Life consists of a long series of moments, some feeling more real than others. Virginia Woolf divides these into moments of being and non-being. Moments of non-being occupy most of our lives. They happen when we live life automatically, without awareness, while moments of being consist of being highly aware. Virginia never defines what these moments are, but Nicole L. Urquhart provides a helpful distinction:
It is not the nature of the actions that separates moments of being from moments of non-being. One activity is not intrinsically more mundane or more extraordinary than the other. Instead, it is the intensity of feeling, one’s consciousness of the experience, that separates the two moments. A walk in the country can easily be hidden behind the cotton wool for one person, but for Woolf the experience is very vivid.
These moments are the most real to a person, when one comes into contact with the world around him, with reality.
These moments of being can happen at any time or place, when we are doing anything. They can even be found in our spiritual lives. We can experience moments of spiritual being, having a strong awareness of God and our own selves. We can have a deep and intimate encounter with God in a few moments. These are our mountain top experiences, our summer camp highs, our spiritual revelations.
But inevitably, these moments end, and normal life sets in. We enter back into our moments of non-being and seem to enter into autopilot or a dreamlike existence. Some of today’s top Christian thinkers have been discussing this moments of non-being.
Biola’s Center for Christian Thought describes them as a zombie like state. Mike Sanborn talks about how Brian science is showing us that we can do things automatically, backing up his claim with scientific evidence and scriptural support (II Peter 2:19; John 8:34; Galatians 5:15). These moments of non-being are not bad, but rather allow us to do things more efficiently, use less energy, act quicker, and avoid danger. These are our normal moments of life.
The danger about these zombie tendencies is that sin can become part of our automatic actions. Virginia Woolf mentions how often she would act one way in moments of non-being but would experience great change in moments of being. These moments allow us to fully experience the world around us, our creator, and ourselves. They are important moments of awareness that allow us to live and change.
We should not expect that we can always live in moments of being. We must come down from the mountain top at some point. The concern is not that we have to come down, but that we need to continually go up. Tozer notes that the spiritual life needs frequent care and correction, as a field often needs tending. Nature and sin continually try to encroach upon the garden of the soul, and without tending to it, the field will no longer be fruitful. We have moments of being to keep the field cleared.
The question then arises, how do we seek moments of being? One cannot force them to come anymore than one can make the sun shine upon them. But we can orient ourselves to experience these moments of being. Tozer recommends reflection and spending time in God’s word. Jonathan Edwards recommends ways we may orient ourselves to receive the ‘divine and supernatural light’ which helps us become aware of God and creation. He tells his congregation to pray, read the word, attend church, etc.
On top of all these things, I believe we have an extra hindrance to our ability to experience moments of being: technology. Like books and stories, technology can take us away from the reality around us into a different world. However, technology provides more threats. It can immerse us instantly, anywhere, and indefinitely. We become aware of the big world around us, but we lose sight of the immediate. Often times I see groups of people coming together and instead of being present together, witnessing each other’s moments of being, of their existence and awareness of it, they are sitting on their phones, far away from being aware of those around them. We limit our ability to experience our own moments of being by removing ourselves from reality.
If I was to tag onto Edwards, Tozer, Woolf, and Sanborn, I would add that to experience more moments of being, to experience life, we need to consciously put down our devices for a time and be aware of the world around us. Sit in a garden, interact with a living person or the living word of God, allow yourself to be present. You may not always experience these moments of being, but you can at least open yourself up to them.