Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

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PeterB
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Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by PeterB » Tue Jan 25, 2011 12:18 pm

It is a common experience for anyone attempting to meditate that the mind ( manas) avoids the present moment,.
The mind will happily remember past events. It will gladly fantasise about the future...either with anticipation or in fear.
It will wallow in guilt or resentment about things that are gone. It will try to experience again pleasurable experiences from the past.
It will plan. It will speculate...
But it will avoid the present. The present is not attractive to the mind.
Why should this be ?
I think that in part it is because it has no control over the present.
The mind can control the past by recalling it..even by recalling it in a way that has no bearing of the reality of what occured.
By planning or anticipating the future the mind can convince itself that it can control what will happen,
But the present does what it will do. Here it is now. Raw and present. The mind skids off it and retreats to the past or future.
Now this is a problem, because it is only in the present that Insight can arise. It can never arise in the past or future. Only now...
So much meditation practice consists of letting the mind experience the present through the use of various means..the breath or" Buddho" for example. And it, the mind will wriggle and mutter and attempt to be anywhere else than the present...
We are told frequently that clinging or attachment is the enemy of mindfulness, and so it is. But the mind has its reasons for clinging.It always clings to the past or to an idea of the future... in order to avoid the present moment..that which it cannot control. The "thing" that is clung to is simply the means to avoid the present.

meindzai
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by meindzai » Tue Jan 25, 2011 4:45 pm

PeterB wrote:It is a common experience for anyone attempting to meditate that the mind ( manas) avoids the present moment,.
The mind will happily remember past events. It will gladly fantasise about the future...either with anticipation or in fear.
It will wallow in guilt or resentment about things that are gone. It will try to experience again pleasurable experiences from the past.
It will plan. It will speculate...
But it will avoid the present. The present is not attractive to the mind.
Why should this be ?
I think that in part it is because it has no control over the present.
The mind can control the past by recalling it..even by recalling it in a way that has no bearing of the reality of what occured.
By planning or anticipating the future the mind can convince itself that it can control what will happen,
But the present does what it will do. Here it is now. Raw and present. The mind skids off it and retreats to the past or future.
Now this is a problem, because it is only in the present that Insight can arise. It can never arise in the past or future. Only now...
So much meditation practice consists of letting the mind experience the present through the use of various means..the breath or" Buddho" for example. And it, the mind will wriggle and mutter and attempt to be anywhere else than the present...
We are told frequently that clinging or attachment is the enemy of mindfulness, and so it is. But the mind has its reasons for clinging.It always clings to the past or to an idea of the future... in order to avoid the present moment..that which it cannot control. The "thing" that is clung to is simply the means to avoid the present.

It's one of those survival thingies, I'm pretty sure. Part of our evolutionary "achievement" which some have called "time-binding." At least this is an explanation which really works well for me. And believe it or not it was one of the things I learned from Alan Watts. :tongue:

Plants are "energy binders." They don't move much. They sit there, collect energy, and grow.

Animals are "space binders." They tend not to have anxieties about the past and future much (leading some to conclude "my cat is a great zen master!") but they have an alertness about the space around them as part of their survival strategy. They are always ready for something to come around the corner either to eat or to eat them.

Humans though have developed the ability to predict the future. Not in a psychic way at all, simply the ability to look at past events and predict future ones. When the sun goes down, we know it'll be that way for awhile and it will be dark, but eventually it will come back up and we can leave the cave. Or when the needle on my car goes down to E can predict I will run out of gas unless I fuel up.

I think each of these little scenarios have a degree of stress connected with them, which we know is related to some sort of craving or aversion. You already knew that craving was the answer to your question, I'm sure. But it is helpful to look a little bit about why are minds are somewhere else in space and time when we are trying to be "here and now."

Some people think that the Buddha advocated against planning, thinking, remembering, or any such thing. That he advised us to always be in the present moment, and never think about the past, never think about the future, just sit around and bliss out in some state of eternal-nowness (another Alan Wattsism).

But this too would be dangerous and unskillful. He specifically advised Rahulato reflect on the skillfulness of actions he was 1) about to do 2) doing presently 3) had done in the past.

It was also his recollection of past lives, (certainly not the present moment) and his observation of other beings taking rebirth in the various realms that let him figure out that beings were born on account of their craving. Had he simply got stuck in the "present moment" he would never have seen these things.

I guess my point is that there are perfectly good reasons to think about past and future, though our normal everyday anxiety about such events is the extreme that we are trying to get away from in meditation. What the Buddha advocated was mindfulness, thinking in an intentional way about past and future. The thing that is hard to learn is to drop that anxiety because we often think we need it to get by. Turns out that if you just stop worrying about ever darn thing that you will still be ok. I think this requires faith (saddha) which is a much overlooked aspect of practice.

In fact I could answer by saying that a big reason this happens is that we have no faith, but that would upset the "Don't turn Buddhism into Christianity" people, so I will not say it. :)

-M

PeterB
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by PeterB » Tue Jan 25, 2011 5:14 pm

Nothing wrong with planning...there was a time a few decades ago when people who were interested in Buddhism would get hold of the wrong end of the stick and frown on planning...planning was seen as unDhammic.
It isnt of course. The fact is we can only plan in the present anyway..there is no actual choice. The result was lots of chaotic events and wasted time.
As you will have realised what I was addressing is the propensity we have not to be able to be in the present even when we choose to be...
Our minds are wonderful servants and bad masters as genkaku says. The job of our mind is to process stuff, whether from the past or to plan the future. And as it cant process the present, our mind is redundant at that moment...so it goes veering off to yesterday or tomorow.
even on retreat we can find ourselves thinking of the previous retreat or next one.....when it comes to Vipassana we need to develop a way to let the mind rest in the moment....we can plan later.

alan
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by alan » Tue Jan 25, 2011 6:11 pm

Brings to mind another good Thanissaro essay.http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ening.html

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cooran
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by cooran » Tue Jan 25, 2011 6:34 pm

Hello all,

Most of the rubbish going on in our thoughts is not planning for the future or reflecting wisely on the past.

