Same Demon, New Mask

Steven Barnes
7 min readApr 27, 2021

A student asked a fascinating question:

“How do you plan, but simultaneously stay in the present moment? If all the life there is is in the present, all the power and juice…how do we plan.”

Well… you can be fully engaged in a moment of planning. Totally THERE. This connects with the sense that there is only one moment, that lasts forever. And then another moment, that lasts forever.

And that in once sense they are different and in another sense, totally the same. And that you need to resolve THAT duality, as well.

Here’s what I can say about that…there is a meditative space that makes perfect sense of that. And another head space in which it makes no sense. Ah. THAT space is “ordinary mind”, the part of me that likes to take credit for my actions. But questions like Yo Hoon Kim’s sly “where is `inside’?” ask us to think more deeply. The conscious mind just sort of gets on board with an action or impulse. But where did it ORIGINATE?

Where is `now’? In the moment that you answer that question, it’s gone. So that’s another joke. You can be in the now, but you cannot THINK “I am in the now” without the very real risk of popping out.

Maybe that explains the slightly bemused smile often worn by people who have integrated deeply. They are aware that the “I” that seeks to understand will never, ever get what it wants unless it doesn’t take itself seriously.

“Here `I’ go again!” might be a thought. Or “There `it’ is again.”

Sigh. That’s as far as language can take you. When meditating, the state opens, but “I” cannot enter. What part of “me” is aware, if there is no “I”?

Sigh. This is rugged, man! If my conscious mind wasn’t aware that my peak performance states in writing, martial arts, sensuality are all associated with these deeper states, I’d think it was all b.s.

Catch that: “I” would think it was b.s. My ego. My essence senses that it is the realest thing in the universe, a connection to the divine.

Do you get the joke?

The very tool I need to sort through this will, in its power, obstruct the truth and prevent my entry. That the moments when that truth manifests most deeply, the part of me that speaks the loudest about wanting Truth disappears. When “I” returns, it would like to tell me nothing happened.

Steven Barnes

Steven Barnes is a NY Times bestselling author, ecstatic husband and father, and holder of black belts in three martial arts.