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Prior Moment?

Posted: December 29th, 2009, 5:39 pm
by Speculum
The following items are excerpts from a recent three-way email conversation among two friends of TZF and myself. As I did wih an earlier email exchange posted here, I like the direction this one has taken, and so I am posting it for others who may wish to participate. As always, I have removed names except for my own because anyone reading this presumably already knows my name ... which reminds me of a line I came across the other day, attributed to the Sufi teacher al-Bastami: "I have spent thirty years looking for Al-Bastami, and have yet to find him".


What if the “present moment” so prized by spiritual systems, has in fact already happened. What if the “journey” is to a point “forward and up” -- A point prior to “present moment”?


Briefly, here's my take.

Any moments in which I can observe “I am Stefan, and you aren't” are actually past moments, moments that have already happened by the time I make my observation, because the process of my observation takes time. Not much time, to be sure, but time nonetheless.

That is, a moment occurs, I notice it and think "I am me", and consider "I am me in this moment".

That separative process (the "I am me" thought) occurs after the moment itself, not during. Again, very shortly after, but after. And, of course, that process is followed by related thought processes, like wondering "How does this moment affect me" and what actions "Stefan" should take on the basis of the initial observation that I am me in this moment.

The distinction here is between thought and awareness.

Thought, which includes observation and reflection and the like, takes time, occurs in time; awareness does not.

The observation “We are us living in this moment” is produced by thought, and is not processed and expressed until the moment itself has occurred. The moment occurs, we notice it, we think about it. We might say that the observation "We are us living in this moment" is actually occurring in a later moment than the moment about which the observation is made.

Awareness, on the other hand, is instantaneous. Awareness is completely outside of time (and space). There is no “me” in awareness, no “Stefan”, and no “you”. There is simply “I”. In awareness, there is no reflection, no remembering, no considering. No thought.

Awareness is not even aware of being aware. It is simply aware.

Thus, for example, "I am Stefan, and I am aware" is not actually awareness. It is a thought about awareness.

The “now moment” talked about by so many spiritual traditions consists of awareness and nothing more, nothing beyond "I Am (Aware)". There is no "me" in the statement "I Am Aware". Aware is not something "I" am being (as opposed to being something else), it is simply what "I Am". I Am Awareness.

Likewise, unlike thought, awareness is infinite and eternal (no boundaries); but there is no reflected or considered awareness of infinity or eternity.

In other words, being here now is not the same thing as thinking about being here now, or even being reflectively aware of being here now.

So, yes, the spiritual journey is to a prior moment, to this very moment before the observation "I am Stefan in this moment".

That's something Stefan cannot do because there is no place in Awareness for Stefan, for any person or any thing (thus Nisargadatta: "There is no such thing as a person"). The Gospels Teacher put it nicely: "Where I am going, you cannot come". Not because it's a private club, but because there is no "me" there and no "you" there, only "I"!


I wonder about the "Prior Moment" premise. If the present moment is all there is and everything, including what seems to us to be "past," present," and "future," is taking place simultaneously in it now, how can there possibly be a "prior moment”?


It seems to me that any moment to which I relate separatively as "I am Stefan, and you're not" has to be distinguished in some way from the moment in which that separative perception is absent, the moment we might call the Original Moment, or simply Now.

After all, the two are identical, aren't they, except for the perception in one of them that "I am Stefan, and you're not", a perception that generates "me" and all the joy and pain that flows therefrom (so-called "my life").

But you're right, time (the word "prior") is probably not the proper distinction between them, because time itself is part of the separative perspective which generates the distinction.

Here was my point: Can I truly, personally experience a moment in the absence of "Stefan"? Can you truly experience a moment in the absence of "myself", without perceiving yourself as "myself", without any sense of "myself" anywhere at all, of I am me here experiencing that?

I don't think so. Stefan is everywhere I go, even in my dreams.

To be absent "Stefan" means transcending (if that's the right word) the separative perspective "I am Stefan, and you're not".

And that "Transcended Place" is "prior to" the perception "I am Stefan".

There there is no "Stefan".

I think that's the sense in which we are using the word "prior".

The "Transcended Place" is what the paths call "Here Now".

"Past" and "present" and "future" are absent in the "Here Now" moment. They are perceived in the separative reality ("I am Stefan, and you're not").

And that's because in the Here Now moment there is no time. Again, the Gospels Teacher says it nicely: "Before Abraham was, I am". Or, the query I suggest on TZF: "Before (insert your name here) was born, who am I?" or "After (insert your name here) is dead, who am I?" No past, no present, no future, only Now.

