Excerpt from No Boundary by Ken Wilber:
"Part of the reason that "contacting the eternal" seems so awesome is that we generally misunderstand the true sense of the word "eternity" itself. We commonly imagine eternity to he a very, very long time, an unending stretch of years, a million times a million forever. But the mystic does not understand eternity in that fashion at all. For eternity is not an awareness of everlasting time, but an awareness which is itself totally without time. The eternal moment is a timeless moment, a moment which knows neither past nor future, before nor after, yesterday nor tomorrow, birth nor death. [...]
And yet, we must ask, what is a timeless moment? What instant is without date or duration? What moment is not just quick or short-lived in time, but absolutely without time?
Odd as these questions initially seem, most of us would have to admit that we have known moments, peak moments, which seemed indeed to lie so far beyond time that the past and the future melted away into obscurity. Lost in a sunset; transfixed by the play of moonlight on a crystal dark pond which possesses no bottom; floated out of self and time in the enraptured embrace of a loved one; caught and held still-bound by the crack of thunder echoing through mists of rain. Who has not touched the timeless?
What do all of these experiences have in common? It seems, and the mystic agrees, that time appears suspended in all of these experiences because we are totally absorbed in the present moment. Clearly, in this present moment, if we would but examine it, there is no time. The present moment is a timeless moment, and a timeless moment is an eternal one—a moment which knows neither past nor future, before nor after, yesterday nor tomorrow. To enter deeply into this present moment is thus to plunge into eternity, to step through the looking glass and into the world of the Unborn and the Undying. [...]
And yet it seems—and for reasons soon apparent I stress the word "seems"—that so few of us live solely and completely in the now. We dwell in yesterdays and dream forever of tomorrows, and thus bind ourselves with the torturous chains of time and the ghosts of things not really present. We dissipate our energies in fantasy mists of memories and expectations, and thus deprive the living present of its fundamental reality and reduce it to a "specious present," a slender present that endures a mere one or two seconds, a pale shadow of the eternal Present. Unable to live in the timeless present and bathe in the delights of eternity, we seek as anemic substitutes the mere promises of time, hoping always that the future will bring what the slender present so piteously lacks.
And this life in time, according to the mystic, is a life in misery. For the mystic claims that all of our problems are problems of time and problems in time. You might never have looked at it this way, but a moment’s consideration reveals the utter obviousness of it. All our problems concern time—our worries are always over the past or over the future. We lament many of our past actions and dread their future consequences. Our feelings of guilt are inseparably linked to the past, and bring with them torments of depression, bitterness, and regrets. If this is not clear, then just imagine what it would be like to live without any of the scars of your past. So also, all anxiety is tied to thoughts of the future, and brings with it clouds of dread and catastrophic expectation. The past and the future! These surely are the links in the shackles of our misery. [...]
Yet we must be very careful at this point in our understanding. For this "living in the timeless present," this bare attention to the present moment, has nothing to do with the common psychological trick of just forgetting about yesterday and tomorrow. The mystic are not saying that we should live in the present by forgetting about or trying to ignore the past and future. They are saying—and at first this will sound worse—that there is no past and future. For the past and future are simply the illusory products of a symbolic boundary superimposed upon the eternal now, a symbolic boundary which appears to split eternity into yesterday vs. tomorrow, before vs. after, time gone vs. time to come. Thus time, as a boundary upon eternity, is not a problem to get rid of, but an illusion which doesn’t exist in the first place.
So we must, at this point, be very careful and proceed with utmost caution in order to understand this eternal awareness correctly. Many people, after theoretically grasping that eternity is not everlasting time but the timeless present, try to contact this timeless present by concentrating their attention on the now-moment, on whatever they are presently experiencing. They practice "bare attention" to the immediate present in an attempt to contact the timeless now-moment.
But as reasonable as that sounds, it nevertheless is beside the point. For trying to contact this now-moment still requires another now-moment in which this contact might occur. In other words, trying to live in the timeless present requires time. Trying to pay attention to the present requires a future in which this attention might be paid. And yet we are not talking about some future in which this now-moment is grasped: we are talking of just this now-moment. One cannot, in short, use time to get out of time. By doing so we just reinforce that which we wish to uproot.
This is exasperating only because we constantly assume that we aren't already living in the eternal now, and that therefore we must take steps that will ensure, at some future time, that we will then live as the eternal now. In other words, we assume time is real, and then try to destroy it. Worse, we try to destroy time by time, and that will never work. So, as always, the mystics do not ask us to try to destroy illusions—they ask us only to carefully look for them. For if time actually does not exist, we needn’t worry about trying to destroy it. Thus, before we try to get rid of time, let’s see if we can find it first. But if we look for time and can’t find it, then we will already have glimpsed the timeless.
We have seen that direct experience shows us that there is no separate self standing apart from the world of experience. Likewise, and in just the same way, we will now look to direct experience for any evidence as to whether or not time, the flow from past to future, actually exists.
Let us begin with our senses. Do we ever sense time? That is, do we ever directly sense a past or a future? Start again with hearing. For the moment concentrate your attention on just your auditory field, and notice the flux of sounds kaleidoscoping through your awareness. You might be able to hear people talking, dogs barking, kids playing; perhaps wind blowing, rain splashing, faucet dripping; maybe you can hear the house creaking, or cars honking, or someone laughing. But notice: all these sounds are present sounds. You cannot hear past sounds, nor can you hear future sounds. The only thing you ever hear is the present. You do not and cannot hear a past or future.
Just as all sounds are only present sounds, so all tastes are only present tastes, all smells are present smells, and all sights are present sights. You cannot touch, see, or feel anything resembling a past or a future. In other words, in y...our direct and immediate awareness, there is no time— no past, no future, only an endlessly changing present, shorter than a minisecond yet never coming to an end. All direct awareness is timeless awareness.
And yet, what is it that gives me the overwhelming impression that I am aware of time, especially of time past, of my whole personal history, of all the things that were? For although I certainly understand that in my irect experience there is no past, only an endless present, I nevertheless m firmly convinced that I know something of the past. And no verbal seight-of-hand can convince me otherwise, for there is something which peaks clearly and forcefully to me of things which happened minutes go, days ago, even years ago. What is that? And how can it be denied?
The answer to the first question seems obvious: it is memory. For although I do not directly see the past, nor feel it, nor touch it, I can remember it. Memory alone assures me that there was a past, and, in fact, were it not for memory I would have no idea of time whatsoever. Further, I notice that other people seem to have a memory also, and they all substantially report the same type of past that I recall.
And so, I assume, memory gives me a knowledge of the actual past, even if I can’t directly experience that past. But right here, claim the mystics, I have made a fatal mistake. The mystics agree that when l think of the past, all I really know is a certain memory—but, they add, that memory is itself a present experience. Alan Watts elaborates: "But what about memories? Surely by remembering I can also know what is past?
Very well, remember something. Remember the incident of seeing a friend walking down the street. What are you aware of? You are not actually watching the veritable event of your friend walking down the street. You can’t go up and shake hands with him, or get an answer to a question you forgot to ask him at the past time you are remembering. In other words, you are not looking at the actual past at all. You are looking at a present trace of the past.... From memories you infer that there have been past events. But you are not aware of any past events. You know the past only in the present and as part of the present."
Thus, I never know the actual past at all, I know only memories of the past, and those memories exist only as a present experience. Further, when what we call the "past" actually occurred, it was a present occurrence. At no point, therefore, am I ever directly aware of an actual past. In the same way, I never know the future, I know only anticipations or expectations—which nevertheless are themselves parts of present experience. Anticipation, like memory, is a present fact."