in the here and now
How can we spend the irreplaceable moments of today reliving the events of yesterday or daydreaming about an imaginary tomorrow? It is as if we are existing in the present but dissatisfied with the present, looking to be somewhere else, somewhere better. What is it about the present moment, the just now in this wonderful existence, that makes it so difficult to appreciate?
become more grateful for our existence
Do we often enough stop to think about how amazing it is that we are here? Of course, we are all here, it stands to reason, I have written this, and you are reading it. But just consider the extraordinary fact of the existence of any one of us individuals. In the first place we owe our existence to our parents, they to their parents and so on through countless generations. All these people had to meet and mate, from multiple alternative possibilities, in an unbroken sequence to lead to the point where you and I are here today. Beyond that, we have to consider the evolution of our species over countless millennia. Prior to that there was a pre-requisite that even the most primitive life would emerge from the inanimate material that comprised this planet in its early stages. The existence of any one of us requires that this sequence would continue unbroken, despite numerous interruptions, through not only recent millennia but through millions upon millions of years. If anyone of our ancestors had chosen a different mate, if any of countless circumstances would have prematurely ended the life of any one of these earlier members of our race or its predecessors, I would not be writing this and you would not be reading it. This thought as well as acknowledging the existence of the planet itself, the life-supporting seasons and the distance between the sun and Earth (ensuring life without burning off the atmosphere or making the planet a frozen wasteland) gives rise to endless reasons for gratitude. Each one of us is truly a one-off, each one of us unique. Amid the miracle of existence, we can find ourselves spending much of our waking hours thinking about something other than what we are doing. Isn’t it extraordinary that we can waste this time, that we can miss out on this wonderful present moment?
How can we spend the irreplaceable moments of today reliving the events of yesterday or daydreaming about an imaginary tomorrow? It is as if we are existing in the present but dissatisfied with the present, looking to be somewhere else, somewhere better. What is it about living in the present moment, the just now in this wonderful existence, that makes it so difficult to appreciate? The just now is a place where we can experience, and be grateful for, the life that we have, right here, in our hands at this moment. Our minds don’t stay in the present place or present time. It is as if we are at the window of a moving train, straining our necks to look forward or twisting the other way to wistfully look back, all the time ignoring the goings-on right inside our train carriage. In these reveries, we are even failing to notice the goings-on in the very carriage in which we are sitting. We can be oblivious to the people around us and to the present moment happenings. We can be absent from the now even though in the backs of our minds we know that change is inevitable, even though we have the intellectual knowledge that eventually we will lose everything. We will in time lose our energy, our health, our friends, everyone and everything. There is a story told about a rich man who died. Someone enquired excitedly “And what did he leave?” The answer was simply “He left everything”. And so it will be with us. So, we should appreciate the gift of our existence and the many benefits we have by living in the present moment while we still have them. But the seeming regularity and reliability of our everyday blessings cause us to ignore them. This consistency causes us to take the things we have in the present for granted as if they will always be with us.
So, where are we when we are not living in the present moment? Very often, when we are not focussed on the now, we find ourselves reliving the past. We look back with worry and regret things we have done or things that we have left undone. But we cannot undo the past. If we feel any sense of regret the remedy is to resolve, in the now, to make good and to try to do better next time. When we look back with regret at anything which we have failed to do, the remedy is the same. Regrets can be helpful only if they provide motivation, in the now, for improvements which will affect the future. Often, we find ourselves looking back in nostalgia at the good events of our past. There is no problem with a little of that. But we have to remember that our past successes were based on actions that we took in what was then the now. In excessive moments of reminiscence, we have to pull ourselves back and ask “what are we doing now in this present moment?”
And what about the future? Do we find ourselves wasting the present by spending too much time daydreaming about the future? Depending on our situation at the time, that looking forward can be in hope or in fear. How many times have we looked forward in dread to an event, a job interview, a talk to be given, a pending operation or an impending crisis? Mark Twain famously said: “I’ve had a lot of worries in my life, most of which never happened.” Then, when the event is past, we find ourselves asking “What was all that worrying about?” Because most of the time, when we look back, we see that there was no need for worry at all.
And then there is the daydreaming. The house I will buy when I win the lotto. Yes, we need to plan for the future just as we have to learn from the past. But, we have to make sure that this is an active relationship with the future and not a pointless and habitual escape from the present. So, here we are, looking out of the railway carriage of life, always believing that the next stop will be more interesting than the last, always believing that the next hour will be better than this hour, that tomorrow will be more exciting than today, always imagining that next year will surely be an improvement on this, always living in the constantly failing belief that our next acquisition will finally lead us to happiness.
in the present moment
Maybe it is because this present moment is so present, so close, so commonplace. The present moment is so always here, that we don’t notice it at all. The present moment is as familiar as faded wallpaper and as taken for granted as the ground beneath our feet. Thoughts of yesterday can be full of excitement when we recall just the good events, our successes. Dreams of tomorrow contain the promise of future excitement when we look forward to only our future successes. By comparison, today is just so ordinary, so “just now”. Yet amazingly, the now is the miracle point in time where we exist and live. The now is where we move and have our very being. And still we get bored with the now.
The challenge is to find ways to bring ourselves back. We need an increased appreciation of what is happening in and around us in this present moment. How can we remember to come back to the present? How do we bring our minds and our bodies into the same place? How to we bring them into this one place where we are right now?
The breath will prove to be a great help in this challenge. The breath is always with us, always present. We cannot survive on the breathed-out air of yesterday. And as for tomorrow, its air will not be presented to us until tomorrow. So, when we feel ourselves drifting out of the moment can we remember to return to the breath saying words such as this:
“I am breathing in and I am aware that I am are breathing in”
“I am breathing out and I am aware that I am breathing out”
If we call to mind the miracle of our existence, we will more easily find ourselves present in the here and the now and we will more actively respond to the unique gift that is the life of each one of us.