Transcended or Self-Realized or Christ-Realized or Buddha Nature (or whatever label you like, they are all synonymous) Teachers do not live in a separate reality.They are where we are, they see what we see, hear what we hear, and so on, but without the separative overlay through which we perceive and experience our selves and every thing separatively, an overlay which generates the illusion of boundaries among and between every one and every thing (including time: past, present, and future, and space: here and there).

That separative overlay placed upon Reality is the "I am me" thought, isn't it? That's what generates (or which is) my separative self-perception as "I am Stefan, and you're not", from which "Stefan's life" unfolds!

All that said, how's this for a seeker's new year's prayer the last days of December, "Dearest God, please lift the overlay that I may see absent me"?

Of course, that raises the question, which side of the overlay is "God" on!


Another demonstration of the fallibility of words. In this instance you've used a word (prior) with the intent that I should interpret it as you have explained; but you cannot "intend" for me, so I saw the literal futility of such a condition.

When I read the questions you ask, a "makes good sense" answer almost always pops up from my innards. This one "...which side of the overlay is `God' on!" it came just after my laughter subsided. It was, "He's on both sides and their dividing line, because `God' is All there Is!!!!"
Every day of my life, I've continuously bumped into "God" and mistaken "Him" for something else!


I love the idea that the observation "We are living in this moment" is actually occurring in a later moment than the moment about which the observation is made.

The point "prior" (yes, we struggle for words that can never be quite accurate) could be like a vast body of water with an opening over which flows a waterfall.

The point prior being the lake, and the basin into which the waterfall collects representing the concept of self.

The concept of “I am me, not you” is a membrane at best. But our discontent with what is behind the membrane generates effort and motion that hardens the membrane, so it is no longer a sieve.

In an effort to escape what lies behind the membrane (or in the basin) we seek material things, relationships and even spirituality. Vast industries exist to serve the discontent and motion toward creating a happier, better, more "enlightened" self.

So yes, there are rocks in the basin, representing internal 'undesirables' we perhaps wish to eradicate. In trying to fix them, could we be strengthening them?

If left alone, (not neglected or stuffed awa, but just left alone), the flow of the waterfall seeps through the membrane in direct contact with the rocks (undesirables). Now, no more conflict. Now the porous nature of the membrane is restored.

Life goes on on this level, since without a membrane of “I am me, not you” It could not. But no more separation from the lake itself, since the water is all One.


Yes! I really like your image: A sieve, designed to allow water to pass easily and effortlessly in both directions, becomes a barrier when hardened by "discontent" which, let's face it, is "effort and motion".

I remember reading somewhere that sharks must keep moving in order to stay alive. I think the same applies to the separative egoic perspective ("I am me, and you aren't").

Just so, virtually all the traditions agree that at the heart of a seeker's path is this: Be Still. Just stop thrashing about (at all levels) and be still.

I have long been convinced that infants and very young children live on both sides of the membrane or overlay or sieve simultaneously, and so are able to "see through" the membrane or overlay, or pass through the sieve, and that they do so spontaneously (that is, not "at will" for they yet have no individual or personal will -- they still don't "know" that "I am me, and you're not, I am here, not there"). In that not-knowing position, they are still free.

Their awareness wanders back and forth from one side of the membrane or overlay or sieve to the other, without thought, for no reason at all, just because it can.

And I am convinced all of us have what it takes (or, better, are what it takes) to do the same.

But we lose the ability to do so when we are convinced in childhood by those who otherwise mean well (our parents, physicians, politicians, preachers) that doing so is abnormal, unhealthy, illegal or, God help us, sinful. Told to "Stop it!" often enough, eventually we do so, until a Teacher ... in person or print or dreams or whatever ... reminds us that it is not only okay but normal, natural, and appropriate.

And so, at Self-Realization, that ability is restored, and once again we recognize that we (actually, at that moment it is "I", for there there really is no "we") reside on both sides of the membrane or overlay or sieve at the same time and have always done so ... and am meant to do so.

Just so, my question, "...which side of the overlay is 'God' on?" elicited the response,"He's on both sides and their dividing line, because `God' is All There Is!"

