“The Power of Now” is a book that has deeply influenced my thinking in the past two years, but it is also difficult to understand and not easy to apply. Every time I read it for a week or two, I feel good, but soon this feeling is eroded by my habitual thinking and I return to my old self, so I have to reread it. With the ideas from other books, every time I read it, I have new feelings.
After reading it many times, I can now remember much of the content of the book, so I want to share it here, which is also a way to deepen my memory.
The first thing you need to find in this book is “presence,” which runs through the entire book.
So we need to first understand what presence is.
For example, we often have a feeling that “I” feel happy today, “I” feel sad now. This “I” is the presence, that is, we observe our emotions as an observer.
Presence belongs to the present moment. Only when you are in the present moment can you perceive your current emotions.
But if you phrase it differently, “I am happy, I am sad.” At this point, the “I” disappears. This means that you are being controlled by your thoughts and are not in a state of presence. Therefore, at this time, you are truly immersed in an emotional state (happy or sad). In this state, you are not in the present moment but controlled by psychological time.
So, what is psychological time?
Psychological time only exists in the past and future. Let me give an example of a common thought state we often have. When I meet a stranger, I feel resistance, and my thoughts are: “What if he attacks me, insults me, dislikes me, or does something strange to me?” At this point, I may be trapped in an anxious emotional state. In this example, we can see that the guesses generated by my thinking are all things that I think may happen in the future, but in fact, they have not happened at the present moment.
And my speculation about the future is also based on my past experience, so I did not handle it in real time according to the current situation. So at this moment, my state is between the past and the future. The anxiety brought by the future invaded my body and mind.
Let’s imagine that if the next year, the next week, the next day, the next minute, and the next second have no meaning to me, I will not think about them, nor will I think about every minute and second of the past. Does time still exist for us? The answer is obvious, it no longer exists. The clock time still goes on, but every minute and second that is going on is a new present for a person living in the present.
The biggest benefit of stepping out of psychological time is to pull you out of various emotions from the past and future, and return to the feeling of ontological tranquility.
What is the feeling of ontological tranquility?
At first, I thought it might be our animal nature, that is, we humans as ourselves. But later in the book, it said that this should actually be an energy field. Our physical bodies are just an illusion.
So what is the feeling of ontological tranquility? In the previous few readings, I tried to find it through the meditation method mentioned in the book, but still couldn’t find it. It wasn’t until the last reading that when I meditated again, I suddenly realized that I was still being controlled by my thoughts, so I didn’t really find the feeling of ontological tranquility in meditation. As follows:
“Because I want to find the peaceful feeling when meditating, and when meditating, I am asked to observe my breath, so I go to observe my breath.”
It is not difficult to see that when this idea exists, when I demand myself to observe my breath, I am still trapped in thoughts. My breathing is controlled by my thinking.
Later, when I understood that my ontology was a shell, I suddenly found the feeling of tranquility. Because I discovered that my breathing is not completely controlled by my thinking. When I sleep or faint, my breathing continues.
So why observe the breath? It’s not that I ask myself to observe the breath in order to find the feeling of tranquility. Instead, breathing itself is already peaceful, without any emotions or thoughts.
Only when we truly detach ourselves and observe such feelings can we find the same sense of tranquility as our true self. So now, when I feel caught up in emotions, I just need to observe my breathing to regain that sense of calm.
In addition, let me briefly talk about another role of being present.
The information we have received from birth until now forms our self-awareness. This process is passive on our part. For example, when we see someone going against traffic, this is a whole piece of information. Our consciousness will absorb corresponding parts based on our existing framework of consciousness. Some people may think that if he goes against the traffic, then so should I, while others may think that he went against the traffic, and I definitely cannot do the same. That is to say, we selectively filter external information based on our individual consciousness, and the chosen information will be integrated with our existing framework of consciousness.
However, when you are in a state of presence, your feelings are peaceful without any judgment. When I have this awareness, I am in a state of presence, and I can then choose which information I can accept. As the book says, this is a key to reshaping one’s character.
I also realized that even though being present exists, my ego still exists, it’s just been detached and made observable. What does my ego need? Wealth, health, sex, and all kinds of needs. But are these things I have already obtained? Of course not, the existence of needs means that I have never obtained them. How can that be the best experience?
After reading “Flow”, I learned about the optimal experience, which is the experience of flow, facing a challenging task and exerting all the power of mind and body to the extreme, also an experience of being fully focused on each moment. But the existence of the ego means that I will always be in the psychological time of the past and the future, and if I want to be in the present, I can only maintain being present and observe it. Does that mean my goal no longer exists? Later, when I reread it, I reinterpreted “surrender”. I realized that it wasn’t about accepting everything at first. In “The Power of Now,” surrender is actually a mode of action that redefines one’s goals.
What is surrender?
It’s really just accepting your current situation. So how does surrender bring you to the present moment? First, we need to talk about psychological time. I’m not afraid of people laughing, but I’m easily scared by ghosts and other supernatural things, which stems from my real fear of death. Because I believe that if I encounter a ghost, I’ll really die, so when I encounter such things, the fear of death from the future will manifest in my current emotions. But in reality, did it happen? No. And when I observe this point, my fear doesn’t come to me anymore. This is the role of being present.
Your goal is actually a result from the future. When you strive for this goal, you are actually in a fantasy of the future, not in the present. So you will receive emotions from the future that may occur, such as what if I don’t complete it, what if I can’t do it well, what if there’s a gap between what I did and what I expected. The anxiety generated by these emotions will make you want to escape every moment of the present. So when we find that what we are doing now is different from what we expected, we are very easy to give up early.
The book once asked us to observe animals. Do animals worry about current things?
No, they don’t. They just adjust their state according to the present situation (such as the appearance of prey or being attacked).
I accept my current situation. For example, I want a good and healthy body, which is my personal wish. If I try to fulfill it, I am in a state of psychological time, which makes my goal difficult to achieve.
But if I switch to a submissive mindset: I lack a good physique, I accept this fact, so when I perceive this fact at present, what should I do at this moment?
So after switching my mindset to a submissive state, my goal is still a goal, but everything I do will no longer be an unknown thing, but an immediate response to the current situation.
When you are in the present moment, your resistance to thinking disappears.
Of course, everyone’s understanding may have some deviation, but this change of mindset has been very helpful to me.
For me, the resistance to thinking brought by anxiety is the biggest obstacle to my actions. But when I turn my actions into the present moment, this resistance disappears completely.