Zen is a liberation from time. For if we open our eyes and see clearly, it becomes obvious that there is no other time than this instant, and that the past and future are abstractions without any concrete reality. Until this has become clear, it seems that our life is all past and future, and that the present is nothing more than the infinitesimal hairline which divides them. From this come the sensation of “having no time,”of a world which hurries by so rapidly that it is gone before we can enjoy it. But through “awakening to the instant” one sees that this is the reverse of the truth:it is rather the past and future which are the fleeing illusions, and the present which is eternal real. we discover that the linear succession of time is a convention of our single-track verbal thinking, of a consciousness which interprets the world by grasping little piece of it, calling them things and events. But every such grasp of the mind excludes the rest of the world, so that this type of consciousness can get an approximate vision of the whole only through a series of grasps, one after another.Yet the superficiality of this consciousness is seen in the fact that it cannot and does not regulate even the human organism. For it had to control the heartbeat, the breath, the operation of the nerves, glands, muscles, and sense organs, it would be rushing wildly around the body taking care of one thing after another, with no time to do anything else. Happily, it is not in charge, and the organization is regulated by the timeless “original mind,” which deals with life in its totality and so can do ever so many “things” at once.
However, it is not as if the superficial consciousness were one thing, and the “original mind” another, for the former is the specialized activity of the latter. Thus the superficial consciousness can awaken to the eternal present if it stops grasping. But this does not come to pass by trying to concentrate on the present — an effort which succeeds only in making the moment seem ever more elusive and fleeting, ever more impossible to bring into focus. Awareness of the “eternal now”comes about by the same principle as the clarity of hearing and seeing and the proper freedom of the breath. Clear sight has nothing to do with trying to see; it is just the realization that the eyes will take in every detail all by themselves, for so long as they are open one can hardly prevent the light from reaching them. In the same way, there is no difficulty in being fully aware of the eternal present as soon as it is seen that one cannot possibly be aware of anything else — that in concrete fact there is no past or future. Making an effort to concentrate on the instantaneous moment implies at once that there are other moments. But they are nowhere to be found, and in truth one rests as easily in the eternal present as the eyes and ears respond to light and sound.
There is only this now. It does not come from anywhere. It is not permanent, but it is not impermanent. Though moving, it is always still. When we try to catch it, it seems to run away, and yet it is always here and there is no escape from it. And when we turn round to find the self which knows this moment, we find that it has vanished like the past. Yet, when it comes to it, this moment can be called “present” only in relation to the past and future, or to someone to whom it is present. But when there is neither past nor future, and no one to whom this moment is present, what is it? When the Zen master Fa-ch’ang was dying, a squirrel screeched on the roof. “It’s just this,” he said, “and nothing else.”
…One must simply face the fact that Zen is all that side of life which is completely beyond our control, and which will not come to us by any amount of forcing or wangling or cunning stratagems which produce only fakes of the real things. But the last word of Zen is not an absolute dualism — the rather barren world of controlled action on the one side, and the spontaneous of world of uncontrolled surprise on the other. For who controls the controller?
Source: The Way of Zen, by: Alan W. Watts