What does a moment consist of?

Experiences from meditation

In an eternal perspective, a moment is an insignificant amount of time. Yet, a moment may comprise more than we think and more during the practice of Acem Meditation than in many other situations. Let us first reflect upon the duration of a moment. How long a moment lasts depends on our perspective.

We may think that a moment is a very short span of time, like the blink of an eye, the time it takes to blink. But in the European medieval time perspective, the duration of a moment was 90 seconds. As a day comprised 12 hours from sunrise to sunset, such a 90-second moment was shorter during winter than during summer. In modern cognitive science, short-term memory—the short time we are able to hold a small amount of information readily available in our mind before losing it again, lasts about seven seconds. Ancient Indian philosophy referred to the concept «kshann» to define the time it takes to experience the emotions aroused by an internal or external event.

This may indicate that emotions are part of what a moment consists of. Others have said that a moment is the time we need to respond emotionally to a person we meet for the first time. Based on experience, this may happen very quickly! Since we here shall discuss a moment in a meditative perspective, we might define a moment as approximately the time it takes to think the meditation sound once.

Here and now

In contemporary use, the concept «here and now» often has positive connotations. It is important to be «present, here and now.» Nobody would disagree with that? Some meditative and psychological traditions emphasize that being present in the moment at all times is good for your health and counteracts bodily ailments and diseases. To think excessively about the past and the future, and let such thoughts be present in the moment, is considered to be unnecessarily stressful. There exist techniques for attention training aiming to stop such thoughts, to keep attention solely, or mainly, on the «here and now» aspect of the moment.

In Acem Meditation we encounter at least two aspects of the moment simultaneously. The «here and now» aspect is associated with the repetition of the meditation sound. It is present, or generated, exclusively here and now, and in the next moment, it is gone. In the present moment, the meditation sound should be adjusted to everything else that is present in the mind, i.e., to our spontaneous mental activities.

But the spontaneous mental activities in Acem Meditation, which are continuously flowing—along with the meditation sound—are associated with another aspect of the moment. In each moment, the spontaneous activity will quite often be directed towards, or include, past experiences or possible future events. Scientists call this mind wandering, as the mind wanders from one scenario to the next. Mind wandering comprises memories of the past, but also what some researchers call «memories of the future»—not because we remember them, but because to the brain these possible future events are processed as if they were memories.

Thus, the moment in Acem Meditation comprises both the real now, associated with the repetition of the meditation sound, but also memories of the past or thoughts about the future. In other words: there is a wide scope of attention in Acem Meditation. It may be more open than most other situations for both the past, the present, and the future.

We may be tempted to mention a fourth dimension—the bodily dimension. The body will at times be «present» in our attention during meditation. It is part of our spontaneous activities, but these thoughts or sensations of the body are about the «here and now», they are not memories, and they are not envisioning the future.

Thus, to be present in the moment in our daily lives may involve not only being aware of, say, the person we are talking to and what he or she says, but also maintaining inner contact with the mental and bodily reactions this conversation elicits in us. These reactions will again be associated with our life histories and our experiences. Acem Meditation facilitates a more open presence, rather than a more focused and restricted «here and now».

Activity and passivity

We may distinguish between meditation techniques in different ways: Eastern vs. Western, traditional vs. modern, religious vs. non-religious, concentration techniques vs. nondirective techniques. But one distinction is not so often used: between active and passive meditation. We can think of active meditation techniques as those that involve a mental action by the meditator, viz., generating a meditation object, such as a meditation sound. In the more passive meditation techniques, the only thing the meditator does is to maintain awareness or attention towards an already existing meditation object, such as the breath. Besides the attention aspect, which is part of any meditation type, Acem Meditation is active in the sense that it involves the action of repeating a meditation object.

Thus, Acem Meditation is not only a training of attention and perception, i.e., how we sense and perceive something, but also how we mentally create and how we act, and interact with the world we live in. And in Acem Meditation, the way we act makes room for the simultaneous presence of our spontaneous mental activities, with both a past and a present aspect. However, «making room for» doesn’t mean that the spontaneous activity is allowed to dominate at all times. Rather, it means to accept the presence of the spontaneous activity together with, or in addition to, the repetition of the meditation sound, i.e., the core activity.

Activity and silence

Another aspect of our inner deliberate actions during meditation is that they should not only make room for but also be adjusted to, the spontaneous mental activities, as indicated above. If the spontaneous mental activities become calmer, more silent, then our deliberate actions — the repetition of the meditation sound — should be adjusted to these calmer spontaneous mental activities.

Thus, the silent, calm thoughts and sensations are also given room in the mind, in the moment, by a meditation sound that is quieter, more subtle. This may be particularly relevant in long meditations, at retreats. We may put it this way: the activity in meditation should create moments that give room for silence.

Dynamic and sensitive activity

We have mentioned that Acem Meditation is an active, activity-based type of meditation. But the active aspect involves more than the primary action. The active part means that the action should be adjusted, in a dynamic way, to your mind. Your mind may vary. You may be angry or upset. You may be restless. You may be calm. The dynamic element means that you adjust your repetition of the meditation sound in some way or other, according to the inner climate that is present in your mind in every moment.

A dynamic adjustment does not presuppose a more attentive, focused attention, in order to capture the climate of your mind in the moment. Your attention is dynamic, i.e., it is sensitive, almost intuitive, with a subtle presence in each moment.

Author: Svend Davanger

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