Right Now, It’s Like This: How to make this popular Buddhist phrase work for you

Meditation teacher Vinny Ferraro explains the simple but helpful phrase, “Right now, it’s like this.”

Rod Meade Sperry
20 April 2017

“Right Now, It’s Like This”: It’s a phrase whose usage has caught on among some Buddhist communities, and you may have even heard non-Buddhists using it.

Here, meditation teachier Vinny Ferraro, senior trainer at Mindful Schools, explains to Lion’s Roar where the phrase comes from, why so many find it helpful — himself included — and provides complementary meditation instructions.

Vinny Ferraro
Vinny Ferraro.

Thanks for exploring this with us, Vinny. This phrase — “Right now, it’s like this” — how does it come to us?

It comes from the Theravada teacher, Ajahn Sumedho. My introduction to the phrase happened twelve years ago when he was teaching a retreat in Moscow. I’d been waiting a long time to sit with him, so me and one of my homeboys went to Russia. It was a ten-day retreat and the conditions (like all conditions) were less than perfect. I saw him working with “what is,” using this phrase and a smile.

It really moved me. From that point on I began using it in my practice and sharing it with the folks I sit with.

Students are increasingly employing it, and so are teachers: Mary Stancavage did a dharma talk by that name, and others including Stephen Dansiger, Pablo Das, and yourself evoke it. Why do you think it’s caught on?

For me, using phrases like this can sometimes feel like spiritual bypass, but I think there is “a turning toward” aspect to practicing with “right now, it’s like this.” I think it resonates for a lot of our sangha and people in general who are tired of pretending that life is not hard. I’ve seen kids who are bangin’ in L.A. write it on graffiti walls, and at least a dozen people I know have it tattooed on them. One of the homies sent me a picture of a wall that had just been painted. [Pictured above.]

Even though the mind threatens me with the idea that “it’s going to be like this forever,” this phrase helps me calls bullshit on that.

I really want Ajahn Sumedho to see that photo, to let him know that his words are springing up like grass through the sidewalk in hoods he never imagined. This is the power of truth.

Just as Ferraro notes that several people have chosen to get "Right Now, It's Like This" tattoos, Gary Sanders -- a teacher at Portland Insight Meditation Center -- has shared with Lion's Roar a photo of his own.
Just as Ferraro notes that several people have chosen to get “Right Now, It’s Like This” tattoos, Gary Sanders — a teacher at Portland Insight Meditation Center — has shared with Lion’s Roar a photo of his own.

The phrase’s function, it seems to me, is to be a sort of check-in, with one’s self, about the nature of reality at this very moment. There also seems to be a note of self-forgiveness here.

“Right now, it’s like this” is an invitation to explore what is present. At the same time, it clearly reassures us that impermanence is hard at work. So even though the mind threatens me with the idea that “it’s going to be like this forever,” this phrase helps me call bullshit on that. It helps me let go of the main message from the mind, “that something has to be done,” to this vital message of the dharma: “that maybe something has to be felt.”

As far as forgiveness, the phrase is “right now, it’s like this” not “I’m like this” so there’s an aspect of the not-personal nature of experience. So we don’t always have to take things personally, and can forgive ourselves.

Any advice for LionsRoar.com readers who want to start practicing with the phrase?

I use it as a way into direct experience. To know how something is is to become intimate with it. So I’d advise anyone willing to risk intimacy to see how many moments throughout the day they can experience directly: moments of joy, moments of grief… Turning toward this simple truth, that “right now it’s like this.”

A graffiti artist renders his version of "Right Now, It's Like This." Photo by Jason Quezada, courtesy of Vinny Ferraro.
A graffiti artist renders his version of “Right Now, It’s Like This.” Photo by Jason Quezada, courtesy of Vinny Ferraro.

Vinny Ferraro’s simple meditation instructions

Sit, in a posture that imbues dignity, and begin to settle into your felt sense of being. Maybe allow the eyes to close; this can help us enter the internal world.

Start with a few deep breaths, allowing them to wash over and through you. Allow the breathing to find its natural rhythm. Let the breath breathe you, just as it has for years. In this way, the practice is like visiting with a lifelong friend.

The tone is relaxed and aware.

Bring attention to the breath, connecting with all the sensations associated with the process of breathing. Maybe feeling it at the tip of the nostrils, or the rising and falling of the belly, in the throat or the chest, wherever you experience it the strongest. Allow your attention to settle there.

Some people find it helpful to gently note: in-breath, out-breath, or simply in, out.

Savor the sensation, allowing the rhythm of breathing to relax you.

Using this sensation as an anchor into the present moment, as the mind wanders, gently let go of whatever distracted you and return to this sensation.

Right now, it’s like this.

Whether the breathing is deep or shallow, whether it feels warm or cool, regular or otherwise, just know: right now, the breathing is like this.

Even though we focus our attention on our breath, the mind wanders, as thoughts, memories, and plans arise and pass away. No problem. This is very natural. The moment you realize you’re gone, you’re already back, to this moment, this breath, this sensation. This is a moment of wakefulness.

This is the practice.

Rod Meade Sperry. Photo by Megumi Yoshida, 2024

Rod Meade Sperry

Rod Meade Sperry is the editor of Buddhadharma, Lion’s Roar’s online source for committed Buddhists, and the book A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: Practical Advice and Inspiration from Contemporary Buddhist Teachers. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia, with his partner and their tiny pup, Sid.