I am a runner—a reluctant runner. After nearly three decades of pounding the streets, my runner’s high has reached an all-time low, and unless I am filled to the brim with caffeine, I mostly grin and bear it, and wait for my run to be over. And yet, I do enjoy the post-exercise endorphins, and the feeling of presence that physical activity so reliably delivers. I also know that running is good for me physically and thus I continue to lace up my sneakers—because I should.
During a recent outing, as I gnashed my teeth and counted the minutes to thirty, my mind posed an interesting question. What if—right now—I were running the final lap of the Olympic marathon? What if this minute were the minute I had trained for all of my life. Suddenly, miraculously, I felt an incredible rush, as if hurled down a magic tube into the run itself. The trap door had opened and I was deposited into now. The “me” who had been enduring it, who should be exercising, was gone without a trace. The run was no longer something happening to me; no longer something I needed to get through until I could return to my life. There was just this body moving. Furthermore, I no longer needed to protect myself from the experience, to reserve my energy or control my movements in order to keep “me” from suffering some imagined future consequence. I had made a conscious choice to transform my relationship with the moment, to turn it into the moment that mattered. Poured into my legs, my feet, my breath, there was only an experience unfolding, and my absence was exhilarating.
As a long time equestrian athlete as well as a practitioner of Advaita Vedanta, I have had the good fortune to dip into the “flow” state on many occasions. But what struck me about this particular event was my mind’s participation in the process. Never before had I been able to employ my mind in order to gain entry into the non-mind state. In the past, when “flow” occurred, it was organic—something that resulted effortlessly through my passion for and engagement in the experience at hand. But in this case, I had somewhat initiated the non-separate state with a proposal from my (normally) separating mind. Had my mind known the consequence/benefit of what it was suggesting when it came up with its Olympic proposal? Or perhaps was it awareness itself that had used the mind as a tool to realize itself?
Regardless of the answer, my mind was delighted to claim credit and assume its new role as the “one” who could remove itself—could successfully “do” the disappearing. It wanted this feather in its identity hat. Nonetheless, it was clear that something important had happened. My mind had participated in its own disappearance, and in the realignment with awareness itself. If I could harness my mind to help in this uncovering process (and keep it from taking over) then I had discovered a potentially powerful tool in accessing the pure state. Perhaps I had—at last—discovered something that the mind could actually “do” to help me lose it.
What if we were to choose to live every moment as if it were the last experience that we would ever get to experience? If this were my final moment as an embodied human being with the gift of senses, would I stand on the shore clinging to my small and separate self, denying myself a last experience, a last swim? Or, would I surrender into the gift of this last sensation, dive into its fullness, swim it with full gusto? Me thinks I would go swimming!
To say that we should pay closer attention to now is a good start, but not the whole story. Running those last strides as if they were the final lap of the Olympic marathon, I was not paying closer attention to the now, but rather, I was it. I was not running because of what it would do for me or say about me, nor for the ego goodies that would come with my imminent gold medal. It was not “about” me at all. While it sounds like it would be a loss—to take away the “I” who would get to “have” the experience, to live it, and then later keep it as memory. But as it turns out, being the experience ends up being far more direct and delicious than any thing I could ever “have.”
We have a choice as to how we live each moment—as something to get through, to have, to use as proof of who we are—or simply, blessedly, as the moment itself—from within its very unfolding. For me, it was the Olympic scene that cracked the barrier and deposited me inside now. But discover your own scenario, your own Olympic moment. Invite yourself to dive into now, with whatever words or ideas point you there. If we can harness the mind as an ally in this process, we may just be able to initiate our own passage into the epicenter of experience and being—the eternal now.