Question: I’m an avid reader. The world is moving so fast that I feel overwhelmed by trying to keep up with it all. I think it may be a Millennial thing of intensified fear of missing out – the world just moves too fast for me. There is too much going on.
I’ve read two books in the past month. One was Douglas Rushkoff’s Present Shock: When Everything Happens Now. The other was The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle. You may have noticed that both author’s use the word “now.” Can you help me understand what each means by “now?”
Michael Richardson-Borne: I can’t speak directly for them of course, but I’m happy to answer your question in the context of non-separation, sure. This will be fun.
If you recall, Tolle had a pair of concepts about time in The Power of Now that he set in relation to one another. He called these concepts psychological time and clock time. Placed on a continuum, lean towards, or favor, psychological time and the relationship between the two seems to manifest as one of opposition, almost parasitic in nature – lean to the more impersonal concept of clock time and both seem homeostatic, two gears seamlessly working in the same watch. Let’s address your inquiry using this distinction.
Psychological time, as its name suggests, is shaped by the mind – it’s a mentally constructed measuring system that creates separation for the mind to grasp what it thinks of as the world around it. Psychological time has well-defined starting points so that ending points can be built in contrast creating a sense of fixedness and/or finality. Even though both points are imaginary, the beginning and the ending allow for the construction of layers of what the separate self interprets as “life segments.” In between the points of each life segment, tension arises as an aspect of the self is limited and pulled taut between two ideas experienced as irremovable stakes in the ground. What you think of as seconds, minutes, hours, days, weeks, and years are actually held in place by the mind and the tension of this facade reinforces the story of separation. In between these stakes, what you imagine as layers of birth and death, pressure is generated as the mind tries to either escape or distract itself. The more the mind gets involved with this tension, or in other words, the more pressure filling the space between each couplet of points, the greater the existential angst that is delivered. It’s this kind of suffering that makes psychological time feel so deeply personal – it takes your attention hostage and becomes the construct in which the inauthentic life of an autonomous individual unfolds.
As a matter of fact, the feelings of “too fast” you described in your question are a form of psychological time. In order for something to be “too fast,” your mind has prematurely planted multiple sets of beginning and ending stakes firmly in the ground – notice the existence of these mental stakes are the only reason that the conditions for “too fast” arise in the first place. So, when these feelings arise, take a moment to look within and to recognize some of the layers of separation already in place. Maybe there is a devised “you” and “not you” with the tension in between. Then, based on the division of these two stakes, another set of dividers can be placed that we’ll call “subject to time” and “timeless” with the tension in between. And inside of this division can be yet another set of stakes called “comfortable” and “too fast” – again with a layer of tension in between. Notice how each set of mental stakes exists with an added layer of tension, what I call separation, that pulls the story of your separate self further and further from the true self of non-separation. This outcome is the result of being controlled by the divisive rules of psychological time.
Clock time, in comparison, is impersonal. No mental stakes are placed in the ground because there is no belief in beginning and ending, past and future, birth and death – these concepts are not applicable to the movement of clock time and its infusion of itself. The divisions of psychological time exist on the undivided lattice of clock time – psychological moments are ripples of what is not separate. With clock time, there is a sense of movement of the whole, but the sense isn’t the sensory experience of an individual, it’s the sensory experience of an individual as lived by the totality – which isn’t considered real or experienced as a measurement of anything that has a firm or fixed position. This is why feelings like “too fast” are seen as objects that arise in the mind but have no relevance or impact on what is aware of the mind. What is aware of the mind is resting as clock time while the mind itself is lost in the foibles of its own divisions and believing that it’s subject to the tensions of its own making. Clock time is free of this tension because it’s free of what the mind mistakes as time.
Q: I think I’m following. So what about Rushkoff and Tolle?
