“The spiritual orientation is rooted in the revelation or the perception that there’s only right here and right now.”
The great spiritual author Alan Watts had a wonderful image. He said when a boat goes through the water, it leaves a wake in the water as it passes through. The way we understand things psychologically would be that the wake actually creates the boat, that the past is what creates the present moment. But of course, we know that the wake isn’t creating the boat; the boat is creating the wake. It’s the present moment that is creating the past. The present moment is what’s knifing through the water and the wake is just the recording of the present moment moving farther and farther into the past.
So if you look at it from that standpoint, the past doesn’t actually create the present even though it seems like the past is what gives us our present experience, which conditions the way we see life. There’s actually another way to see it, and that’s what the spiritual orientation is. The spiritual orientation is rooted in the revelation or the perception that there’s only right here and right now. And even deeper than that is that everything you think and feel and experience right here and right now is not actually the outcome of the past. It’s actually the spontaneous bursting into existence of the present. In a way it’s uncaused.
We’re taught to view life through the orientation that the past creates the present. The “here and now” orientation doesn’t seem to make a lot of sense. And yet, not only in the realm of spirituality, but also in the realm of science and quantum mechanics, we start to see that life actually bursts forth uncaused, seemingly out of nowhere, seemingly out of nothingness. This is what some of our physics and physicists have observed, that the smallest particles of matter actually seem to burst out of nowhere, out of nothingness, and on an even more perplexing level, that our observation of life is what actually brings life into being.
This is really the deeper meaning of “spontaneous.” Spontaneity means uncaused. It’s not following the laws of causation. At the subatomic level, nothing happens until it’s observed, and as soon as something is observed, the observation itself is what brings it into being. So the observation and what is being observed actually arise spontaneously together.
This may all seem quite abstract. That’s why I like the image of a boat moving through water, because with that image you can see how it’s the present moment that’s creating the past, not the past that’s creating the present moment. Even though that may be hard to grasp, it’s really quite easy to have some rudimentary understanding of this by just imagining a boat going through the water and the simple recognition that it’s the present moment of the boat going through the water that creates the wake. The wake will be the past. That’s where the boat moved through the water, and that’s the signature of the boat moving through the water. But the past does not create the present.
From “True Spiritual Orientation,” August 18, 2010