The Now


The Now

Being present in the moment is the key to leading a fulfilled and liberated life in Buddhist teaching. The reason for this is as simple as counter-intuitive: the only moment we ever have is the Now.

It is counter-intuitive because we grew up in a society where future-focussed thinking has become almost our only mode of being. That kind of thinking, which takes us out of the Now, however, takes us also out of the state of being and puts us in a mode of doing.

In today’s culture we are almost obsessed with ruminating about the past and planning for the future. We grow up with the promise that future focussed thinking will make us successful. This is the promise of an alleged meritocratic society*. We grow up with the belief that our past is what fully defines us. That our CV shows who we are.

We are building our identity around who we are – as defined by our past – and who we are going to be – as defined by our anticipation about what the future brings. As Eckhart Tolle writes in his book “The Power of Now”, our Ego feeds on our obsession with time. Through our compulsion to live “almost exclusively through memory and anticipation” we cultivate our ego by deriving a sense of identity from the past and looking for salvation in the future (Chp 2, Track No02 in [1]).

However, past and future thinking are mere projections. As for past thinking, this is because our memories are not one-on-one images of reality, but re-interpretations of what happened. Future thinking is a projection, because we can never possibly know what is really going to happen, no matter how convinced we are about certain causal relationships. Fear is a good example for being stuck in the future instead of the Now.

When we become conscious of the present moment – with all our present emotions and awareness of our surroundings – we observe our ego from the outside and can become aware of what truly is. We perceive what is as opposed to how we want the world to be. Only from this state can we inspire true change, since we are not resisting anything (situations, people, etc). In this state we *know* what can be changed and what cannot.

“To be trapped in time – the compulsory to live almost exclusively through memory and anticipation. This creates an endless preoccupation with past and future and an unwillingness to honour and acknowledge the present moment and allow it to be. The obsession arises because the past gives you a sense of identity and the future holds the promise of salvation.”

Chp 2, Track No02 in [1]

This doesn’t mean, however, that we are not supposed to ever remember the past or plan ahead. Past and future thinking is what Eckhart Tolle calls living in the psychological time. Sometimes the most useful activity we can do in the moment is to develop a strategy or do something that promises to bear long-term benefits. You may switch between being (living in the present moment) and doing (goal-oriented behaviour) – the trick is do so consciously. To not be trapped in psychological time. To come back to the Now and awareness of the present moment. To not make our identity dependent on our past and future.

“Your mind is an in instrument, a tool. It is there to be used for a specific task and when the task is completed you lay it down. […] You use it mostly for practical purposes. You are free from an involuntary inner dialogue and there is inner stillness.”

– Chp 1, Track No02 in [1]
* Research shows that the naively meritocratic assumption, which claims “that the natural differences in talent, skill, competence, intelligence, hard work or determination are the only causes of success”, is too simplistic. Other factors, such as luck or privilege also play an important role. Naïve meritocracy doesn’t only inspire obsession with future thinking, but may also be a cause for the Impostor Syndrome.
[1]“The Power of Now” Audiobook with Eckhart Tolle

Written by Julia Heuritsch | Last edited: 20th June 2022

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