Q: There is a section in your book, The Way Of Harmony, where you talk about clock time versus psychological time. I think what a lot of people find themselves doing is looking toward the past experiences of pleasure or look forward to future prospects of pleasure because their present moment is unhappy.
I am very unhappy in my present and the mind shifts to thoughts of being happy in the past or of hopeful happiness in the future. Looking back on my trip a year ago when I was experiencing new things and meeting new people I became very content with the present, I enjoyed the now, likewise I felt better, had a better attitude, enjoyed life more. How do you break away from the unhappiness of the now, when the prospect of a better future is what keeps you going?

I remember when I was in high school, I had a temporary job working in a salad factory where it was freezing, in a windowless room, fluorescent lighting, country music on the radio, crude coworkers, a true hell. The only thing that kept me going was watching the clock and wishing my day away, knowing at 4:30 I could get out of here.

Isn't it only natural to hate such an environment and be glad when you can get out of it? How can you be focused on the now when you are trying to cope with a horrible now, and daydreams and fantasy are able to take you away from it?

A: It is natural to dislike where we are presently when we are not yet free. This is the unawakened human conditioning, and it is called “suffering.” The problem is not the now. It is this "I," this "me," this "person" you take yourself to be who is unhappy, who fondly remembers the good old days, can't stand what's currently happening, and watches the clock, or the calendar, and dreams of a better time in the future.

Enlightenment is seeing that the "self" concept you have been building since about age two or three inside your head is totally unreal. Once you see this, once you get it, you will be awake. You will live fully and effortlessly in the present, because you will understand that the present is all that exists. You will always be at peace. You will always flow cheerfully with whatever is happening. Sure, there may be more fun awaiting you tomorrow evening, when you go out on some hot date, or do whatever else you love to do, but you don't dwell on that.

In the meantime, there is only now, there is only ever the now, and even working in a freezing, windowless salad factory is okay when you are inwardly free. However, you may certainly form a plan, from a place of clarity and presence, to move on from the salad factory as soon as you realistically can.

So, the sixty-four million dollar question: how do you get free? You breathe, you come back to being very aware in the present, you notice your own mind stuff, your story, and you tell yourself, "This is not who I am." You tell yourself, "Peace is my true nature, and I am always at peace, deep within." Your consciousness is like a deep lake, and while the surface may get ruffled and buffeted by the challenges of life, deep down that stillness, that peace, is always here. You have to stop, and begin to feel into it.

One last tip: whenever you find yourself doing something you don't really want to do, ask yourself, "If I were an enlightened Zen master (or Sufi, or Christian mystic, or whatever inspires you) how would I approach this?" Then act as if you were that.

Remember, the way to tell whether someone is enlightened or not is that what is happening right now is always the most important thing. Awakened people honor the past, keep an eye on the future, but they are always right here, enjoying and appreciating what is happening now.