Heaven and hell are dualistic concepts and don’t lend themselves terribly well to Zen, but, since time is essentially a fabrication, we can use it as a basic metaphorical comparison point. All that exists is the present moment. History didn’t already occur, but is always occurring, and will continue to occur. All that is real is what we can see right now. What was real before was what we saw before. You get the idea.
But here’s the thing— all that’s left of our perception of the moment in retrospect is our sensory information about the moment, in the form of memory. As a result, what we recall about the past are material recollections. It’s difficult to have a memory without having some sort of sensory experience attached to it.
When we get too caught up in time and memory, we fall into a certain type of conceptual hell, so to speak. When we dwell too much on the past or future, we torture ourselves with delusions, either by getting our hopes up or hating the moment in comparison to moments past.
Being present requires recognizing that time is simply the succession of presents. All we can do is what we’re doing right now. The artist Jasper Johns used to say, “Take an object. Do something to it. Now do something else to it.” Remove objecthood, and this becomes a beautiful dictum for mindful living:
Do something. Then do something else. Or do nothing. But do it now.