Take a break from reminiscing about the past and imagining salvation in the future. Cultivate conscious presence instead. Like waking up from sleep, you’ll discover that this is where your life happens: In this very moment. Here. Now. It’s easier than you think. You simply cannot not be here now. The only way to experience more presence is to stop escaping it.
»Live in the moment!«
I bet you’ve heard or read this advice many times. But what is the deeper meaning behind it? Well, in our human experience time simply does not exist. Have you ever experienced anything outside of the present moment? Everything that we’ve ever experienced and everything that we will ever experience happens in the moment – now. Time is just a concept that makes it easier for us to refer to »past now’s« and »future now’s«.
The crucial question is: Are you really living in the moment?
Many of us are habitually escaping life in our thoughts. What I refer to is compulsively reminiscing about the past or imagining salvation in the future. These thoughts are not real. Whenever our mind wanders off into the past or the future, we are not aware of what’s going on right now. We are dreaming our lives away so to say. Even worse, we create a significant amount of suffering for ourselves. Here’s why:
Stop reminiscing about the past
The whole humanity is lined up in the Eternal Now like pearls on a necklace. We cannot not live in the moment, yet we escape life in our thoughts. When it comes down to thinking about the past (light-blue lines in the illustration) we tend to think of it as a better place: »In the past my life was much easier. There was more freedom, better health and I was a happier person.«. Thinking like that creates a gap between what is true right now and what was supposedly better in the past. We start feeling dissatisfied and depressed. The bigger the gap between our memory and now, the more we suffer emotions like guilt and regret.
Two good reasons to stop reminiscing about the past: 1. Our memories are highly inaccurate. They are absolutely unreliable as a reference point. Try it out and ask some friends about a past experience that you share. You will hear different versions of the same story. Try it again a few years later and the stories will differ even more. 2. Past is past. It’s over. Forever gone. The more you cling to it, the more you block the living beauty of the moment – that is right in front of you – out of your experience.
Stop imagining salvation in the future
There are the »past-clingers« and the »future-hopers«. The second type is imagining salvation in the future (light-blue lines in the illustration) and putting life on hold: »Once I’ve saved enough money I’ll buy this and that and be happy. Just 5 more years until I retire – then I can enjoy life fully.«. The bigger the gap between imagination of the future and now, the more we suffer emotions like anxiety and stress.
Whatever we imagine to happen in the future, whatever we expect our future to be like… it is highly inaccurate! It’s nothing but a guessing game prone to create disappointment. Even if we accidentally hit it, we exclude millions of other possible realities. By focussing on one version of the future that we think is pleasant for us we block out what is truly nurturing and right for us.
How to be here now
As I mentioned earlier, there is no escaping the present moment. We simply cannot not be here now. The only way to experience more presence is to stop escaping it in our thoughts. By observing habitual tendencies we can break the cycle and return to the present moment.
1. When the Zen-guys meditate, they anchor their attention in the moment by concentrating on something that just happens naturally, like our breath. There is no need to think about it, no need to generate or interfere. Breathing just happens. By focussing on it our attention is automatically drawn back from the past and the future.
2. In Mindfulness-practice it is being very attentive to simple doings like cutting vegetables or intentionally walking step by step out in nature. The attention is narrowed down onto something that happens right now.
3. Looking back at the title image of this article we see a guy surfing. Why do people like this kind of sport so much? The physical strain they put themselves through… getting beaten up by huge waves out in the cold waters. Guess what: There is no suffering when you shred a green wave. The full attention is anchored in the now.
If you still don’t know how to »do« it, ask a small child. If they hurt themselves and see a butterfly right after, the pain is gone. It’s flushed out of their attention. If they want ice-cream, they want it now and not tomorrow. What is tomorrow anyway? Small children are »Mindemptyness-masters«.
Enjoy cutting vegetables and chasing butterflies!