge.

      I wanted to say something else too about the word “handicapped.” I choose to use physically, developmentally, and emotionally/mentally challenged. Handicapped or disabled implies that the afflicted are unable to do anything or very limited. All people can do something no matter how seemingly limited it may be. And again, much of what we perceive about them is because we have limited skills in hearing and seeing all that is being communicated in the universe. I too have worked with children and adults of all types with multiple challenges of various types for many years, and have never found a single one that was not able to interact on some level. It is not so much the people we work with, but the way society views them. We are all sacred, and we are all here for a reason just as weeds in the forest are not weeds; it is just the way we view them. There is some lesson to be gleaned from all that is on the earth and beyond. Even the tiny grain of sand contains lessons that await our “opening” of our spirits.

      Don’t despair; this is not meant is a criticism. I did subscribe for your blog as I have with Running Elk, for I love this course of discussion. I am no more skilled or talented than anyone else. I am in the winter of my years, and I want to spend this magical time learning everything I can about so many things. Thank you both very kindly.

      Liked by 1 person

  13. Pingback: Fall in Love With Now | Live Hard Love Hard

  14. That last statement of yours (about “something to stop time”) is awesome and it (in a big way) may be the key to unlocking a better understanding of the present! It’s good to be curious about the present and about time… because these are realms where we dwell (or can dwell in).

    Thought is entwined and dependent on time. All thoughts are essentially residual reactions, symbolic representations that occur in a sequence. All thought is inherently sequential (and so all thought is based on time… and is time). When most people consider the “present,” the “present” to them stems from this sequential framework (of the past) that they habitually utilize. Even when people talk about “living in the ‘now'” or “living in the present,” they are almost inevitably stuck in a sequential paradigm wherein their “present” is merely an extension of the past. They assume that they are functioning in the “present,” while all along they are recognizing things via the dead, stored, stale, antiquated symbols of the past. They — supposedly in the present — are perceiving things via the “stored known,” the past memory bank, the musty past. Observing through the screens of the past, they falsely assume that they are living in the present; they are not!

    Thought is, as I stated, essentially sequential. Being sequential, it is of time and linear change. If one looks without the parameters of the past, truly living in the present, then one may not always merely be looking through (and “as”) the screens or storage of the past. To look in such a way is to look with real youthful, direct sensitivity and awareness. In such a state, one may not merely be labeling things, or categorizing things, or deliberately recognizing things. This is pure observation. In such pure observation… there may be no dichotomy between “you” and “what you are looking at.” The psychological separation between “you” and “what you are looking at” stems from the inherent (for survival purposes) and the learned past. However, it is still the past (and part of the memory bank). So, to observe without the stale, sequential past may be prudent. This isn’t something that you practice; practicing takes time! This isn’t something that involves effort; effort demands results via calculations within time! It simply takes place effortlessly, naturally, easily, when the mind looks without all the accumulated rubbish (now and then). One can’t “know” when one is in it; for such “knowledge” is of the past; such “knowledge” involves recognition by (and “of”) the past.

    That presence is, in a real way, timeless! For in such presence there is no sequential process based on recognition, storage, interpretation, and symbolic interchange… and there is no time. Timelessness has an eternal factor (but we won’t go into that for now)… it sounds rather exotic, weird, and strange.

    So, the “present” to most people, including most all of the ones talking about living in the “now,” is contaminated by the past. And that past (stemming from stored — though often useful — memory) is old, stale, sequential, antiquated, and second-hand. With that past they look at the present (and what they see is the past); with that past they look into the future (and what they see stems from hopes and images of the past). To constantly live in the past may not be truly living at all, unfortunately.


    • Running Elk says:

      Beautifully expressed, Thomas. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Much to digest 🙂

      Love the second from last paragraph. Hints wonderfully at the fullest potential of which we are talking. So many mystical, ecstatic and deeply religious experiences seem to have been encapsulated in three simple sentences… and takes me back to your original note regarding the possible “true nature” of time… 😉

      The past, indeed, seems a rather poor place to be living, yet the mind constantly finds much there to keep it busy…


  15. Interesting stuff! 🙂
    We look at time (i.e., past, present, and future) via learned and conditioned patterns (from and of the past)… and through (and with) this accumulated past we contemplate what we think is the present. We observe with our memory bank — which is an accumulation of the past — and via this memory bank we ponder the present and the future. However, our evaluation of the present and the future — when based on accumulated projections (or knowledge) of the past — is essentially an extension of the past. To look at the present through a screen of consciousness formulated of the past… is to look at (or “as”) the past modified (concerning what one considers the present to be). Such a “now” is merely the past modified.
    Most of us are inexorably conditioned to function in (and “as”) the past; and, with the mentality of the past, we (even most of those advising to live in the “now”) stalwartly remain in the past feigning an understanding of the present.
    We were taught that the past, the present, and the future are separate from each other. Seen wisely, they may not be.
    I wouldn’t say that the activity of the present is an illusion. I would say that mere reactions of the past, projected into the future, are likely illusory; such reactions have a limited space (based on limited patterns and formulations).


