Turn the Page
Many years ago, sitting quietly with my teacher, I asked him the following question: Swamiji, do you ever feel pain? Do you experience emotion?
Swamiji answered: The diﬀerence between us is that I will experience something once, and then I will turn the page. You will keep reading the same page over and over again. Thus, you will continue suﬀering.
This teaching continues to be a compelling and impeccable source of inspiration and personal challenge.
Over the years, I have often returned to reﬂect on it. I observe how, through the myriad hues of my personal experiences, that which has caused me the most pain is my somewhat obsessive revisiting of an event, reliving the fundamental emotion of the experience. Like a child playing with a loose tooth, the pain is often seductive.
This recurring and sometimes alluring emotional framework has steered me to an inner tenor; ill-advised and often self-destructive, I shall call it the poignant refrain of a pain lover. I confess that I suﬀered from this habit for many years. As with any addiction, it starts from a pleasurable experience, or at least an experience that promises to fulﬁll a need, a gratiﬁcation. In my case, improbable, convoluted and somewhat tortuous emotional situations held inexplicable fascinations. I instinctively felt more alive, exhilarated by the potential of any given situation. An obscure and enigmatic challenge for my internal coping mechanism, and, yes, I coped, I ﬂew, I struggled—until I crashed.
I was utterly convinced that this was "real living”: an uncompromising stance to never settle for security, safety and predictability. However, I fear that I confused tranquillity with boredom, peace with uninspired tediousness.
How many of us view our past with longing or repulsion, joy or fear? Do we not anticipate our future with guarded expectancy or anticipated disenchantment? Hope and despair revolve on an eternal wheel of the human condition.
I think pressing on and expanding internal boundaries can be a powerful tool of self-discovery. However, it is essential to accompany this journey with guidance and wisdom and, yes, even discipline.
As we revisit our source of pain or joy while being trapped in the repeating cycle of experience with an inability to live in the eternal now, we deny our potential for liberation. The teaching is clear: Do not deny the awareness of the moment. Read the page.
Nevertheless, the repeated, obsessive reliving of an experience, be it joyful or painful, is bound to culminate in the sense of loss—loss of a ﬂeeting state of play that created the joy and the unfulﬁlled longings of our fanciful aspirations.
Turning the page does not imply negation of the underlying existence of the eternal moment. Instead, it is a technique that can equip us to live in the here and now with the knowledge that the moving light ﬁgures in our perception of life, as in Plato’s allegory of the cave, are only mythical phantoms of our imagination.
And so, we are fettered in our vision to a continuous commitment of false observation without the awareness we need to unshackle ourselves from our shadowy, imaginary chains of mythological concepts that we call life.
From the moments of emotional and intellectual awakening, we are beset and often deeply troubled by cyclical memories of the past and intermittent, erratic hopes accompanied by endless fear and anxiety concerning the future. This narrative, although troubled and often unfulﬁlled, is nonetheless familiar and safe. This familiarity impedes the very exhilarating yet demanding challenge of initiating our internal observation and potential revelation. Self-enquiry, an honest and profound exploration, allows us to illuminate the here and now.
How can we cultivate living in the eternal moment? Through meditation, fearless introspection, reﬂection and understanding. When we remove the concept and apparent reality of a linear path of experience, we permit ourselves a glimpse into inﬁnity: we transcend the bondage of time.
"Know the eternal Self, eternally one, all-permeating. How shall I meditate upon the object of meditation? How can the indivisible I be divided? I am Self Supreme, indivisible.”1
How can we know the Self? When we meditate, we enhance a state that doesn’t just permits but encourages the senses, mind, intellect and body to subside and retreat from their predictable activity. If this pause in action and liveliness appears for even a moment, that gap allows us to attend the eternal now. Attending that gap is an immediate, intuitive and palpable experience of knowing the Self. The practice of meditation strengthens this experience so that the gap, the present unveiled inﬁnity, is the reality. By transforming the familiar and exhausting pervasive powers of the senses, profound tranquility and peace are revealed. This stillness is the indivisible, eternal moment.
