God in the Moment by Luther Askeland - Cross Currents Winter 1990


This being the case, how might we begin to explore whether, in what sense, and by what means, we could find "God in the moment? Clearly we shall have to reverse our habitual response to the moment itself: instead of fleeing it, we must face it. Here, too, we should recognize with Pascal that we "are floating in a medium of vast extent, always drifting uncertainly, blown to and fro." (Pensees,92) This means that we will not find a map of the way: there is, indeed, no "way," and our supposed maps do not exist in God or in the order of things but in our own heads. It also means that we cannot control this venture, for we do not understand it. We cannot explain how it happens that the world, or "God", or anything at all exists, just as we cannot explain how we can remember, from one moment to the next, our own names. It means that when any of us seeks to approach the moment, it is as if humankind were in this place for the first time. In this uncharted expanse we call the world, we can speak only provisionally and clumsily to one another of possible trails, resting places, obstacles, traps, feeding places and milestones we have found.


Our first move toward the god in the moment relates to the moment itself. We must enter that still place where we can dwell quietly and alone with the moment. Let us call it "grasping the fish in the flowing stream." To begin this work, we must abandon all those undertakings and preoccupations which have buried the moment itself. We will refuse to be "occupied" by regrets, pleasant memories, self-accusations, or futile reconstructions of what we should have said or done. We will no longer avoid the immediate reality of the present moment by reducing it to a mere foundation for the future. Thus our attention will not be diffused through the vast reaches of past and future time, but will instead be collected together, concentrated in that vanishing point which is now, right now. And we will not blot out this elusive right now with doings that are just "for the moment." Instead we will try to rest our awareness in the transparent presence of the moment itself.


As we succeed in penetrating the barriers that separate us from the moment itself - an achievement which, like all our successes, failures and very selves, is always only temporary - we will find ourselves changing in unexpected ways. As we dwell in the presence of the moment itself, our very sense and understanding of that mystery we call time can be transformed. Once we have brushed off the last particles of dust that cling to it, once we are in the presence of the pure moment itself, nothing remains that might distinguish this particular moment from any other. My own present moment and someone else's present moment five thousand years ago, are veiled and filled by different events and experiences, but in themselves they cannot be distinguished. Each is a pure presence, a mysterious "now".


Because the moments are identical in themselves, and we differentiate them only by reference to something else, that is, the "fill" that obscures them, there is no reason not to see the moments themselves as the same moment. ... We can simply go on and say that there is one single moment, a moment which abides and is eternal, a moment outside time through which, however, streams the motley, swiftly changing flow of individual events.


We have reached into the stream of time and found something changeless and abiding, and we have found it precisely by probing into that which we thought most fleeting: the moment itself.


What then can we say? We can only say, awkwardly, that when we have broken through all the particular coverings and so dwell, if only briefly, with the moment itself, we sense - but do not comprehend - a presence that cradles and somehow contains all these particulars. It is a silent, resting, transparent, imperishable center that can be reached at all places at all times. It is a presence of which it makes little sense to ask whether it is living or dead, whether it is a person or a thing. Because it is enduring and unfailingly the same, it extends unimpeded through infinite time, and I can, as it were, ride anywhere along its endless rails, visiting all "moments." It is that single moment in time - though we can no longer call it a moment or time - which is the innermost being of all times at all places. From English translations of Sanskrit, Chinese, Japanese, and other languages we have added to our vocabulary words like "thusness," "suchness," and "just-so-ness." These sounds, perhaps better than any other, evoke that mystery which becomes manifest when we reach the center of the moment itself.


To achieve this we must sweep aside all our particular memories, actions, experiences, dreams, and plans, thus clearing a path for ourselves to the moment itself, that eternal "now" in whose presence we quietly inhale and exhale the "just so".


Now we must extricate ourselves from all categories, structures and assumed familiarity - that is, from all the comprehension with which we have diminished and defaced the world.


This frontier area is no longer a familiar, transparent, named, mapped, describable world, a world our minds can grasp and encompass. Instead, we sense something edgeless, undefined, unnamed: now we are the ones who are encompassed and it is we who squirm in the grasp of the unknown.


