Although we normally think of a moment as a unit of time—maybe one or two seconds—and therefore rather trivial, a moment is not a unit of time. You will never find one on a clock; you will never find one measured on a meter.
Before I can tell you what a moment is, I need to discuss the nature of time. Time is a complicated, fascinating subject—I could spend a lot of time on it. But the essential point is this: It's not as real as you think.
In fact, neither physicists nor philosophers know what time is. Some of them even believe time does not actually exist. Einstein, for example, said, "Time and space are modes in which we think, not conditions in which we live." In other words, although you may experience time as real—and you can get very stressed about it—time may actually be all in your mind.
It might be better to think of time as a shared construct—a concept or set of rules that humans have co-created. This construct is certainly very useful when you want to arrange a dinner party, read a train schedule or set a deadline. Perhaps it's not so useful when you feel time is running out, or that time isn't on your side.
If you want to live in the moment, or meditate in a moment, you actually have to let go of time...at least temporarily. To help you understand this, let me offer you the following "thought experiment."
Imagine your life as a timeline, stretching from the deep past into the far future. (You will probably imagine it stretching from behind you to in front of you—or from your left to your right.)
I'll bet you spend most of your life hanging out on an extended segment of that line. In other words, your mind is full of the past and the future. Or at least it is full of your expectations, which are based on your experiences of the past and your hopes for the future. Indeed, your whole identity is built on that line—your identity is the "you" that has moved along this line of time...collecting experiences, reaching conclusions, having dreams.
Now I want you to imagine you are reeling in that line of time, pulling in the past and future toward where you are right now. Eventually, as you keep reeling, you will reach a point where there is no line left—a point that has no extension in any direction. At this dimensionless point, where you are right now, there is no past and no future, and there is no time. This is the moment.
When you are fully present in this moment, all thoughts of time vanish. Rather than being a unit of time, the moment is actually an experience in which your mind gets a break from time. In other words, it is the experience of timelessness. When you are in the moment, you are completely here and now, and time does not exist. Because a moment is timeless, it also gives you a taste of eternity. This can be very refreshing.
One of the great gifts of the moment is that, when you are in one, you disappear. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing the matter with you. But carrying yourself around all the time—carrying around all those hopes and worries and assumptions and expectations—can be quite a burden. So when you are fully in the moment, you get a break from yourself. That is very refreshing too.
Perhaps you have already experienced a moment like that. Perhaps, in a deep spiritual experience, a profound sexual experience or even perhaps in a crisis, time seemed to stop and "you" just weren't an issue anymore.
This is why people who are "in the moment" have such presence. With no thoughts of past or future, no assumptions or expectations, and no obsessions with self—they are fully present in what they are doing. There is nothing getting in the way of this moment.
Even though we tend to think of a moment as a unit of time (short and rather inconsequential), it turns out that a moment is quite extraordinary.
Indeed, the word "moment" comes from a Latin word that means a "particle sufficient to turn the scales." In other words, one moment, though seemingly small, can change everything. It can tip the balance. It can make all the difference.
Which means a moment is actually momentous.
Tomorrow, we will explore just how momentous it can be.
Martin Boroson is a playful, practical new voice in the next wave of meditation teachers. Author of One-Moment Meditation: Stillness for People on the Go, he lectures on the benefits of a meditative mind for decision-making and leadership. Marty studied philosophy at Yale, earned an MBA from the Yale School of Management and is a formal student of Zen. Visit his website for One-Moment Meditation® help and resources, tweet him at @takeamoment or find him on Facebook.
Find out more about the 30-Day One-Moment Meditation course
Don't miss a moment! Go to the archive page
Did this change the way you think about a moment? Do you still have questions? Let us know—leave your comments and questions below!