Becoming Present – Using the Nanosecond

All of our problems are in the mind.

Outside of your thoughts about this moment, what is wrong with it?  All of our suffering is in the remembered past and the projected future – the realms of abstraction that only humans are capable of.  Being able to imagine things that don’t exist gives us tremendous creative potential. But it is a double edged sword.  With the capacity to consider purely abstract ideas, we then create the bizarre and remarkable capacity to live not in reality, but in our construct of it.

Of course, it is impossible to not live in the real, physically speaking.  But that is the problem – our bodies and our minds are disconnected.  Our body is peacefully eating breakfast, while our mind is already on lunch. We are torn.  We do not inhabit our bodies fully, and we don’t have any idea what it really means to be in the present moment.

When I say this to people, they almost invariably say something like, what do you mean, I’m not in the present moment?  I’m in the present moment all the time!  To which I would say, well, is that your idea or is that your experience?  What I find interesting is that almost everyone who has never practiced mindfulness, believes that they are living in the present moment.  And almost anyone who starts practicing some mindfulness, begins to realize what the present moment truly is, and how rarely they visit it.

I have learned that the present moment is always good.  It is our home and refuge.  Suffering is actually not possible in the present moment.  This is true because all suffering is made of resistance of some kind, and the present moment quite literally is what is left when all resistance is gone.  For reasons implied with this, it is accurate to say that our entire psychological and spiritual growth is a movement towards being fully present.

As I guide people inch by inch closer to this state (myself included, of course!), we encounter obstacles of every kind.  Every neuroses of humankind is a block, every resistance shows us our work.

One of the best ideas that I have stumbled upon that seems to really help people in this endeavour, is the idea of the nanosecond.  The split second, the smallest conceivable instant we can imagine.  It is, it seems, the closest the mind can get to the idea of Now.

I talk about the nanosecond because one of the problems I have noticed in people is that when I ask them about their ideas of the present moment, it actually contains a huge amount of time.  It seems as if I’m asking someone to look at an analog clock, and point to this moment, and instead of a dot, they draw a circle around a chunk of time, like an hour or minutes or seconds.

Here is an example.  If I asked you on a regular day, without the preface of this whole discussion, something like, “what are you doing right now?” how would you answer?  Oh, I’m writing an email.  I’m out for a walk.  I am making dinner.  Ok, fair enough right?  But these answers are actually quite broad, though they are not conventionally incorrect.  How long does it take you to write an email?   How precise is ‘making dinner’?

If I asked you instead, “what are you thinking of right now?” you might have to get a little closer to the moment and your experience.  You might remark that though you are making dinner you are thinking about how long you need to cook the pasta. Great.  Getting closer!  And if I asked you, “ok, and what are you feeling right now?” you might have to slow down further and tune in, and you might be able to tell me that you are happy or nervous or sad.  But we are still talking about ideas that are concepts in the space of the present moment, but are not themselves the present moment.

And again, if I ask you “what are you sensing right now?” we get closer again.  Now to give me an answer you’d really have to tune in to an even narrower band, even more present.  But are you starting to see a bit that the present moment does not mean, “today” and it doesn’t mean “this minute” and it certainly doesn’t mean “this bunch of seconds”.  Even a full second is an infinite world away from the present moment, which is not a measurement of time at all.

And so, I have started to ask people about a nanosecond.  What is happening in this nanosecond.  Can you notice this instant.  Check it out for yourself.  As soon as you start getting honest with this inquiry, you start seeing that as soon as you name anything, it has stopped being the nanosecond.  You can’t hold onto it.  It forces you narrow down even more closely towards that impossible point of now.

Try this inquiry:  “Are you ok, in this nanosecond?” 

I love this question.  Because any honest mind cannot help but realize in this question that in this moment only, they are safe, and ok.  Will you be ok in the next second?  Who knows.  None of us have any idea.  But am I ok right this nanosecond?  Yes.  Always yes.


And that is the beauty of this.  Every time you ever, ever bother to check, I guarantee that you it will be true that you are ok in this nanosecond.  If you are able to check, there is a place where you can find it.

Might you be in pain?  Sure.  Might you sick or anxious or hungry?  Yes.  And still, if you check the timeless instant, this nanosecond that is gone quicker than you can even barely notice it, you can always find your peaceful center.

Sometimes I have tried to guide clients to this moment and asked them this question, and they insist that they are not ok.  “I’m anxious/ I feel sick/ my dog is sick” = so I am NOT OK!  I respectfully hear people’s defences, but if they really want to know, I will come back to the moment again.  Even if the body is sick or broken, if we really look we can see that this is not a problem in this instant.  Pain or bad feelings and emotions also don’t mean that you can’t be ok.  We have let situations, feelings, thoughts define us unconsciously, and only when we start to look can we see that there is much more to us than any of that.

I agree that this is not obvious to most, and that it can take some looking.  The bigger the pain, the deeper or more present you have to look.  But if you think that a broken leg or even a broken heart prevents you from being able to find a peaceful place in yourself, then the problem is just that you are letting yourself get defined by an experience.  Who are you that experiences the illness or the pain?  This is the important question.  Otherwise, it is like the sky believing that a cloud makes it no longer a sky.

I am not asking you to ignore or push away the ‘bad feelings’ in order to ‘make yourself ok’.  I am asking you to see that even in the bad feelings, you can see that it doesn’t actually shake your core – that you can handle it all and that in this instant only, even pain is not a problem.

It’s really incredible! So why don’t we stay there?  Well, that’s the challenge, in a way.  That’s the work.  Our essence couldn’t leave there.  It is who we truly are.  But that’s the thing that we are confused about.  We are identified with a bundle of ideas that thinks it needs to think in order to survive.  It takes profound inquiry and pretty constant practice to see that.  But it is simple work.  Maybe not easy.  But simple for sure – it can simply be the perpetual returning to this instant only.

And notice whatever pulls you away from it.  That’s the next thing to question.  But come back, again and again.  Are you safe in this nanosecond?  It is deeply healing to notice this.  The entire world is ok, in this nanosecond only.

What I’ve found so magical is that the more you play with this, you start seeing that the nanosecond is also the only thing that ever exists.  Ever could exist.

The comfort of seeing this is the biggest, most rock solid thing I’ve ever landed on.  It never moves.  It is our own real self.

Pure, quiet being, alive as the space that holds every experience.


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