It is fantasising (mostly unwholesome) and craving about the most important person in the world …. Me.

A comparison would be to see the mind as a radio, which has dozens and dozens of stations running continuously 24 hours a day,
and they are all about the world’s most fascinating subject … Me.

with metta
Chris
---The trouble is that you think you have time---
---Worry is the Interest, paid in advance, on a debt you may never owe---
---It's not what happens to you in life that is important ~ it's what you do with it ---

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Ngawang Drolma.
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by Ngawang Drolma. » Tue Jan 25, 2011 6:39 pm

Very insightful, Peter :anjali:

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Goofaholix
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by Goofaholix » Tue Jan 25, 2011 7:39 pm

I think it's simply craving and aversion, no matter how good the present moment is before long we want it to be better.
“Peace is within oneself to be found in the same place as agitation and suffering. It is not found in a forest or on a hilltop, nor is it given by a teacher. Where you experience suffering, you can also find freedom from suffering. Trying to run away from suffering is actually to run toward it.” ― Ajahn Chah

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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by BubbaBuddhist » Tue Jan 25, 2011 9:11 pm

Occurs to me if it's true, as Jiddhu Krishnamurti says, that all fear is time-projected, that is we fear something that happened in the past will happen to us again, or we're afraid of something that might happen in the future, then this ties in with the presence of dhukkha. A low-level of anxiety is always in the mind, even when we think we're at peace, and as long as anxiety is present we can never be truly in the present. Dukkha itself prevents us from achieving this; those niggling thoughts arise with dukkha as the object.

So pursuing this train of thought, what if one were to use the arising thought as the object of meditation? Would you gain insight into the nature of the cause of that particular moment of anxiety? Confront Mara face-to-face.

J
Author of Redneck Buddhism: or Will You Reincarnate as Your Own Cousin?

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retrofuturist
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by retrofuturist » Tue Jan 25, 2011 10:59 pm

Greetings,

Please note that off-topic meta-discussion has been removed from this topic.

:focus:

Metta,
Retro. :)
"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"It is natural that one who knows and sees things as they really are is disenchanted and dispassionate." (AN 10.2)

“Truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it.” (Flannery O'Connor)

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zavk
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by zavk » Wed Jan 26, 2011 1:49 am

Thanks for the thoughtful post, Peter.
PeterB wrote:The "thing" that is clung to is simply the means to avoid the present.

One of the things I've clung to and still cling to quite strongly is 'time'. To this extent, I've found it helpful to inquire into the notion of time. I've looked into various discussions about time, reading up on various discourses outside of the Theravada and also outside of Buddhism. This is not to suggest that Theravada or Buddhism is lacking in anyway, but simply that reading about these other discourses about time has helped me to better appreciate what I've learnt in Theravada Buddhism and even anchor me more strongly in my practice.

The kinds of discussions I've found helpful are those that explore how time is a wholly arbitrary concept. In other words, time is simply a projection of the mind. Inquiring into this has helped me to sit with greater ease. Of course, reading about philosophies or theories about time is in itself not a substitute for the moment-to-moment observation of the mind. But as I'm sure most of us already know, the kinds 'preparatory' work we do outside of formal meditation (e.g. dana, ethical conduct, study, discussion, etc) play a big part in setting the conditions for how our formal practice unfolds. And to this extent, inquiring into how time is a conceptual projection has been helpful for me. It has helped me to observe the wandering mind with less expectation and frustration.

Just sharing this for those who may also cling onto 'time' like me. Thanks again for the timely (unintended pun) reminder Peter.

:anjali: :smile: :group:
With metta,
zavk

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octathlon
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by octathlon » Wed Jan 26, 2011 1:51 am

I think the mind is OK with being in the present, but that the ego is what wants to avoid it because it doesn't exist there. A constant stream of thoughts is required to maintain the ego. If its existence stops being generated by the stream of thoughts, it dissolves and the mind is able to experience the present. Just one ego's opinion.

Euclid
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by Euclid » Wed Jan 26, 2011 2:15 am

I like what you're saying Peter. It's true, only in the present can insight arise, because it's only in the present that we are able to note the arising and falling of phenomena. That's my experience, anyway.

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adosa
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by adosa » Wed Jan 26, 2011 2:33 am

Goofaholix wrote:I think it's simply craving and aversion, no matter how good the present moment is before long we want it to be better.
Absolutely. Because each moment is just dukkha rising, dukkha falling.
"To avoid all evil, to cultivate good, and to cleanse one's mind — this is the teaching of the Buddhas" - Dhammapada 183

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ground
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by ground » Wed Jan 26, 2011 3:10 am

As soon as there is thought there is "past and future". Why? Because the arising of thought is necessarily nutured by "the past" and its ceasing (or completion) is necessarily scheduled for "the future".

Kind regards

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Spiny O'Norman
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Re: Why The Mind Avoids The Present Moment.

Post by Spiny O'Norman » Fri Jan 28, 2011 12:01 pm

Goofaholix wrote:I think it's simply craving and aversion, no matter how good the present moment is before long we want it to be better.
That's the way I experience it - a sense of never quite being content with the way things are in the here and now, and sometimes just a succession of desires. :juggling:

Spiny

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