The quote from Ajhan Sumedho is very simple, but profound:
“Yesterday is a memory.
Tomorrow is unknown.
Now is the knowing.”
I was lucky to live with Ajahn Sumedho for three years and to listen to his teachings each week. He was always consistent in his message: this present moment is all that can be known directly – all the rest is the story the mind tells about the past or the future. The mind creates the appearance of linear time with a past and future. But all we really have is this present moment right now.
When you explore your thinking process you’ll notice how seldom it is focused on a bare attention of this present moment. It is much more eager to look back or look forward. It’s as Shelly said:
“We look before and after, And pine for what is not;
Our sincerest laughter
With some pain is fraught;
Our sweetest songs are those that tell of saddest thought.”
We easily get lost in looking ahead and catastrophising, or looking back with regret as we lament over what we did not do or how life might have been if we had just made a different decision. Too often we forget to simply be here in the one moment that we can truly know and live. The past is a memory, existing only here in the present moment. The future has not yet taken birth and is an abstract idea of what might be, existing only as an idea, not as a real truth.
How often have you worried about something and made your present moment a hell of anxiety…..only for that thing never to happen? Or been denied the pleasure of the present moment due to being consumed with regret, or anger or some upsetting emotion connected with a past event that is no longer happening and exists only as a memory now?
A friend told me of being on holiday with someone. My friend was enjoying the day and being in a beautiful place. When he went down to see his friend they were busy buried in a lap top. He asked them what they were doing: “I’m booking my next holiday” they replied! Their eagerness to create a future pleasure was denying them the experience of what was there in that moment.
So much of my struggle and pain falls away when I remember to come back to this present moment. The fear of what might be, of what may happen can be seen for what it is – a story being told in this present moment that has no truth. Or I notice being consumed in my regret about the past….yet all of the actions of my yesterdays are what have led to me being here in this moment, so to change my past would mean to be a different person right now. In a sense saying I wish my past were different is like saying I wish I were not who I am right now. But I cannot change the past. I can however embrace the present. I can embrace the worry, fear or regret and find in that embrace a sense of ease, peace and openness that has stopped struggling to find peace.
Another of Ajhan Sumedho’s teachings was:
“This is how it is….it’s like this”
Pain is like this, worry is like this, regret is like this, joy is like this, excitement is like this…..What he means by this is to explore in this present moment what the experience of pain is – here, in the body, in the felt experience arising right now. What are the thoughts, and what is it that knows thoughts, emotions and the physical sensations arising right now? This “knowing” can only ever occur in the present moment. We know this experience of being alive as it presents itself to our senses, and in this knowing there is a peace that is not dependant on being at peace. The state of ‘knowing awareness’ can be fully present to fear, without being afraid, it can also be fully present to joy without then being intoxicated by the pleasure and wanting it to last forever: it simply knows: “joy is like this”, enjoys it as it arises, and allows it to pass as it ebbs.
As you notice your mind going to the story of the past or telling a story of what is yet to come, remind yourself: “it’s just a story” and gently return to this present moment, to knowing this moment with full awareness of how it feels in your body, as the thought processes and as emotions. Then see if you can rest in to that subtle state of knowing, something that is always here, that has never left you, and does not need to be created. Knowing is not an act of will, it occurs when we rest into an open and curious state of being here, right now, open and free of any agenda to fix ourselves.