Here, hopefully with your permission, I repeat a few lines from TZF which seem relevant to this discussion:

In a way, a Self-Realized Teacher's relationship with a seeker is like a parent coming home to find the children all over everything playing cowboys and indians (or whatever it is kids play these days). "Howdy, ma'am," a six year old on a broom horse offers, "you'd best take cover behind this here turned over wagon, as we're expecting an attack from them varmints any minute now." The turned over wagon, of course, is a brand new coffee table, now upside down against the couch, and "them varmints" are none other than the neighbor's twins, now upstairs in the bedroom, putting on war paint at mother's make-up table! Two different worlds seemingly occupying the same space and time. But the key difference is that, while the children, overwhelmed by their imagination, can see only one of the realities, the wild west, the parent can see both, for the parent has been where the children now are (the parent too was young once, after all, and played the same games). So, the parent can speak to the children from the "real world" in real world terms ("Don't forget you've all got homework to do"), and in their world terms ("Heap good war dance, varmit"), and can even mix the two ("Put a scratch on that coffee table, cowboy, and it's boot hill for you!"), all the while never losing track of precisely who he or she is, who the children are, and where all of this is actually happening.



Found this in Sufi literature this morning: "... good and bad, sweet and bitter, come from God."

If this insight can penetrate the sieve, then the sieve can loosen up, regain flexibility, the state of the child so beautifully pointed out. Division leads to demands, and demands harden the sieve.


Re: Prior Moment?

Posted: January 2nd, 2010, 8:23 pm
by W4TVQ
Approaching this issue frm the standpoint of current scientific knowlege, one arrives at pretty much the same conclusion. Once old Albert got through with his equations, such concepts as "time," "space" and "eternity" ceased to have any content whatever. One might say that "E-MC2" is the rational (and even spiritual) equivalent of the Hebrew Eheieh Asher Eheieh, which is translated as I AM THAT I AM. In a similar vein, the Laws of Thermodynamics simply re-state and confirm what was written: "I am the Lord, I change not."

So in the universe that science presents to us there cannot be "future" ior "past," because all events in the space-time continuum are simultaneous. Lately it has been proposed, and I think demonstrated, that an event at the sub-atomic (quantum) level on"this side" of the universe can and does have an effect on the "other side" of the universe, in the absolute absence of any factor linking the two events. Ergo: space does not exist either.

ACIM also proposes this, teaching that we "see" only the past, and that our goal in seeking enlightenment is to "see" the present moment instead. Because the present moment is all there is.

so why do we perceive "time" and "space" -- because, clearly, we do so perceive, and behave as if such things were indeed facts which modify our behavior?

Who knows? But i suspect that it is the "props" or "scenery" of a play that God wrote, produced and is directing, in which we are the players, and the outcome is simply to transcend the play and unite with the director in the knowledge that none of it ever relly happened. "I am as God created me."

And perhaps we discuss these things and debate them and ponder them so the mind will be sufficiently "boggled" to let them go and simply BE.

Jai Ram

Re: Prior Moment?

Posted: January 4th, 2010, 8:36 pm
by Speculum
Very nice. At the risk of getting caught inside a revolving door, I am sending your post to the two correspondents with whom this email conversation began. No personal data.

As you know, I thoroughly agree that science and religion are talking about the same thing, and when approached with an open mind, saying the same things about it, just differently. And ditto the scriptures of all the great traditions. If there is no God but God, and God is All There Is, then it is inescapably all the Self talking to the Self about the Self, there being no thing else to talk to or about. My experience has been that to see it that way, all that is necessary is a willingness to see it that way. At first, the reluctance is based in habit and fear. Habit because it is always easier continuing to do what we have always been doing than to do new things differently, and fear because if "God is all there is" then who and where and what is "me".

Why do we “discuss these things and debate them and ponder them”? You're right. We perceive ourselves as being (the "sum" in Descartes' "cogito ergo sum", although we don't really become aware of "sum" until we stop the "cogito" and learn to be still), and we are moved to discover what it means.

I still think that infants are born with an innate skill to shift their awareness from one side to another of the sieve or veil or what I have called “the prism effect” or whatever. But they probably don't know that they can do so, because they don't know that they are doing so. I mean, they still don't even know that they are. Then they lose the ability (are scolded and preached out of it?), and spend the rest of their life seeking to restore it.

Trying to make sense of it at all is probably the root of our problem, if we have a problem. In the end, no reason is reason enough.

Re: Prior Moment?

Posted: January 5th, 2010, 7:14 pm
by W4TVQ
Then they lose the ability (are scolded and preached out of it?), and spend the rest of their life seeking to restore it.
This puts me in mind of a story I head, presumably true, concerning the arrival at home of a new infant, a home in which there was already a 3-year-old. Late the firt night, the parents heard stealthy footsteps in the hall, and went to find their 3-year-old standing by the newborn's crib. She was saying, "Tell me about God. I'm already starting to forget."

Babies know more than we suspect. They just aren't telling ...or perhaps they are, and we don't know how to listen.

Jai Ram

Re: Prior Moment?