    • Running Elk says:

      Indeed. We can only see the future through the funnel of the past, and, through the conditioning that comes with the experiences laid down in that past, restrict the potential before us (even, some may argue, to the detriment of humanity itself).

      I’m interested in your thoughts regarding the reality of the present, Thomas. Could you expand a little on that thought?

      The present is a slippery character for me. When we talk about the present, it tends to expand to fill the context in which it is considered: present occupation, present activity, present plan… All too often it seems that the present is some half way place part formed from the immediate past, and part hoped as a continuation into the immediate future.

      To me, if we slice it to it’s smallest component and consider only the present moment – oh, it’s gone – let’s consider the present moment which will arrive at the next period. Darn! The absolute present, for the want of a better phrase, just slips on by. Before we have time to consider it, it has gone, and has already become the immediate past…

      Maybe what we need is something to stop time – seems it’s that which causes all the issues… 😉


    • Hello Thomas, I just subscribed for your blog based on some of the things you had to say. Actually, everyone posting here has some very interesting insights into this thing we all call life. Thank you kindly.

      Liked by 1 person

  16. prewitt1970 says:

    Then would “now” not best be surmised to be a constant state of being since now never truly exists. Like tomorrow never truly comes as it is always today.? So to live in the “now” as I think stated above a existence that taps the full potential of being would require a situational awareness of great magnitude and or a complete loss of self, for one to truly be the moment instead of being aware of the moment. Just pondering our thoughts, I look forward to your next post.


    • Running Elk says:

      Stunningly clear summary of the central problem, my friend.

      Despite the best assurances of the gurus, it is completely impossible to live “in” the “Now”, and certainly not for any length of time. For, as you have so astutely observed, the “Now” is so ephemeral, that by the time we attempt to “step into” it, it has already gone! to be replaced by a new instance of itself which, by an astonishing sleight of hand, is constant and eternally the same.

      All we can hope to achieve, is to be aware of its workings, and hope to catch a glimpse of the results of its operation as they pass across the event horizon of the present moment and become fixed in the matrix of the past.

      We can only hope to do so, by discerning the discrete difference between those things which enter our minds unbidden, and those which are simply reprocessing past events in the context of those occuring in the present moment. It isn’t always pretty, but usually the next thought will be along the lines of “where the hell did that come from”? 😉

      Top of the class! Though, I probably shouldn’t have expected anything else. Artists are particularly adept at slipping into that essential “no mind” state, when the work so fills their entire awareness. In such moments, all that exists is that single point of pure potential, from which the creative urge arises: neither in the future, nor in the past, but just beyond the horizon of the present moment…

      Situational awareness of great magnitude, or complete loss of self? 🙂

      *bows deeply*


      • prewitt1970 says:

        I think your words captured perfectly in the statement and question of situational awareness or complete loss I self. The paradox being the the awareness of loss of self doesn’t exists. It is a rhetorical question of Infinite measure. Although one could say that grand situational awareness at a perceptive level could be considered a loss of self in which the paradox of vision can be seen through the oneness of being as a reflection of all thing Jensen being an observation of total selflessness. Ponderous isn’t it. 😉 that place between sleep and awake in lay terms is the best example of an all awareness or oneness state.
        My brother


        • Running Elk says:

          This conversation definitely needs beer… 🙂

          ” that place between sleep and awake”… now… that’s where the magic happens… 😀


      • prewitt1970 says:

        My fingers failed me greatly in my previous responds sorry


  17. I have always had trouble with reading these gurus, like Eckhart Tolle. They did not reach me in any deep way but your piece is accessible and simplifies things. Still it is a slippery concept for me. I look forward to your next post as always and missed the clue in your last post and applaud you on this present post in the present.


    • Running Elk says:

      Slippery for us all, dear Ellen. Tripped into that void more times than I care to recount… 😉 xx


    • WordsFallFromMyEyes says:

      I agree with Ellen. I read The Power of Now, expecting enormous movement within, but no, didn’t happen. But in the pre of his book he said “Some people don’t get it, they’re not ready”, so I felt a little “failed”.

      This was a great post. Very well laid out.


      • Running Elk says:

        lol Oh, yes… funny that. When the system fails, it’s not the system that is at fault – it’s you! You didn’t pray hard enough, you weren’t ready, you didn’t stick with the exercises…

        Did you fail? Hell, no! You very successfully eliminated a system that doesn’t fit your personal need. 🙂


      • Thanks for writing your comment– glad I am not alone in being a “failed” one. Hope, Running Elk, you are okay. It has been so long…


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