The Power of Now. A Guide to SPIRITUAL ENLIGHTENMENT
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- YOU ARE NOT YOUR MIND
- The Greatest Obstacle to Enlightenment
Enlightenment – what is that?
A beggar had been sitting by the side of a road for over thirty years. One day a
stranger walked by. “Spare some change?” mumbled the beggar, mechanically
holding out his old baseball cap. “I have nothing to give you,” said the stranger. Then
he asked: “What’s that you are sitting on?” “Nothing,” replied the beggar. “Just an old
box. I have been sitting on it for as long as I can remember.” “Ever looked inside?”
asked the stranger. “No,” said the beggar. “What’s the point? There’s nothing in
there.” “Have a look inside,” insisted the stranger. The beggar managed to pry open
the lid. With astonishment, disbelief, and elation, he saw that the box was filled with
I am that stranger who has nothing to give you and who is telling you to look
inside. Not inside any box, as in the parable, but somewhere even closer: inside
“But I am not a beggar,” I can hear you say.
Those who have not found their true wealth, which is the radiant joy of Being
and the deep, unshakable peace that comes with it, are beggars, even if they have
great material wealth. They are looking outside for scraps of pleasure or fulfillment,
for validation, security, or love, while they have a treasure within that not only
includes all those things but is infinitely greater than anything the world can offer.
The word enlightenment conjures up the idea of some super-human
accomplishment, and the ego likes to keep it that way, but it is simply your natural
state of felt oneness with Being. It is a state of connectedness with something
immeasurable and indestructible, something that, almost paradoxically, is essentially
you and yet is much greater than you. It is finding your true nature beyond name and
form. The inability to feel this connectedness gives rise to the illusion of separation,
from yourself and from the world around you. You then perceive yourself,
consciously or unconsciously, as an isolated fragment. Fear arises, and conflict within
and without becomes the norm.
I love the Buddha’s simple definition of enlightenment as “the end of suffering.”
There is nothing superhuman in that, is there? Of course, as a definition, it is
incomplete. It only tells you what enlightenment is not: no suffering. But what’s left
when there is no more suffering? The Buddha is silent on that, and his silence implies
that you’ll have to find out for yourself. He uses a negative definition so that the mind
cannot make it into something to believe in or into a superhuman accomplishment, a
goal that is impossible for you to attain. Despite this precaution, the majority of
Buddhists still believe that enlightenment is for the Buddha, not for them, at least not
in this lifetime. You used the word Being. Can you explain what you mean by that?
Being is the eternal, ever-present One Life beyond the myriad forms of life that
are subject to birth and death. However, Being is not only beyond but also deep
within every form as its innermost invisible and indestructible essence. This means
that it is accessible to you now as your own deepest self, your true nature. But don’t
seek to grasp it with your mind. Don’t try to understand it. You can know it only
when the mind is still. When you are present, when your attention is fully and
intensely in the Now, Being can be felt, but it can never be understood mentally. To
regain awareness of Being and to abide in that state of “feeling-realization” is
enlightenment. When you say Being, are you talking about God? If you are, then why don’t you
The word God has become empty of meaning through thousands of years of
misuse. I use it sometimes, but I do so sparingly. By misuse, I mean that people who
have never even glimpsed the realm of the sacred, the infinite vastness behind that
word, use it with great conviction, as if they knew what they are talking about. Or
they argue against it, as if they knew what it is that they are denying. This misuse
gives rise to absurd beliefs, assertions, and egoic delusions, such as “My or our God
is the only true God, and your God is false,” or Nietzsche’s famous statement “God is
The word God has become a closed concept. The moment the word is uttered, a
mental image is created, no longer, perhaps, of an old man with a white beard, but
still a mental representation of someone or something outside you, and, yes, almost
inevitably a male someone or something.
Neither God nor Being nor any other word can define or explain the ineffable
reality behind the word, so the only important question is whether the word is a help
or a hindrance in enabling you to experience That toward which it points. Does it
point beyond itself to that transcendental reality, or does it lend itself too easily to
becoming no more than an idea in your head that you believe in, a mental idol?