Posted: January 5th, 2010, 8:20 pm
by Ihavesayso
How would we entertain (amuse) ourselves, if we knew all the answers to the reason(s) for "everything?" My finite mind pictures such a "state of being" (Infinity) as eternal boredom; hence the reason(s) for all that "seems to be," was, is, and will be, to alleviate that boredom, forever!

Keeping in mind that "still" means, among other definitions, "motionless," it follows, that if there is no motion, as the great mathematician said, "nothing happens," to which I add, "including sound(s);" therefore, our prayers cannot possibly motivate "God," but they may motivate us to "get quiet enough, so that when we listen intently, we can accurately, decipher, what the mystics have always called "...The Still, Small Voice," is actually saying.

One of the blights of civilization, is the constant continuum of uncontrollable "blare." On top of that, finding silence discomforting, some add additional blockage, by always turning on radios, televisions, MP3players, I Pods, and other electronic devices, during waking hours, that squelch the Source's Voice.

Is it not amazing then, that if ever they experience a quiet, contemplative moment, they wonder, "Is this all there is?

Re: Prior Moment?

Posted: January 6th, 2010, 11:53 pm
by phyllis
I have been absent for a long time, due to family issues. I am glad to revisit. This is a good conversation. ihavesayso is correct about silence being disturbing to so many people. Have you noticed how uncomfortable we become during silent moments in conversations? Rather than just let the silence reign, we feel that we have to fill the silent space with noise, so we say anything. I have read of monasteries where monks and nuns live in silence, but I wonder if their minds are silent? For me, that is the hardest part.

Re: Prior Moment?

Posted: January 7th, 2010, 11:43 am
by Ihavesayso
Excellent point, Phyllis, about the mind ever being silent! Just yesterday evening, after preparing supper, I had some time to sit in the silence (my lady was not at home) and when I did, I noticed that my mind (ego) was rapidly flitting from thought to thought, about mundane happenings of no concern to me whatever! Then, when I commanded it to "be still," I promptly fell asleep!

It seems that my "mind" has a mind of its own!

Re: Prior Moment?

Posted: January 7th, 2010, 10:24 pm
by Georg
I agree with everything said here.

Regarding silence:

Physical silence is neither a necessity for the silence of the mind nor will it work invariably, but usually it helps.

"Flitting from thought to thought" is the nature of the mind - so no reason to be worried.

In the dialogues of "Contemplative Retreat", Franz Jalics explains a lot of what happens in silence -
I recommend this book because of the preciseness of the observations and the richness of the explanations.
I could verify enough of this on my own to be sure everything is valid.

Just a few of them here:

- Not thoughts coming and going, but the clinging to them is "the problem".
"The problem" about it is simply that it is a waste of energy.
Life goes on just as well and even better without the clinging.

- Clinging to thoughts is an effect of negative feelings that we block.
These feelings being present in the subconscious are the motor of unnecessary thoughts.
It's like mind circling endlessly, trying to avoid something happening that resembles a past traumatic situation -
which is futile because it can't.

- Silence allows these negative feelings to come to surface.
They can express as a flood of thoughts or as a bodily experience (like muscle tension or pain).
Once accepted consciously, they will go away forever.
This act of acceptance however, is nothing that can be made by "me".
It is an act of redemption or salvation that happens as a result of surrender.
Surrender includes admitting that this "me" cannot do or change anything about the current situation.

- Pain that arises from negative feelings can be distinguished from pain that may arise from sitting:
If the pain does not last after one ends the meditation, it was one from negative feelings.

- The sum of all these feelings like a dark shell encloses an inner core which is pure light
(and I would add: this dark shell is the "me").
The dark shell was created when growing up as an armor to this inner core which is ultimately alive and ultimately vulnerable
(think of a tree: in the leafs it exposes it's most living parts without having anything to defend them -
we often resemble an old tree, where the hard but dead parts have "survived").

- Silence and awareness will dissolve this shell.
Half an hour of silence a day certainly will leave traces in your life, one hour of silence a day will change it.

- Never worry about not perceiving progress: Every step on the path is worth it.
There is no room for being proud of progress: the longer one is on the path the more
it will feel like being the first step (this is Zen "beginner's mind").

The fruits may come unexpectedly.
It may appear like an invisible force arranging an easy life for you.

An example: I am about to engage in an argument with my wife.
Suddenly I recognize the old mechanisms that are at work - it is just not possible to go down these lines anymore.
I start to laugh at the absurdity of the situation.
She recognizes in my attitude that this is not another kind of offense.
It is over before it began ...

