The Super Show of the NOW
– An Essay on Presence, the Now and Atha by Perrine du Chaffaut. Photography by Ola Rindal.
Some time ago, in Mysore
Lying on my bed, I look at the Mysore sky. It is raining that hot and waxy rain in which my soul finds such sweetness. I close my eyes and reflect on this current obsession spoken of by both real and virtual tongues: ’be in the Now’, ’Live the present’, ’There is only one time, the present time.’
Why is this subject such a topical one? What does it conceal? Does it actually mean anything to still be thinking about such a tired theme?
There is no doubt that humankind is currently living through one of its most profound changes as a result of the technological revolution caused by the internet, social networks and access to online information sources, all of which is occurring at a speed that can leave homo sapiens astounded, curious, hesitant, discouraged, isolated, enflamed or inspired to activism. This revolution in the fields of technology and information is having a direct impact on human relationships in all their forms, and human beings feel a natural and intuitive resistance to this all-encompassing whirlwind, which resistance takes the shape of the cry’Let us live in the present!’, as if in an attempt to slow down the passage and intoxication of time.
The concept (1) of Time is often linked or even amalgamated with Presence. For all that, the former is a concept, whilst the latter is a state.
What is Time?
The Italian journalist, Domenico Quirico, a former hostage in Syria, said after his release from captivity last September: ’I also had my notebook and each day I wrote down what happened. I had almost finished it. I had two pages left. On the last day they [the kidnappers] took it off me. It helped me, above all, to keep track of the days and months. Losing sense of time would have pushed me down a deep well from which I might not have ever escaped.’
Human beings define themselves by their relationship to Time, a concept constructed around three pillars: the past (which is remembered), the present (which is happening to us now) and the future (which is projected). The concept of Time is purely a product of the Mind, as time is what can be numbered and therefore engages an organisational ability and an awareness of duration. However, even if time is a human concept, it is undeniable that time has effects on phenomena that are external to us, regardless of our Mind. Thus the world is subjugated to a progressively unfolding order, forward movement, cycles (such as the cycle of day and night, the passing of the seasons, the stars). Indeed, time is a way of measuring physical phenomena (for example the time required by the Earth to turn on its axis). We cannot see time; we are able to see physical phenomena. It is movement that, by modifying the appearances and positions of things, so demonstrates the action of time: the bud that becomes a flower, the snake that leaves its tracks in the sand. Aristotle defined time as ’a number of change in respect of the before and after.’ Einstein, in his theory of relativity, concurred with Aristotle insofar as he stated that we perceive time as a function of movement and further that each movement has its own temporality. There are three inter-related ’times’: ’the present related to the past’ (memory), ’the present related to the present’(perception) and ’the present related to the future’ (anticipation).
(1) We are speaking here of a concept, even if Kant preferred to speak of the very form of all of our intuitions, that is to say the form in which our minds necessarily perceive things. In any case, Time, just like Space, pre-supposes the involvement of our Mind.
…TO PRECENCE AND THE NOW
2.1 Description: a Mala of present instants constituting one continuous and global movement
Let’s forget about this concept of Time, the creation of the Mind. What remains? There remains what IS, the state of each present instant framing each breath, each pulse, one after the other, one present instant after the other, and so on, creating a limitless and continuous succession of present instants. Each one of us exists wholly and specifically in each one of our breaths; with the next breath, there will be a different being who will never be able to return to the state in which he or she existed with the preceding breath. What has gone before is irreversible. Only our perceptions of Time can change. A comparison with the ocean is apposite: each wave has its own uniqueness, whilst contributing to the creation of a continuous and permanent progression, infinite and universal, with the waves preceding and following it.
2.2 The ultimate spiritual sense: Atha, the channel for a fully responsible life and for transformation
The first Sutra of Pattanjali states: Atha-yoga-anusasanam. The words ’Now’ or ’Presence’ are attached to the spiritual idea born by the Sanskrit term Atha. By being fully present and by concentrating on and devoting oneself to – that is to say by putting all of our abilities and capacities (our body, energy, breath, mind, etc.) at the service of – each breath, each instant, each one of us takes his or her life into his or her own hands, assumes full responsibility and can achieve a heightened level of presence and can live his or her life more consciously and with greater awareness.
With each breath, each one of us creates the possibility of dissolving all of our subjective layers (Ego, mind, experience) that cover and conceal the Self, and of experiencing and witnessing the Self.
With each breath, each one of us breathes all the breaths of the Universe, of all living beings, whatever their form, morality or actions, who have existed up until the precise moment of such breath.