MR-B: Right. The “now,” according to Rushkoff, is an ever-present “on” switch connected to global technology and online culture that dials up the intensity of psychological time – and with the separate self’s inability to see beyond this mode of time, the added intensity is having profoundly negative effects on people’s well-being all over the world. Rushkoff calls these negative effects “present shock” – which I would define as a contemporary diagnosis of separation due to involuntary information overload experienced in conjunction with the primary assumption of a separate self. Tolle would consider Rushkoff’s “now” a disease of the mind, a symptom of the separate self, and an apt description of the modern-day sickness of being excessively impacted by the pressures of psychological time.
Notice when I speak about non-separation, I talk about the impersonal existence of being that includes the personal. If I was to use Tolle’s terminology, I would say that non-separation is the impersonal existence of clock time that includes psychological time. Do you comprehend how the two modes of time are not separate? And how one is an impermanent aspect of the other and, thus, not an other? Whereas Rushkoff’s “now” is a byproduct of being embedded in the mind, Tolle’s “now” is a larger space that is aware of the mind – which makes discovery of Tolle’s “now” a remedy for the pathological “now” that Rushkoff describes. This remedy is what Advaita teacher Nisargadatta Maharaj called “the ultimate medicine.” After remembering this medicine, it is impossible to get sped up even if the mind is moving at a speed perceived as “too fast,” because that which is aware of the mind is at peace and always perfectly as it should be. The Power of Now cannot be contracted into what Rushkoff calls “present shock” – as a background of peace neutralizes any form of chaos initiated by psychological time.
Q: Do you have “the power of now” that Tolle speaks of?
MR-B: Nobody has the power of now. Or, at least, I don’t because there is nobody here to own what is already speaking this puppet of consciousness. Can the color white own a cloud? If not, how could you ever believe that the mind could own consciousness?
Either way, the true power of now is too fast to be caught – only the concept “now” is catchable. And even that is like a baseball being hurled through the air responsible for catching itself. As a concept, “now” stops time as there must be an individual to press pause and to experience. But, as we’ve just discussed, this is a description of the movement of psychological time – in the “now,” the mind is still using itself as an object of separation. Non-separation is the impersonal existence of now that includes the concept of now. If you think you have caught it, you are simply deluding yourself by identifying with the deludable.
Q: Is living in the now the same thing as trying to be present?
MR-B: Yes. But not in the way you are probably thinking. Non-separation can be tricky because there is nobody there to live in the now or to try to be present. Whatever you think is there is just a story in awareness – a reflection of an undergirding that has been long forgotten. So living in the now and trying to be present are the same thing, a fiction supported by the same illusion – the assumption of a separate self. Being in the present is the same as trying to be present, but is not the same as being what is present. Do you follow?
Remember, it’s what’s prior to and infuses the now that is the power you are seeking, or rather, is the power of the seeking. If you can see clearly enough, you will notice that the power of now is asking your question to itself – only you, as a believer in separation, desire to impose division on a now that is undividable. What you are seeking is not a concept – the concept of now is a false delay, a glitch or skip in a record that can only be believed if one forgets they are a live performance, not a recording. The true power of now is too fast to be recorded.
Take a moment and recall that Tolle capitalizes the N in Now. Why does he do this? He does it to point to where the value of language and reason frays and a kind of non-separative logic emerges in awareness. He does it to reveal where language falls short. The capital letter is a warning to not take the word as a mental concept. Breaking the rules of capitalization is a clue to break linguistic norms and to challenge the assumptions of the mind – it reminds us to ask what is prior to now that is not the past. It reminds us to ask what comes after now that is not the future.
Q: Is that what Tolle means in The Power of Now when he writes “the knower in you who dwells behind the thinker?”
MR-B: Not quite. But it can definitely be a step on the path to non-separation. Many times, students are able to locate the knower behind the thinker – but instead of realizing non-separation, their individual identity is merely shifted back a dimension, leaving the knower still solidly entrenched in the separate self. This kind of experience is still the lower case now, what Tolle calls psychological time, what I call separation.
Q: How does one locate the knower behind the thinker?
MR-B: The traditional way is to practice meditation – to allow thoughts, feelings, and emotions to arise as they will while you simply observe the movement. As one gets more adept at doing this, thoughts, feelings, etcetera can slow down to the point that they are extinguished. When this happens, the knower behind the thinker is revealed – and when thoughts eventually re-enter the picture, it’s obvious to the meditator that the thinker and the knower are one, but not the same.
