How Each Type Experiences the Present Moment
The idea of the “present moment” can be just as imprisoning as it is liberating. When we study spiritual teachers, we find that intellectual knowledge about the present moment is vitally different from actually experiencing awareness for yourself and living contently in the now.
Though mere knowledge can alter experience in a negative way — when our expectations conflict with our experience — knowledge itself is not criminal. One could argue that humans would be better off with just the right side of the brain, without our concerns about facts, models, and strategy. But if Eastern philosophy has taught us anything, it is that everything exists on a spectrum of tension, and that through the balance of opposites comes liberation. Thus, knowledge and experience are our path forward.
Defining Our Ground
What is the present moment? The term “present moment” has become a fad in modern society. Along with other terms such as “mindfulness” and “getting in touch with yourself”, the meaning of spiritual practices have lost much of their clarity and power as a result of the over-use and devaluing of the terms that represent them.
The “present moment” is not a task to pursue or a place to “arrive at”. It is not a mental construction or a place that is locked by knowledge gained through hours of hard-earned research. It is not gained through grasping; it is gained through relinquishing. Searching for the present moment is like trying to look at the base of your nose without a mirror. The harder you try, the more dizzy, disoriented, and cross-eyed you become. And if you keep trying, your face may become stuck.
Despite the essence of presence being out of our grasp for mere knowledge, let us try to define it anyway, for our left brain’s sake.
The present moment is:
Our pure, honest relationship with our reality.
Accessing how we honestly feel, think, and perceive.
Lowering your walls and opening yourself up to happenings, both internal and external, within this given moment in time.
These are by no means an all-inclusive analysis of what the present moment is or contains. But they give us enough of a starting point to grasp its meaning loosely while acknowledging it lacks something essential: personality. More on that shortly.
To sum up the definition of the present moment: the present moment is our truth. It is not what we believe about space aliens, God, or if the pasta really is gluten-free. The present moment is our truth from the perspective that we are creatures who naturally perceive, think, and feel.
To access the parts of us that do the actual perceiving, thinking, and feeling is to access the moment.
After studying ancient eastern philosophers like Confucius and the Buddha, and more modern bridge-philosophers like Tolle and Watts, it is difficult to argue against the sheer importance of the present moment and partaking in the ebb and flow of life.
We, Westerners, have an especially hard time accessing the now, as we have been trained to only use our minds. But the idea of the “now” has become tainted by an incomplete understanding of the human psyche. If we take up meditation as a practice, we will likely be encouraged to feel an awareness of the external and internal physical reality. This is one of the places where practicing “awareness” can become a prison.
Most practices that guide us toward the “present” are aimed at only a fraction of the types. At the very least, all the types are not accounted for and are not allowed to practice optimally.
Luckily, we have one of the most powerful frameworks of the human psyche at our disposal, the Four-Sides Dynamics, to help fix this problem. We find buried within the theory a framework of sixteen distinct personality types, and sixteen different orientations to the present moment.
Finding the Present Moment
Though there are sixteen different ways to experience the present moment, we can boil it down through the lens of the Cognitive Functions. There are four basic ways of interacting authentically with oneself, and that is through the functions of perceiving, sensing, feeling, and thinking. These functions can be pointed outward or inward, giving us eight possible doorways to the moment. This is where we will begin our exploration.
Where is it?
The present moment is accessed through the cognitive functions in your Ego stack. Your present moment is only yours. Our present moment is what our perception functions are perceiving and gathering, and what our decision-making functions are deciding and processing at the time.
Access to your present moment is gained by tapping into your functions and observing. Start with whatever function comes easiest. This will usually be the Hero.
Modeling The Process
I’ll use myself as an example. INFJ —
As an Ni-Hero, I ask myself: What am I wanting right now? What am I pressing toward? I sit and wait to see what it is taking aim at, what it is reaching toward, and let that desire burn in my chest and stomach.
With my Fe-Parent, I will breathe into awareness of others’ emotions and values. What are those around me feeling? I let my thoughts move to focus on them. What do they care about? What do I feel about them? If there is no one around, I think about someone else and imagine how they are feeling. I may even personalize an object to see how it feels. A stuffed animal, a droopy fireplace, or a cracked wall. What would they be feeling if they were alive?
As you engage your top two functions, your Child and Inferior will be simultaneously engaged through Cognitive Axis. My Ni-Hero is tied to my Se-Inferior. If I allow the desire of my Hero to spread, when my Extraverted Sensing catches wind of it, it will move in the direction of accomplishing what I want. Ni sees the goal, Se senses the first step to get there.