But to enter into that point and so to pass through the eye of the needle, we must divest ourselves not only of our past and future, but of that now suddenly much less self-evident "knowledge" with which we have feigned to know our way around time and the world. We must, in other words, get rid of our "repertoire".


Our repertoire includes everything we say, think, or do which embodies our assumption - which, thought it comes to us naturally, is nevertheless astonishing and even comic to honest reflection - that we know where we are, that we have our bearings, that we have maps and calendars which enable us to know, if perhaps only roughly, the true contours of time and place and also to comprehend what transpires, and what we ourselves do, in time and place.


Our repertoire - all the ways in which we display and assert our imagined understanding of things - has two dominant means of expression. One of them is language, the medium for what we both think and say. Its names, definitions, categories, descriptions, explanations, narratives, images and analogies create a vast network, an apparent catalog and great mirror of reality; and when then use it we imagine, automatically and unreflectively, that we are thinking about, or talking about, the world. .... Our repertoire also includes a vast array of actions which seem to us to enact our understanding of the world and of what life is "about".


And what then is our own condition in this place which all our words only obscure? I said above that we must become a point of pure mystery before we can pass through the moment itself into that unthinkable element beyond place, time and name. After making the passage we shall continue to be just that point; we will in other words, neither return to our old repertoire nor acquire a new one. Yet we will be increasingly aware that this point, too, is nameless, unknown, without measure, and so is itself a great mystery. How in fact can we distinguish it, lacking contours and edges as it does, from the infinite? We can try, once again using negation, to indicate our transformed condition as follows: just as I am no longer in a world, a structured cosmos, so I no longer have anything like what I once thought of as " a life" or as " my life", that is, a personal history I create and accumulate, or pretend to create and accumulate, through time. Here all maps and all biographies disintegrate, and are swept away. In this place outside of all time and all knowledge, we will no longer feign to have a past, that is, a personal history we can narrate, a time during which we amassed and became what we "have" and "are".


We can say that "God" is simply that "something" in which we dwell when all our knowing, and all the fictitious embodiments and enactments of our knowing, have been burned up. ... But at a certain point this little egg-world - the cosmos, the universe, dharma, the way things are, that vast articulated web of things, other people, ourselves, the world, and God as we "know" them - becomes a prison.


Our usual dreams and conceptions of spiritual perfection are just the antitheses, the ghostly negatives, of our usual condition. For, ordinarily, if we put aside our busyness in order to take a look at ourselves, we see that we are dissatisfied, restive fragmented, torn, self-accusing: a scarcely real, quickly vanishing atom. Still living in the world of words and distinctions, we then conjure up the reverse image of ourselves, a condition in which we are joyful, at peace, whole, harmonious, immortal. In all this we are still enwrapped in the cocoon of our repertoire. We still imagine, in other words, that we can name and describe the world, ourselves, and our spiritual lives, only we now add to our repertoire world by adding to images of a perfect condition contrasting sharply with our present state. .... The transformation we experience when, leaving behind all our repertoires and passing through the pure moment itself, we flow out into the realm of God, cannot be thought or imagined ahead of time, for it can never be thought or imaged, not even when we are within it. We cannot apply to it words like salvation, liberation, or enlightenment, for these sounds have their home in the old repertoire world - they are just the shining obverse of the familiar coin of that realm. But now that entire world - and all the dualities of liberation and bondage, harmony and contradiction, salvation and perdition - is gone. What remains is the unimaginable world of God.


For we have silenced the world by feigning to name and comprehend it. With our chatter we have drowned out its mysterious and quickening voice. Thus, we have obliterated and so lost paradise - that is, our home, our friend by superimposing upon it the world. Further we have killed God, and then we have entombed God within our knowledge of God. In so doing, we have lost all contact with the god-world, that edgelessness in which even the sacred - and its opposite, the profane- are swallowed up, and so we are reduced to searching for the divine in limited, identifiable gods, persons, and things. Or else our sense of the sacred, severed from its root in the boundless, withers away altogether, and we are simply left with that awareness of an intrinsic flaw, an absence in the very marrow of the world and in our marrow, a sense of absence which then leads us to experience the moment itself, too, as an emptiness we must hurry to fill.