The word Being explains nothing, but nor does God. Being, however, has the
advantage that it is an open concept. It does not reduce the infinite invisible to a finite
entity. It is impossible to form a mental image of it. Nobody can claim exclusive
possession of Being. It is your very essence, and it is immediately accessible to you
as the feeling of your own presence, the realization I am that is prior to I am this or I
am that. So it is only a small step from the word Being to the experience of Being.
- What is the greatest obstacle to experiencing this reality?
Identification with your mind, which causes thought to become compulsive. Not
to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don’t realize this because
almost everybody is suffering from it, so it is considered normal. This incessant
mental noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable
from Being. It also creates a false mind-made self that casts a shadow of fear and
suffering. We will look at all that in more detail later.
The philosopher Descartes believed that he had found the most fundamental
truth when he made his famous statement: “I think, therefore I am.” He had, in fact,
given expression to the most basic error: to equate thinking with Being and identity
with thinking. The compulsive thinker, which means almost everyone, lives in a state
of apparent separateness, in an insanely complex world of continuous problems and
conflict, a world that reflects the ever-increasing fragmentation of the mind.
Enlightenment is a state of wholeness, of being “at one” and therefore at peace. At
one with life in its manifested aspect, the world, as well as with your deepest self and
life unmanifested – at one with Being. Enlightenment is not only the end of suffering
and of continuous conflict within and without, but also the end of the dreadful
enslavement to incessant thinking. What an incredible liberation this is!
Identification with your mind creates an opaque screen of concepts, labels,
images, words, judgments, and definitions that blocks all true relationship. It comes
between you and yourself, between you and your fellow man and woman, between
you and nature, between you and God. It is this screen of thought that creates the
illusion of separateness, the illusion that there is you and a totally separate “other.”
You then forget the essential fact that, underneath the level of physical appearances
and separate forms, you are one with all that is. By “forget,” I mean that you can no
longer feel this oneness as self-evident reality. You may believe it to be true, but you
no longer know it to be true. A belief may be comforting. Only through your own
experience, however, does it become liberating.
Thinking has become a disease. Disease happens when things get out of balance.
For example, there is nothing wrong with cells dividing and multiplying in the body,
but when this process continues in disregard of the total organism, cells proliferate
and we have disease.
Note: The mind is a superb instrument if used rightly. Used wrongly, however, it
becomes very destructive. To put it more accurately, it is not so much that you use
your mind wrongly – you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you. This is the disease.
You believe that you are your mind. This is the delusion. The instrument has taken
you over. I don’t quite agree. It is true that I do a lot of aimless thinking, like most people,
but I can still choose to use my mind to get and accomplish things, and I do that all
Just because you can solve a crossword puzzle or build an atom bomb doesn’t
mean that you use your mind. Just as dogs love to chew bones, the mind loves to get
its teeth into problems. That’s why it does crossword puzzles and builds atom bombs.
You have no interest in either. Let me ask you this: can you be free of your mind
whenever you want to? Have you found the “off” button? You mean stop thinking altogether?
- No, I can’t, except maybe for a moment or
Then the mind is using you. You are unconsciously identified with it, so you
don’t even know that you are its slave. It’s almost as if you were possessed without
knowing it, and so you take the possessing entity to be yourself. The beginning of
freedom is the realization that you are not the possessing entity – the thinker.
Knowing this enables you to observe the entity. The moment you start watching the
thinker, a higher level of consciousness becomes activated. You then begin to realize
that there is a vast realm of intelligence beyond thought, that thought is only a tiny
aspect of that intelligence. You also realize that all the things that truly matter –
beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind. You begin to
Freeing yourself from your mind
What exactly do you mean by “watching the thinker”?
When someone goes to the doctor and says, “I hear a voice in my head,” he or she
will most likely be sent to a psychiatrist. The fact is that, in a very similar way,
virtually everyone hears a voice, or several voices, in their head all the time: the
involuntary thought processes that you don’t realize you have the power to stop.
Continuous monologues or dialogues.