“That one who knows ’I exist’ is the knower.”
Who experiences joy? Who experiences sorrow? Any time a thought or emotion comes, be it full of delight or anguish, whatever its nuance or modulation, observe: Who is experiencing it? This is a genuine opportunity to allow the thought or emotion to come and go. The very “I” that is watching—the “I” that is aware of its existence—is the same “I” that is experiencing the experience; and it is the very experience—the knower.
This perception can nurture a state that is beyond the experience, experienced and experiencer; beyond the watcher, that which is being watched and the vision. This ineﬀable quality, which has transcended these states, and which is absorbed in the very source of all, is one being: the watcher, pure perception. Watching and that which is observed are one essence; any other understanding becomes a subject-object relationship. I am describing the eternal I, is the immortal now. This numinous awareness, although indescribable, is an unfoldment of complete absorption in the inﬁnite, an illumination of eternal transcendence.
To deepen and expand our understanding of this phenomenon, we must investigate what is the meaning of the eternal now. When we allow ourselves to be immersed in a state of being that is not bound by imaginary thoughts of the past, present or future, we unlock the freedom to experience absorption in the here and now, a now that is eternal. In that timeless absorption, the inﬁnite is revealed.
Allowing the eternal moment to expand unveils the here and now. It is both formed and formless, inﬁnite and ﬁnite—immortal. Because the here and now denotes a state that is not subject to time and timeless, it is indestructible. It is free. Although this state cannot be conceived of by the intellect, mind and senses, here-and now-consciousness and the one who knows and recognizes the eternal moment are the same. In truth, we are eternally established in the here and now, whether in the world of forms, birth and death, or beyond.
The removal of bondage and the elimination of sorrow and suﬀering come to be realized and experienced only when a person reaches the nature of Oneness and knows that the Self and he are one and the same, inﬁnite.2
The elimination of sorrow is a tantalizing concept. How do we remove bondage and suﬀering? Can we know the nature of oneness? How are we to perceive the Self?
I suggest that only by cultivating, enhancing and strengthening our absorption in the now can we emancipate ourselves from the consequences of our mental and emotional landscape. I am not advocating that we neutralize or anesthetize our emotions. However, by living in the eternal now we are no longer victimized and deceived by the vicissitudes of our human existence.
I believe this necessitates a surrender of the dubious comfort of the familiar with a fearless determination to embark on an inner exploration. While embracing a joyful practice of meditation and a profound introspection we expand our intuitive experience, living in the here and now.
Each wave in the ocean identiﬁes itself as an individual wave, yet the essential quality of all waves is water. The inclusion of all—the waves, the ocean, the very essence of life—allows for a freedom that is not bound by the ephemeral quality of mortality. Identifying with the eternal now, the source, the witness Self will enable us to illuminate the experience of an inﬁnite moment, rather than the whirling-dervish-like hauntings of the shifting threads, a discordant that innately disturbs harmony.
Inﬁnity implies an unbroken eternal present. Turning the page alludes to experiencing the changing ﬁeld in endless mutations, free from the obsessive reliving of chosen experiences that will inevitably result in a relentless, repetitive pattern. Knowing the nature of the changing ﬁeld, knowing the one who is experiencing these changes and the unchanging inﬁnite consciousness, allows us to turn the page free from the bondage of an endless cycle of joy and pain, gain and loss.
The beauty of turning the page is not to deny our essential vibrancy but to transcend the repeated wheel of emotional entrapment, of all pairs of opposites, an incomparable liberation from the quintessential wheel of birth and death.
1.Seegla Brecher, The Avadhoot Gita of Dattaraya; Song of the Unborn, chapter 1, verse 12
2. Swami Shyam, Ashtavaakr Gita: Simplified Knowledge of the Self, chapter 18, verse 72