The Transformation of the Present Moment

Jeff Carreira Philosophy 9 Comments

Generally we assume that the world just exists – sitting there dead and meaningless – the object of our perceptions. The world doesn’t just exist – it shows up. It presents itself to us through layers of interpretation. William James talked about our experience of the world as being ‘thick’ – thick with layers of meaning, understanding, conceptualization, interpretation, intention, etc.

The world doesn’t just sit there passively being perceived. It is wrapped in an active ever-shifting interpretive blanket. What we perceive as the world is not the thin surface of reality. We always touch the world through the thickness of meaning that has been draped over it.

Each and every moment presents itself in a state of bursting fullness. Our fears, dreams, aspirations, desires, intentions, thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations, beliefs, and understandings all show up as aspects of the immediately percieved present.

Most of us have been trained to imagine that our dreams, aspirations, fears, etc. exist inside of us. They drive us to action as forces that come from our inner being, our mind or our psyche. This is certainly one way to think about it, but another – equally valid – interpretation of our experience is that all of these supposedly ‘internal’ experiences arise as part of the immediately experienced present. They are a part of this and every moment – not a part of us.

The American philosophers William James and George Herbert Mead developed philosophies of the present moment, as did the English philosopher Alfred North Whitehead. I believe that we would do well to relook at these. In fact, I am passionate about the implications of them – especially for human transformation.

My experience has been that the kind of change that is truly remarkable is the kind that we only see in retrospect. We look back over our shoulders and marvel at who we have become. We are surprised by how we just behaved, what we just did or didn’t do. We realize that in similar situations in the past we have always acted one way and this time, without making any effort, we spontaneously responded differently. When confronted with this experience of change we often interpret it as meaning that we have changed. We believe that we have developed new habits, intentions or preferences, or that we have dropped old fears and limitations.

If we look closely at these moments of realized transformation we will see that there is another – again equally valid – interpretation. What we will see is that what actually happened was that the world showed up for us differently. The ‘thickness’ of the present moment was altered. It now contains different intentions, desires, and beliefs, and is perhaps devoid of old fears and habits. We live in a new experience of the world; a new immediately experienced present moment.

William James, and George Herbert Mead both recognized that there might be a distinct advantage to this ‘present moment’ interpretation of change and so do I. The advantage is that it allows us to let go of the idea that we are a ‘self’ that is changing. An entity called ‘me’ that is acquiring new characteristics or giving up old ones. Neither James nor Mead believed that there really was any such thing as a ‘self’ that exists as a transcendent entity at the source of our being.

Both of these philosophers felt that the process of change is potentially hindered by holding on to some strong notion of a fixed entity that must be altered if we are to be different. They both saw change as something that happens not in some fixed entity, but rather in the complex interaction at the interface of what I experience as me and what I experience as the world outside of me. It is in the dance of this interface of interaction where all the transformation takes place – not in some fictitious entity. This is perhaps only one of several equally valid interpretations of reality – but I believe it is an interpretation that is in some ways more accurate to our experience and that will generate a fluidity of transformation that is not possible if we cling to some notion of being a fixed self. I am looking forward to further developing these ideas in future posts.

About the Author

Jeff Carreira
Jeff Carreira is a mystical philosopher and spiritual guide. He is the author of eleven books on meditation and philosophy. He teaches online programs and leads retreats throughout the world that teach people how to let go of their current perceptual habits so they are free to participate in the creation of a new paradigm. To put it simply, he supports people to live a spiritually inspired life, free from the constraints of fear, worry and self-doubt, and aligned with their own deepest sense of meaning and purpose.
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liesbeth3i
9 years ago

Reading your post I had to think about the ‘theater’ as hume described the ‘self’ : the self is not an object of consciousnes, there is no ‘identity’. ‘Self is the impressions we have, but no impression is permanent, constant or unchangeable. We are a bundel of perceptions which succeed one another in immense fastness. He used the metaphor of a theater, where different perceptions appear. When I looked it up, it seems to connect to the above.. Locke, Berkely and Hume turned the empirics of nature into philosophy of the human brain. The empirics said: our mental images only… Read more »

Judy Fox
Judy Fox
9 years ago

I loved reading this Jeff. It paints a picture of reality that is so much more fluid…not me here and the world out there, but an on-going interaction of between what might be called me and what might be called the world and even saying that, those concepts of me and the world begin to get wobbly…a loosening of one’s “grasp” of one’s reality that contains so many constructs that aren’t real. It’s a crumbling that is so welcomed! Thank you Jeff.

Catherine
Catherine
9 years ago

Hey man don t forget Bergson here ! There are two forces the objective skeleton of reality and Bergson s duration in which evolution occurs. There is no Whitehead without Bergson. He is really an enormous master for these kind of considerations

liesbeth3
9 years ago

I looked it up Catherine, you are so right.. Bergson says that during the day we create stories (pick out relevant aspects) to fulfill the need of our bodies, it is a tool of life. Our mind acts according to the need of our bodies, it is daily self that acts practically as part of a spatially homogeneous universe. He calls this the superficial self; it necessarily expresses itself in worlds and thinks in time, it classifies objects, solves problems. Both our observation and our language try to pick from reality aspects that are relevant for our practical needs, the… Read more »

Catherine
9 years ago

Bergson and Proust were brothers in law. The story says that Proust s main theme of sensation memory associated to the ultimate sense of identity is due to the influence of Bergson. Identity is felt in the present moment with duration or in memory like in Proust s Madeleine. Both are completely orthogonal ways of perceiving the I. A bit like a quantum dichotomy here. Animals have the sense of duration which is a memory linked to action and apprenticeship. Like you learn how to… bike read drive make love etc… The second type of memory also linked to our… Read more »

portailevolutif
9 years ago

Dear Liesbeth, sounds that our comments crossed. You got it perfectly right, which I am impressed !! Bravo !! If you like this type of philosopher, have also a look at the work of Gilles Deleuze. He is supposed to be one of the very few neo Bergsonian post modern philosophers, he is pretty good. I feel Ken Wilber likes him too an that he is his bridge into Bergson which he has been for many contemporary philosophers. In France he was so famous that when he gave lectures at the Sorbonne, it was impossible to enter the room since… Read more »

liesbeth3
9 years ago

Thank you Catherine!! I will look for it. Thank you so much for contributing. It is always so inspiring and such a joy to read!!!

Frank Luke
Frank Luke
9 years ago

Though observing evolution is usually like watching something that can take eons, it seems we are living in a time when history and the evolution of humanity seeming is transpiring at an accelerated rate, doesn’t it?. For those paying attn, this is exciting and astounding but I submit there are those who don’t or can’t see this, so preoccupied with the nittty-gritty of living to notice or care.