The past and future exist as mere dreams. What is truly alive is only ever this flash instant, this tiny, yet infinite sliver of “now,” a now that need not be practiced or cultivated for it is always and forever the only thing that could ever exist.
There is no need to cultivate or practice “being present.” Instead, we can simply notice that presence is all there is, for even the supposed absence of it would simply be another present moment! What we experience and call a sense of lack, the feeling that something is somehow missing, is actually the most astounding presence. And so lack (of presence or anything else) isn’t merely lack but is in fact, complete fullness, the fullness of life itself, existence appearing as the experience we call “lack.”
Meditation, prayer, yoga … we can practice such things if we find them enjoyable. But they are not actually needed to bring about presence for presence is already here, effortlessly and spontaneously, as this very instant that’s appearing, this ordinary moment shining forth. Contrary to what conventional reality would have us believe, everything is presence. Fear is presence. Sadness is presence. Joy is presence. Pleasure is presence. Pain is presence. Harmony is presence. Discord is presence. Whether we label what is arising experientially as good or bad, positive or negative, desired or dreaded, whatever arises is presence itself for there is only ever presence, the presence of what is.
From this vantage, it doesn’t actually matter what we’re experiencing in terms of its described content. For everything is the miracle of presence—life arising and then disappearing and then arising again as the next instant, the next flashing forth of existence, the next appearance of God. We can never be separated from this miraculous presence because there is nothing but.
What I am pointing to here has nothing to do with belief or philosophy. It’s just a simple fact, the fact of presence itself and the reality that this which is present is, in the end, simply not conceivable. By its very nature, whatever is here radically transcends any and all attempts at labeling, categorizing, or describing it. But this transcendental, indescribable reality (call it God if you like), shining forth as every instant, is not some grey, bland, empty nothingness. It is an unthinkably rich lusciousness, immeasurable in its fullness and completeness. It is really love itself, the radical inclusivity that rejects nothing because all that appears is none other than itself.
This is the sense I make out of the biblical injunction to “love thy neighbor as thyself.” For me, these words are not so much a spiritual prescription or practice we must take up so much as a statement about the way reality actually is. The vast sky-like spaciousness of this moment loves anything and everything that appears within it because it is none other than whatever appears. There really are no parts to this world any more than there are parts to the sea. There is just this seamless continuum of being, the ocean of existence loving and savoring itself in all its many wave-like forms and expressions.
Each moment that appears is radiating the most inconceivable, indescribable, unfathomable beauty, a beauty that is not a function of human judgment or evaluation or conditioned belief in what constitutes “beauty.” It is a beauty that transcends all human notions and definitions of what beauty is. This is an absolute, transcendental beauty, a beauty that is the very nature of what is. All moments, even the most challenging ones, are themselves, at their core, unimaginably beautiful, simply because they exist. The miraculous, inexplicable fact that the universe has brought some moment into being is what makes that moment so exquisitely beautiful. And that beauty is what we fundamentally are, through and through.
Mind you, I’m not suggesting that because we can never be apart from this transcendentally beautiful presence that we should somehow not continue to seek out and try to maximize whatever we find pleasurable while avoiding (as much as we find ourselves able) those experiences and circumstances we find uncomfortable or otherwise not to our liking. Of course we can and likely will continue to do this, probably until we take our final breaths. We can continue to seek out those people, places, and things that are resonant with our particular dispositions, interests, and passions.
But even as we do this, we can also come to see that regardless of how experience may be described, experiencing itself is always present, always here, always available. And this ever-present presence of experiencing is none other than the primal reality itself, a reality that can never be lost because it is what we are and everything is, fundamentally, an ever-present fullness and richness beyond measure.
John Astin, PhD, is a songwriter, recording artist, spiritual teacher, and adjunct professor of psychology at Santa Clara University and Notre Dame de Namur University. He is author of Too Intimate for Words, This Is Always Enough, and Searching for Rain in a Monsoon.