Much is made in Yoga of turning inward and being in the present moment. This is an idea which causes some confusion in students for several reasons. To begin with, they generally do not understand consciousness or time.
Time is, of course, very real to us and we divide it up into the past, present, and future. However, the past is gone. It cannot be altered or touched by us. The future has not happened yet so we are not in touch with that either. This leaves the present and the very real, to us, solid world which surrounds us.
We know a table is there in the present because it has mass and we can touch it. The existence of the present is proven to us, very convincingly, by sense experience indicating the presence of an external material world.
However, the certainty of all that fades upon closer examination. Matter has been proven to be a different form of energy composed mostly of empty space and time is not so definite as it once appeared to be either.
If we see a child riding a bicycle down the street or reach out and touch a tree or have any sensory experience involving the world out there, out there, we must admit, that according to the rules of the material world, this takes time. But wait a minute. That idea has important ramifications.
Whether it is light reaching our eyes or impulses from our finger tips resulting from having touched a table; any signal from the external world must travel through our nervous system, and go through a complex series of chemical reactions before it is finally processed by the brain. Therefore any comprehension of the world we are experiencing in the so called now is actually in the past.
The immediate past, to be sure, but the past nevertheless. Our sense experience is not in the present at all, it is a record of the near past. Furthermore, since quantum physics tells us that the very act of observing something changes it, so there is yet a further level of separation beyond that.
The main thing to recognize here is that we are not capable of sensing the external world in the present, not even in principle. It always exists a moment in the past and a moment in the future. The only place NOW exists is in your consciousness, which should tell us that something is not quite right with our picture of the world. We are like cosmic surfers caught between two immense waves: one in the past and one in the future .
Buddhism and Hinduism have long taken the position that the world is an illusion: Maya. This is an idea which is at odds with western materialistic thinking, but, from a psychological point of view, at least, there is little doubt that it is true.
Our personal perception of the world is our own reality, irrespective of whatever is actually out there, out there. That is where we live.
Even if we accepted the materialistic western viewpoint it is now known that we distort the information that is coming to us. We filter the information coming to the brain according to our expectations and beliefs to such a degree that it profoundly affects our perception of whatever is out there, out there.
Our experiences can change our brain and body, and the manner in which we perceive further experiences. For example, if an individual has a bad experience with a snake it is recorded into memory. Then the next time a similar experience starts to unfold the brain does not wait for all the information to come in before springing into action. The brain fills in details it presumes are going to be there and proceeds on a course of action immediately rather than waiting for the remaining information to arrive.
Hormones flow, muscles snap into reflex action and the individual having the experience the second time is liable to jump several feet backwards before realizing there is no snake there at all, only a stick or a piece of rope.
Nevertheless, it must be understood that for a moment, the individual did actually see a snake just as hunters accidentally mistaking another hunter for some animal actually see that animal. Nor is this phenomenon limited to perceptions of physical objects or does it have to be short lived. The misperceptions can persist, for days, years, or a lifetime.
Situations can be misunderstood, not because of any lack of evidence or information concerning them but, again, because of our own beliefs and expectations. Prejudice is an example of this. That term is ordinarily associated with bigotry, however, it is by no means limited to this. It extends to every area of thought and undertaking.
A person may be prejudiced against members of a certain race or social group. In that case his reality about those people is being determined by his beliefs and expectations, not by anything which is occurring. Likewise an individual may hold certain feelings about an object or a way of doing things. He may believe the car he owns is superior to all other cars in the face of all evidence to the contrary. He may believe that his way of doing things is the beginning and end, again in the face of all evidence to the contrary, and that becomes his reality.
In fact, people believe all sorts of things and for the most part they generally do not have any very good reason for it. Belief is like that. It relieves us from the necessity of having to think about these things, which, in turn brings us back to the hole which exists between the past which is gone and beyond reach, the future which has not yet occurred and is the present which exists only in our own minds.
Most people do not care to deal with that hole, the gap between past and future, and consequently invent and indulge in all sorts of behaviors which numb their brains and distract them from examining it.
The entire purpose of yoga postures is to facilitate meditation so that we can bridge that gap between the past and the future and reach an awareness of the present moment, to be here, now.
This is not an idle pursuit. It is only in the present that we have any power, and only in the present that we may get in touch with the inner self and, again,there is a reason for this which has been explained by all the major religious faiths of the world in one way or another.
The explanation which Jesus gave is as simple as any. He said that the kingdom of heaven lies within.
It is not in some other place you go to. It is in you. To begin to access it, you must be present and this is generally not an easy process for most of us. It usually requires outside help and that we be willing to help each other.
It is that unity which brings us together in convocation tonight.
Those of you who have followed the articles and news releases from the Himalayan Institute in Joyful Living Magazine will know about the continuous year long meditation occurring there whose purpose is to radiate healing energy into the world.
We have never been able to undertake anything of that scope or duration here, but we have always conducted Circle Meditations here for exactly the same reason.
When we project certain thoughts a condition is established around us which attracts a kind of energy sometimes called grace.
Thusly assembled in this lodge room we are infused with that power and are hence capable of projecting an energy into the world of vastly greater strength than anything we could possibly accomplish separately.
What you think and how you love does matter. If enough of these circles could be established and maintained the appalling conditions which exist in the world around us could not persist for a single day.
For as George Lucas has said: “The darkness has one great weakness. It can be dispelled by the light of a single candle.”
Let us now take a few breaths, center ourselves, and then join together to radiate peace, love, joy and healing into the world.