With each breath, each mother becomes the mother of all the world’s children, regardless of ties of blood or soil; all suffering becomes universal suffering.
By witnessing the Now, there no longer exists any conceptual limitation of Time. It becomes possible now to embrace all of Creation, to become one with the Universe, and our inner journeys and personal transformations can unfold.
2.3 The Dance of the Transcendental Now to the Self – From Emotions-Awareness to Self-Awareness
Even if Presence is the path to personal transformation, it should be acknowledged that human beings generally define themselves as temporal beings and reflect by referring to the past and the future. So let us try nonetheless to see if we cannot draw a useful conclusion from this.
In the context of a linear approach to anything, be it horizontal (walking along a tightrope)or vertical (climbing up a knotted rope), there is always a straight line, defined, delineated and correlated on the basis of the concepts of Time. There is also a moment before and after. This still implies an ability to organise Time on the part of Mind.
This horizontal or vertical approach is however of real interest at numerous levels, such as at the emotional level and in terms of awareness of life and community.
The past, memory, experience and emotions, even if they are supremely subjective, represent an incredibly rich source of imagination, knowledge, sensations, energy, stories, perceptions and intelligence. The future is a clean page to be covered with our writing, the bearer of hopes and dreams into and in which the mind may project itself, wander and confront, imagine and lose itself.
We have seen that witnessing the Now pre-supposes a detachment from any concept of Time (which is itself the result of our organisational ability, as explained above) and that in order to detach oneself from any concept of Time, one cannot remain within the context of a vertical or horizontal approach. Therefore the only approach that would appear to make it possible to witness the Now is a transcendental approach.
Transcending should be understood as transcending temporal concepts (the same applies for any spatial concept: there is also no more Space) and more generally as dissolving all that the Mind has constructed. Such transcendental movement is uncoupled from the structures of Time and Space: it is neither vertical nor horizontal, neither backward-looking nor forward-looking, neither above nor below, and has neither content nor structures capable of containing. All subjective concepts disappear; the experience of each moment, and the voyage through each layer of Consciousness occurs in a transcendental manner. There is no other way to experience the Self that is per se pure and incapable of change and therefore may not be experienced within the restrictive and paradoxical context of each subjective spatiotemporal concept, be it vertical or horizontal.
Whether one speaks of Emotional (subjective) awareness or Self-awareness, what is ultimately important is to grow. This process of reflection is only enriching if we all ask ourselves how we can transform ourselves, without any value judgements. Each experience can contribute to this process. Each one of our subjective movements can open a wider window into ourselves. Self-restriction can led to self-liberation; ’becoming’ can result in ’being’; ’conceptualising’ may conceal the purity of ’witnessing a state’.
It is like being a Yogini Yeti. With full presence in each breath, the practice of yoga is a fascinating journey for the Yogini, the ride of experiencing the whole of Creation, with all its imperfections, dysfunction, ugliness, as well its beauty and grace. The roller-coaster of the practice of Yoga merges with the roller-coaster of life and ultimately the whole of Creation, to be a celebration of light and grace on occasion and a journey of suffering at other times, when embracing the darkness and violence of Humanity.
This is the brightness and painful dance of spiritual growth and personal transformation.
Therefore although the word Presence is tired these days, it should not be forgotten how full of meaning this word can be, as summarised so well by Osho: ’You cannot go back, nor be in the future, only in the here and now. The present is the only time you have. Such a meaningful word, because it is all your life. Your are in the now, continuously, forever.’
Today, lying on my bed, I look at the London sky. It is raining that fine and bone-soaking rain that gives birth to introspection. Maybe one day, human beings will come to life with the unaffected and continuous ability to witness and experience the Self. What would the humanity be like in a realm free from subjectiveness, I-ness, Ego, the past, the future and Space? I close my eyes and think of that dream of a resplendent and pure world where harmony and divine gentleness enfold the Earth in their protective embrace.
It all started with the Super Show of the Now.
Words by Perrine du Chaffaut, Ashtanga Yoga practitoner, teacher, writer and translator.
Photography by Ola Rindal, photographer and motorcyclist based in Paris. Journalist Frédéric Bonnet wrote the following about Ola’s work: ’...The scenes captured by the photographer instill an ominous feeling that something has just happened, or is about to happen. Some sort of restrained violence endows the picture with efficient energy, even more so since the possibility – or probability – of a continuation we won’t ever know anything about instantaneously occurs. In Ola Rindal’s work the image, far from revealing its secrets, expresses itself with an uncertainty that eventually makes intensely present what is never represented.’ See more of Ola Rindals work here.