The present moment is really an opening, so it has no duration–you are in the now when time ceases to exist. Perhaps the best way to gain such an experience is to realize that the word present is linked to the word presence. When the present moment becomes filled with a presence that is all-absorbing, completely at peace, and totally satisfying, you are in the now.
Presence isn’t an experience. Presence is felt whenever awareness is open enough. The situation at hand doesn’t have to bear any responsibility. Paradoxically, someone can be in intense pain, only to find that in the middle of his suffering, the mind – unable to tolerate the body’s torment – suddenly decides to abandon it. This is particularly true of psychological pain – soldiers caught in the terror of battle report a moment of liberation when intense stress is replaced by a rush of ecstatic release.
Ecstasy changes everything. The body is no longer heavy and slow; the mind stops experiencing its background music of sadness and fear. There is a dropping away of personality, replaced by the sweetness of nectar. This sweetness can linger a long time in the heart – some people say it can be tasted like honey in the mouth – but when it leaves, you know beyond doubt that you have lost the now.
In the mind’s scrapbook, you can insert a picture of perfect bliss, and that becomes like the first taste of ice cream, an unattainable goal you keep running after, only to find that ecstasy remains out of reach.
The secret of ecstasy is that you have to throw it away once you’ve found it.
If we take away the vocabulary of sweetness and bliss and nectar, the quality that is missing in most people’s lives, the biggest thing that keeps them from being present, is sobriety. You have to be sober before you can be ecstatic. This isn’t a paradox. What you’re hunting for – call it presence, the now, or ecstasy – is totally out of reach.
Adapted from The Book of Secrets, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2004).