Time is elusive. The concept of past and present are alien to small children, they only know about this minute. And then, all that changes. We teach them about the past, often times with a reference to something that they should not have done and we create a memory. And then we explain the future, often in the form of anticipating some reward, and there it is. We have moved them from living in the present moment, to the place that most of the world lives in, not the present moment. It would be naïve to think that we could raise children or live in a society that does not have these constructs, but couldn’t we do this more purposefully?
It doesn’t happen all once. Little bite sized chunks of living in the present are slowly replaced with could have, should have, would have, anxiety and fear. We also remember the good old days, and look to the future with our wants and hopes and dreams. Fear and regrets; dreams and anticipation. To be sure, having a way to relay time is important. We are able to reminisce, pass along history, and plan and set goals and myriad other aspects of a modern world only take place in a space where there is a definition of time.
The problem is that we all too quickly move out of the space where we live in the moment. We wish our lives away waiting for some future event to make us happy. We ruminate over things that have happened in the past. When we are thinking about the past, reliving some moment, we are not focused on the moment in our hand. Trust that I know we need to be able to contemplate the past and the future. But do we need to do it incessantly? What do we gain by spending the majority of our time fast forwarding and rewinding our lives? You know your body does not know the difference. It reproduces chemicals and hormones based on what you let your mind think.
How many of us can relate to the experience of thinking about a situation that did not play out the way you wanted. You are unhappy with the other actors in this drama, and you watch that scene over and over and over again in your mind’s eye. Ever stop to wonder why? Ever stop to consider what function this might be serving? Does it serve you? What are you doing while you are replaying your drama, and by the way you play this drama dozens, or hundreds maybe even as much as a thousand times if it was particularly painful before you replace it with a new drama. You lose control of the trajectory of your life by focusing on what has happened rather than living in this moment.
The same can be said for the future. There are many folks who worry about things that are in the future that frankly, may come true, but also may not. I know, I have lived significant chunks of my life in that mode. For me the past has less hold. It is what has not yet become that captures my attention. It has an equally consuming quality about it as rehashing the past and for me has the added benefit of making me anxious about things that are mostly beyond my control. At this point in my life I can frequently get that under control and live in the moment – when I realize it is happening. Of course the problem is that I frequently, I do not know that it is happening right away. Sometimes, the whatever it is that is consuming my thoughts is so powerful, that even once I realize this is occurring, I cannot pull my mind back, at least not right away. The good news is that with regular practice these mental muscles can be strengthened and you can and will pull yourself back to the moment, back to reality, back to the place where you are living in the moment and creating and experiencing your life fully.
One of those little quotes that I find useful in bringing me from the future back to the present is from the movie, The Spanish Prisoner. “Worrying is like paying interest on a debt that never comes due.” When you think about the future in that light, and with a bit of pragmatism you quickly see how silly it is. Who would choose to pay interest on a debt that will not come due? We all do every time we spend time worried about things that are beyond our control.
The only time that you have is right now. Don’t believe me? Ask a two year old. A two year old, is old enough to speak, old enough to tell you about what occurred 5 minutes ago, but living in this moment. Ask the person who is dying. All they have is the present moment and the past, those that choose to live out their days in the past often do so in regret.
Living in the present moment is not easy to do but vital to creating the life you want. You do have to analyze the past. You do have to plan for the future. These are crucial elements of achieving any set of goals. But you also need to train your mind to stay in the moment, to be in the mode of observer and to participate, participate, participate.
I want to live in the moment. When I do I am engaged in my life, creating good times and in some instances not so good times. The key is that I am engaged in my life.
What could you do? If you could live in this moment and know that it was the one only that you had. Really knowing that the moment before is gone and the one coming is not materialized yet?