Even the articulation of “the present” – what A Course in Miracles calls the holy instant – is a concept, because both perception and conception require time. Whatever the present is – even if if is – it is obscured entirely by perception and concept.
And if we are honest, most of us, we will see that we are always perceiving and conceiving, and giving attention to what is perceived and conceived, and trying to shape this welter into some desirable spiritual insight or state. We are always thinking, and taking thought seriously, as if it were reality itself.
Thus, I write by the window and a chickadee rests on the snowy oak tree by the fence. It is a kind of loveliness and light to me; a harbinger of the holy instant, the now, but in fact it is none of that. It’s just another image, and just another response, no different than the countless others which I experience as “my” life.
What do I mean by this? I mean I identify the chickadees as this kind of bird and not another. I tap into a host of past associations – ideas, feelings, pictures – and choose those which manifest my special relationship with chickadees. This happens blindingly fast, of course, but it happens in time – it is important to see this and not deny it. It is many things as a result, but it is not the present.
The operation of our subjective experience necessarily renders the present a concept which we subsequently try to plaster onto this or that experience. This can be a very subtle movement but it is still a movement. We aren’t bad people or unserious people – we are simply trapped in the mind’s split which forces us into the subject/object paradigm. It’s not a crime; but it’s not very helpful either.
The old Zen master Huang Po said that mind cannot be reached by mind. The very act of trying – the very search itself – becomes the obstacle. We are dogs chasing our tails. Try to find the present – try to find your real self – and you are instantly precluded from both.
What is to be done then when doing anything at all is an impediment? I have no answer to this, of course. You can’t talk your way out of a paradox. “Mind cannot be reached by mind.” In my experience of A Course in Miracles, a relatively diligent study and application of the daily lessons brings one to this essential paradox of dualism – the gateless barrier – which, in a funny way, is sort of the beginning.
A sort of beginning in which a sort of equilibrium is called for, in which one is no longer trying to be “light” and “love,” nor “emptiness” or “egoless” nor any point in between. How one arrives at this balance is personal and intimate, reflecting the nothing-to-be-done-that-only-you-can-do, to paraphrase Tara Singh.
And really, to say this much is to say too much, but to say less would not necessarily be any better. Virtue and its opposite are apparently boundless. There is a chickadee on the oak tree, there is a storm that is not a storm, and there is a breath drawn that draws us, drawing drawing, and so forth.