Discovering the Liberating Nature of All Experience

The greatest freedom.

For a moment, I invite you to feel what we call the present moment, that point in time that exists in neither the past nor the future but right now. Feel that point. And as you do, notice how the point of now has no findable beginning; it’s just here without anything leading up to it. The moment contains no past, no before.

Now, notice that what we think of as the “present moment,” the now, has no duration. See the way in which what appears experientially disappears the very instant it arises. This ever-changing nature of experience is what we’re always feeling, the constant morphing of what we call now.

It turns out that there isn’t actually a fixed, bounded point in time that we can locate and call “the present moment” for what’s here doesn’t hold still, even for a nanosecond. While we talk about there being a discrete and findable point called now, what we think of and describe as the present moment has no actual duration; its appearance is quite literally its disappearance.

Our ability to characterize the moments of our life essentially rests upon this assumption that there are fixed things that are somehow holding still long enough to be recognized and named. If I were to ask you to put the current moment into words, you’d undoubtedly find at least some language to do so. But really have a careful look at what you’re calling the moment and tell me: what is it that you’re seeing or feeling right now? Notice that what you’re looking at that you’re calling the momentis literally changing into something else as you’re looking! Even what you might call “looking” is itself changing into something else as you look.

This is what we can discover through this kind of inquiry, the impossibility of really being able to pin anything down definitionally. Feel this, the way in which the moment is beyond the reach of concepts and language owing to its ever-transforming nature.

An image I like to use to illustrate all of this is a flower that’s forever blooming. It seems that flowers open and then assume some particular fixed form or shape. But because of its dynamic nature, the flower’s opening doesn’t ever hold still long enough for us to determine its shape. What we call a flower is really more like a constant flowering.

Feel this, the endless opening into something else, the ceaseless flow of life. Appreciate how there are no fixed forms but only this constant transforming. What appears is transfiguring itself in every instant.

To be sure, we imagine that we can define things. But that which we think we’ve succeeded at defining has vanished before the conceptual label can even be applied. Very much like my example of the ever-unfolding flower, what we think of as the moment doesn’t actually linger for any time at all and hence, assumes no particular, identifiable form. It’s like looking at a cloud in the sky. It can appear to take on a certain shape. But if we’re actually with it in real time, it becomes quite clear that the cloud is a complete shape-shifter. You can’t say what the shape of the cloud is for it’s always on the move. Every momentary experience is just like this.

The implications of this are both profound and practical for the very things we’ve imagined to be problems turn out to not be things at all. Yes, what we think of as our experiences and circumstances can seem to be problematic, out of alignment, lacking, confusing, entrapping and so on. We can experience such things as a sense of limitation, feelings of separation and incompleteness or the belief we are somehow not aware or awake enough. But all those things we imagine are happening and that we subsequently think we have to free ourselves from are not actually there. They’re not findable, for when we go to identify what we’re calling limitation, lack, separation and so on, we discover their cloud-like nature, the fact that it’s impossible to pin anything down as being any particular way. In other words, phenomena lie beyond the reach of all definitions and descriptions. And that discovery is the discovery of freedom—freedom from language and all its seeming implications.

We tend to think of liberation as freeing ourselves from bondage. But the deepest freedom is realized by coming to see that neither bondage nor the one presumed to be bound can be found. This is the great freedom, the freedom from all ideas that seem to suggest lack and limitation and bondage.

To be sure, this fundamental unresolvability/unfindability can show up as moments we describe as suffering and entrapment as well as those we characterize as freedom and openness and joy. But the thing to see is that what we call the moment never becomes something fixed or knowable because this reality that is, by nature infinite, never collapses into anything finite. While reality can appear to take shape as these finite, fixed forms, it never really comes into form owing to its relentless dynamism.

Whatever form reality seems to have assumed has in the next instant, become something else. In the Zen tradition they speak about the unborn. What I’m pointing to in this inquiry is, I believe, precisely what that term is referring to, the fact that reality is fundamentally unborn in the sense of it never really coming into existence.

Infinity—forever being itself, appearing to become limited, but never actually assuming any fixed, identifiable, limited form.

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