Another example: I am severely hurt by somebody saying something to me.
I recognize this feeling, which enables me not to react immediately in a wrong fashion.
I let the feeling be there. It will heal. Nothing will be left from it.
(Of course, ultimately with no "me" there is little that can be said hurting that which does not exist).

Re: Prior Moment?

Posted: January 10th, 2010, 3:56 pm
by Speculum
Physical silence is neither a necessity for the silence of the mind nor will it work invariably, but usually it helps.
Well said.

The reality each of us lives in (“my life”) is a metaphor, and so is what each of us calls “me”. The scriptures of all the traditions are metaphors. Everything we perceive is a metaphor.

None of us is able really to see or perceive what is. What we perceive is “as if”. Metaphors.

A metaphor is a manner of speaking in which a characteristic or meaning which would not ordinarily apply to a thing is assigned to it in order to suggest another meaning. Thus, in a heavy rainstorm, we say “it’s raining cats and dogs” when, of course, it really isn’t, or of a person we don’t like, we might say “he’s a rat”.

The thing about metaphors is that in order to “get them”, you have to silence the mind for an instant. We have to be listening in order to hear a metaphor, process it, and get it.

And in order to listen, we have to be silent.

We say, “silence is golden”. That too is a metaphor, but a really good one.

Psalm 46 says, “be still and know I am God”. As I read it, that line is a tautology (is that the right word?): “Be Still” equals, or is the same thing as, “Know I Am God”.

(Tangential question: Is it possible to argue with a silent mind? Without thoughts actively racing back and forth, is it possible to pick sides?)

Speaking of metaphors, here are a few lines I wrote on TZF a dozen years ago:
"God speaks in metaphors to men." Qur'an, 24:37 (trans. N. J. Dawood, Penquin) Notice there are no qualifiers, no "usually," "sometimes," "mostly." Just, God speaks in metaphors. Thus, this is offered as the answer to the question everyone of us asks from time to time: How does God speak to mankind? And the answer is, In metaphors. Of course, it must be true. After all, clearly God cannot speak other than the Truth, and the Truth cannot be spoken (cf. Lao Tzu among numberless others). (Who said, "I never spoke the Truth in all my life"?) So, if what you and I each call "my life" (the world, reality) is ultimately the One being that (What else can it be, the One being Infinite, and there being no thing else but the One?), then our lives too must be metaphors.

Re: Prior Moment?

Posted: January 10th, 2010, 10:59 pm
by Ihavesayso
Stefan said, "After all, clearly God cannot speak other than the Truth, and the Truth cannot be spoken..." which I will finish by adding, men!
On top of that, they (mankind) cannot hear the truth either, or if they do, they don't heed it, or the human race would not be in the (apparent) "mess" it is in!

"What is Divinity...if it is not "fudge?" - Arlo R. Hansen, 1928 - ?

Re: Prior Moment?

Posted: January 11th, 2010, 2:27 am
by Speculum
Consider this. Driving in the city today, Anna and I commented upon the fact that virtually all of the drivers on the road seemed to be obeying the law (more or less), respecting each other’s space, responding appropriately to each others’ turn signals and stop lights, and so on. In other words, behaving in a more or less civilized, considerate, and conscious manner as regards one another. And yet, according to the newspaper and television reports, once outside their automobiles, these very same drivers treat one another with all manner of rudeness, inconsideration, rudeness, even violence. Gangsters, terrorists, kidnappers, bank robbers, spouse beaters, adulterers, and all sorts of other ne’er-do-wells all stop at red lights, keep in the proper lane, respect the right of way, and keep to the posted speed limit (again, more or less). Until they get out of their car.

What does that say about us as a species? That when we want to do so, when it serves us to do so, we can behave properly.

If so, then shall we conclude that when we behave improperly, we do so consciously and intentionally, that “insanity pleas” or “the devil made me do it” excuses are self-serving nonsense?

Anyway, just a thought. Forgive me for, uh, getting out of lane and interrupting the thread.

Drivers behaving ...

Posted: January 11th, 2010, 7:12 pm
by Georg
... but not the blues brothers - they were on a mission from god ;-)

There seem to be quite a few movies that are consumed as a counterweight to all this behaving ;-)

This reminds me of another Anthony de Mello quote:
"Life is like a car. Instead of driving it, people lay down in front of it and then complain why it rolls over them."

Or another one of which I can't remember the source:
"If you drive a car, your reactions are mostly coming from the subconscious - they are intuitively right and you can even concentrate on other things.
The same will happen if a life is lived out of contemplation - the reactions of the seeming person will be spontaneously and effortlessly right."