You have probably come across “mad” people in the street incessantly talking or
muttering to themselves. Well, that’s not much different from what you and all other
“normal” people do, except that you don’t do it out loud. The voice comments,
speculates, judges, compares, complains, likes, dislikes, and so on. The voice isn’t
necessarily relevant to the situation you find yourself in at the time; it may be
reviving the recent or distant past or rehearsing or imagining possible future
situations. Here it often imagines things going wrong and negative outcomes; this is
called worry. Sometimes this soundtrack is accompanied by visual images or “mental
movies.” Even if the voice is relevant to the situation at hand, it will interpret it in
terms of the past. This is because the voice belongs to your conditioned mind, which
is the result of all your past history as well as of the collective cultural mind-set you
inherited. So you see and judge the present through the eyes of the past and get a
totally distorted view of it. It is not uncommon for the voice to be a person’s own
worst enemy. Many people live with a tormentor in their head that continuously
attacks and punishes them and drains them of vital energy. It is the cause of untold
misery and unhappiness, as well as of disease.
The good news is that you can free yourself from your mind. This is the only
true liberation. You can take the first step right now. Start listening to the voice in
your head as often as you can. Pay particular attention to any repetitive thought
patterns, those old gramophone records that have been playing in your head perhaps
for many years. This is what I mean by “watching the thinker,” which is another way
of saying: listen to the voice in your head, be there as the witnessing presence.
When you listen to that voice, listen to it impartially. That is to say, do not
judge. Do not judge or condemn what you hear, for doing so would mean that the
same voice has come in again through the back door. You’ll soon realize: there is the
voice, and here I am listening to it, watching it. This I am realization, this sense of
your own presence, is not a thought. It arises from beyond the mind. So when you listen to a thought, you are aware not only of the thought but also
of yourself as the witness of the thought. A new dimension of consciousness has
come in. As you listen to the thought, you feel a conscious presence – your deeper
self – behind or underneath the thought, as it were. The thought then loses its power
over you and quickly subsides, because you are no longer energizing the mind
through identification with it. This is the beginning of the end of involuntary and
compulsive thinking. When a thought subsides, you experience a discontinuity in the
mental stream – a gap of “no-mind.” At first, the gaps will be short, a few seconds
perhaps, but gradually they will become longer. When these gaps occur, you feel a
certain stillness and peace inside you. This is the beginning of your natural state of
felt oneness with Being, which is usually obscured by the mind. With practice, the
sense of stillness and peace will deepen. In fact, there is no end to its depth. You will
also feel a subtle emanation of joy arising from deep within: the joy of Being.
It is not a trancelike state. Not at all. There is no loss of consciousness here. The
opposite is the case. If the price of peace were a lowering of your consciousness, and
the price of stillness a lack of vitality and alertness, then they would not be worth
having. In this state of inner connectedness, you are much more alert, more awake
than in the mind-identified state. You are fully present. It also raises the vibrational
frequency of the energy field that gives life to the physical body.
As you go more deeply into this realm of no-mind, as it is sometimes called in
the East, you realize the state of pure consciousness. In that state, you feel your own
presence with such intensity and such joy that all thinking, all emotions, your
physical body, as well as the whole external world become relatively insignificant in
comparison to it. And yet this is not a selfish but a selfless state. It takes you beyond
what you previously thought of as “your self.” That presence is essentially you and at
the same time inconceivably greater than you. What I am trying to convey here may
sound paradoxical or even contradictory, but there is no other way that I can express
Instead of “watching the thinker,” you can also create a gap in the mind stream
simply by directing the focus of your attention into the Now. Just become intensely
conscious of the present moment. This is a deeply satisfying thing to do. In this way,
you draw consciousness away from mind activity and create a gap of no-mind in
which you are highly alert and aware but not thinking. This is the essence of
meditation. In your everyday life, you can practice this by taking any routine activity
that normally is only a means to an end and giving it your fullest attention, so that it
becomes an end in itself. For example, every time you walk up and down the stairs in
your house or place of work, pay close attention to every step, every movement, even
your breathing. Be totally present. Or when you wash your hands, pay attention to all
the sense perceptions associated with the activity: the sound and feel of the water, the
movement of your hands, the scent of the soap, and so on. Or when you get into your
car, after you close the door, pause for a few seconds and observe the flow of your
breath. Become aware of a silent but powerful sense of presence. There is one certain
criterion by which you can measure your success in this practice: the degree of peace
that you feel within.
So the single most vital step on your journey toward enlightenment is this: learn
to disidentify from your mind. Every time you create a gap in the stream of mind, the
light of your consciousness grows stronger. One day you may catch yourself smiling
at the voice in your head, as you would smile at the antics of a child. This means that
you no longer take the content of your mind all that seriously, as your sense of self
does not depend on it.
