Perhaps the best way to gain such an experience as time ceasing to exist 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, but when it leaves, you know beyond doubt that you have lost the now.
The secret of ecstasy is that you have to throw it away once you’ve found it. Only by walking away can you experience the present moment again, the place where presence lives. Awareness is in the now when it knows itself. 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. You cannot hunt it down, chase after it, command it, or persuade it to come to you. Your personal charms are useless here, and so are your thoughts and insights.
Sobriety begins by realizing, in all seriousness, that you have to throw away almost every strategy that you’ve been using to get what you want.
Adapted from The Book of Secrets, by Deepak Chopra (Harmony Books, 2004).