But, as most of us know, meditation can be a drag. So, if meditation is not your cup of tea, you can always just pay attention to or investigate the experience of your thought-stream during your normal, day to day, activities. What you may find, when doing this, is that the mind is merely supplying commentary to consciousness, what you experience as your waking field of vision.
That said, even with meditation or contemplation, the thinker is too fast for most people. The spaces between words, between thoughts, happen too fast for people to notice and, therefore, contemplation continues to be a mental exercise that uses conceptual tools to develop more sophisticated conceptual tools.
Q: What is the difference between the Power of Now and the Power of Non-Separation?
MR-B: There is no difference. Both phrases are reminding you of the same thing – that there is a pre-existing unity where time or the story of the self is not separate. Everything we write is just a pointer designed to support the intellect in piercing the intellect.
Q: I think I understand what you’re saying. There are moments some days when I feel timeless – but they’re only brief flashes before I just get on with my day.
MR-B: Those could be called peak experiences. Tolle talks about this as well in The Power of Now. A peak experience is a spontaneous temporary glimpse of non-separation. Advaita teacher Ramesh Balsekar called these experiences “free samples.” But the reason they’re called peak experiences is because the “view” doesn’t stabilize – the separate self returns as the dominant filter through which the world is interpreted.
Q: But how does this happen?
MR-B: A peak experience does not stabilize because the mind’s reaction is too fast. It is fighting for its life so to speak. The mind is always offering a story to place around the experience of being – and when this story achieves submission to itself, the “peak” of non-separation flattens into the accepted plateaued living experience that is the story of separation. As a human, you are encouraged, or more accurately demanded, to submit to the mind’s narrative of separation and to believe the story that the mind force feeds you within this wider narrative. Getting a glimpse of what it feels like to be untouched by this narrative is what is referred to as a peak experience.
But notice that you are remembering the spaces of timelessness, what Tolle calls clock time – so you are already ahead of the game. Contemplate these experiences and ask if they are trying to reveal something to you.
Q: Isn’t the mind just a natural part of “Being?”
MR-B: There is nothing unnatural – so, yes, mind is a natural part of being. But although there is nothing unnatural, there is still a natural state – and this natural state can be naturally abandoned. Cancer of the body is a disease caused by cells dividing too fast for what is the natural state of replication. Just like the mind dividing the world into concepts too fast manifests the cancer of the separate self. The world most people see and feel is a tumor – dividing humanity into a collection of objects creates a cancerous mass on being itself.
As we discussed in a previous question, before you can know anything directly, non-verbally, you must know the knower. So far, you take the mind for the knower, which is just not the case. The mind distracts you with images and ideas, leaving scars that you experience as memory – and you take this remembering to be knowledge. True knowledge is ever fresh, new, unexpected. It reveals itself in the moment as a lived experience of itself. When you know what you are, you also are what you know. Between knowing and being there is no separation.
Q: Why aren’t more of our leaders bringing this message to the world? As Tolle says, it’s the mind that is the predicament and it has pointlessly killed millions and millions of people in the last century. And continues to do so. It’s madness to let this keep going on. I think my generation is the one that will finally change things. The previous generations just don’t seem to get, or want to get, what Tolle is telling us.
MR-B: I appreciate what you’re saying and encourage you to keep on this line of thought because it is one that can lead you to freedom. This kind of inquiry was definitely part of my journey. But as you remain on the path, take a look at the separation your comment implies. How can “you know something that they don’t” when there is no they? Is it possible that it would be wise to answer this before the changes you have in mind are thought to be the cure for anything?
Your intuition is correct, but what you know is a different set of concepts that you think is “the way” or a better truth. Every so-called generation believes they have things better figured out than what has come before them – but they have all ended up with virtually the same result, a world still mired in separation. Why do you think this is?
Q: They move too fast before they are rooted in the truth of non-separation?
MR-B: Yes. Moving too fast, from a place of separation, only creates more separation.