Enlightenment: Rising above Thought
Isn’t thinking essential in order to survive in this world?
Your mind is an instrument, a tool. It is there to be used for a specific task, and when
the task is completed, you lay it down. As it is, I would say about 80 to 90 percent of
most people’s thinking is not only repetitive and useless, but because of its
dysfunctional and often negative nature, much of it is also harmful. Observe your
mind and you will find this to be true. It causes a serious leakage of vital energy.
This kind of compulsive thinking is actually an addiction. What characterizes an
addiction? Quite simply this: you no longer feel that you have the choice to stop. It
seems stronger than you. It also gives you a false sense of pleasure, pleasure that
invariably turns into pain.
Why should we be addicted to thinking?
Because you are identified with it, which means that you derive your sense of self
from the content and activity of your mind.
Because you believe that you would cease to be if you stopped thinking. As you
grow up, you form a mental image of who you are, based on your personal and
cultural conditioning. We may call this phantom self the ego. It consists of mind
activity and can only be kept going through constant thinking. The term ego means
different things to different people, but when I use it here it means a false self, created
by unconscious identification with the mind.
To the ego, the present moment hardly exists. Only past and future are
considered important. This total reversal of the truth accounts for the fact that in the
ego mode the mind is so dysfunctional. It is always concerned with keeping the past
alive, because without it – who are you? It constantly projects itself into the future to
ensure its continued survival and to seek some kind of release or fulfillment there. It
says: “One day, when this, that, or the other happens, I am going to be okay, happy, at
peace.” Even when the ego seems to be concerned with the present, it is not the
present that it sees: It misperceives it completely because it looks at it through the
eyes of the past. Or it reduces the present to a means to an end, an end that always
lies in the mind-projected future. Observe your mind and you’ll see that this is how it
The present moment holds the key to liberation. But you cannot find the present
moment as long as you are your mind.
I don’t want to lose my ability to analyze and discriminate. I wouldn’t mind learning
to think more clearly, in a more focused way, but I don’t want to lose my mind. The
gift of thought is the most precious thing we have. Without it, we would just be
another species of animal.
The predominance of mind is no more than a stage in the evolution of consciousness.
We need to go on to the next stage now as a matter of urgency; otherwise, we will be
destroyed by the mind, which has grown into a monster. I will talk about this in more
detail later. Thinking and consciousness are not synonymous. Thinking is only a
small aspect of consciousness. Thought cannot exist without consciousness, but
consciousness does not need thought.
Enlightenment means rising above thought, not falling back to a level below
thought, the level of an animal or a plant. In the enlightened state, you still use your
thinking mind when needed, but in a much more focused and effective way than
before. You use it mostly for practical purposes, but you are free of the involuntary
internal dialogue, and there is inner stillness. When you do use your mind, and
particularly when a creative solution is needed, you oscillate every few minutes or so
between thought and stillness, between mind and no-mind. No-mind is consciousness
without thought. Only in that way is it possible to think creatively, because only in
that way does thought have any real power. Thought alone, when it is no longer
connected with the much vaster realm of consciousness, quickly becomes barren,
The mind is essentially a survival machine. Attack and defense against other
minds, gathering, storing, and analyzing information – this is what it is good at, but it
is not at all creative. All true artists, whether they know it or not, create from a place
of no-mind, from inner stillness. The mind then gives form to the creative impulse or
insight. Even the great scientists have reported that their creative breakthroughs came
at a time of mental quietude. The surprising result of a nation-wide inquiry among
America’s most eminent mathematicians, including Einstein, to find out their working
methods, was that thinking “plays only a subordinate part in the brief, decisive phase
of the creative act itself.”1 So I would say that the simple reason why the majority of
scientists are not creative is not because they don’t know how to think but because
they don’t know how to stop thinking!
It wasn’t through the mind, through thinking, that the miracle that is life on earth
or your body were created and are being sustained. There is clearly an intelligence at
work that is far greater than the mind. How can a single human cell measuring
1/1,000 of an inch across contain instructions within its DNA that would fill 1,000
books of 600 pages each? The more we learn about the workings of the body, the
more we realize just how vast is the intelligence at work within it and how little we
know. When the mind reconnects with that, it becomes a most wonderful tool. It then
serves something greater than itself.
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