Se also senses the environment. I breathe and sense what is around me. In the room I’m writing in I can feel the wall, the bench, the kitchen sink — I see it in my mind through my Se, and let that awareness move through me as I warm into my Inferior. The Inferior may take a minute to “wake up” because it is significantly less aware than a Hero or Parent. But, with a little prodding, it will thaw.
The Child shares its axis with the Parent. My Fe-Parent gives my Ti-Child things to think about and process. Now I step into an awareness of my thoughts — What am I thinking? Is that true (Ti)? What should I do with that person’s feelings (Fe)? How do I get what I want (Ni)? How do I perform better (Se)?
Some may find it easier to tap into their Hero and Child first, as they are both optimistic and easier to engage with. Then engage the Inferior and Parent after. Follow the energy.
Now my Ego is fully awake. I have engaged each function within the Ego stack, and am ready for the Unconscious. We may not always be aware of the perceptions and sensations coming from our Unconscious, but we can develop some awareness for it.
Each of the functions within our Ego is connected — through Cognitive Orbit — to each of the functions in the Unconscious. The information from my Ni-Hero passes to my Ne-Nemesis. So on and so forth with the Parent-Critic, Child-Trickster, and Inferior-Demon.
Let your fear present itself to you in your Nemesis. Let the sharp edge of the Critic be felt. Let the confident but oblivious Trickster be seen. Acknowledge the presence of the Demon, and how thin the veil between it and the Inferior can be.
Now we are aware. This exercise can take mere seconds. It is simply acknowledging the way our minds work, tapping into the flow of information, and watching it move.
Merely watching your “thoughts” is not sufficient. Many claim that watching your thoughts is the primary way to enter into awareness. We have thoughts, yes, but we also have senses, perceptions, feelings, judgments, and visions of the future. Ti thoughts and Fi judgment represent just 1/8th of the spectrum of cognition, they are by no means the only doorway to a meditative state of awareness.
How to Become Aware of the Present Moment
Ni — Become aware of what you are desiring and the future you see for yourself.
Se — Become aware of the physical environment around you. Perceive the physical aspects of the world around you. What effect are you having on the environment around you? On other’s experience? How are your actions useful? The quickest way to do this may be to use your Se on an Si user around you. What experiences are they receiving?
Si — Focus on your body. Are you relaxed? Is your posture making you sore? Are you hungry? Tired? While you relax, try not to get bogged down in the distracting memories that pop up in the absence of thought. Observe them, but don’t engage with them while you search for what’s happening deeper within you right now. Consider why they may appear, then let them pass.
Ne — Seeing the trajectory of others’ path. Watching your mind as it dips into the metaphysical, and observes the possibilities and potential for the paths the people, things, and ideas around you will take. Are you trying to be desirable? How are you doing that? See what your mind presents as things that could happen but again don’t engage, just observe.
Ti — Watch the processor within you process information. How is it trying to solve that problem? What specific thoughts are passing through? What is true about the situation you are thinking about? You are not your thoughts, but you do have thoughts.
Fe — What do those around you feel? Can you sense what is important to them — their values and principles — by which they live their life? Examine how your gut goes to match the internal state of those around you. Let those sensations come in, they are feeding you information. Are you trying to be helpful? How are you doing that?
Fi — What are you feeling right now? What is important to you? What principles are standing on at this moment? What will you fight for? Observe without attachment.
Te — What are others thinking right now? What can you offer through gathering all of their thoughts? Which thought is most helpful? Are you trying to be thought better of? How are you doing that?
The trick is to tap into the awareness of the functions without grabbing onto the content within them. You can do that later. For now, simply watch and listen as the energies of cognition flow like a river through your soul.
The Present Moment is Not the Present Moment
In the way the present moment is generally understood, it could be argued that the present moment is a combination of Se and Si. Se is the external present moment, governing awareness of reality; and Si is the internal present moment, governing inward sensation.
By definition, high-sensing Heros (or Parents) — and therefore concrete types — are the only types that can consistently enter the present moment.
But do Ni-Heroes and Ne-Heroes actively violate the present moment because of their incessant orientation to the future and to possibilities — not to what is, but to what could be? Should they cut their intuition out of themselves so that they too can dip into the “present moment” with their weaker, in some cases lowest, functions?
No! INxJs should not have to feel the hatred of their Introverted-Sensing Demon just to be in touch with the present moment. ENxPs should not have to feel their hatred for reality, through their Extraverted-Sensing Demon, just to access the present moment. Their low Se and Si are not their present moment. At least not typically. The same goes for ENxJs and INxPs with their Se and Si-Tricksters. The present moment is what’s happening with the cognitive functions you have, not just the narrow Si/Se definition.
It is no sin to use the tools given to you, and it is no violation of the present moment if you are unable to access it as it is typically considered to be. Become aware of what your psyche was built to be aware of, and there you will find your present.