The only time we ever have available to us is this moment right now, so why do we spend so much time thinking about the past and the future? Living in the moment frees us from worry and stress and is the way to fully appreciate our life experience.
An English teacher I used to work with had a favourite saying that she would get the class to repeat with her:
The past is history,
The future a mystery,
The present is a gift so use it.
How very wise! If we are honest with ourselves how much of our time do we spend truly in the present? We tend to feel remorseful remembering things that we regret in the past, or project our worries and fears into the future. We reminisce about old times and daydream about times to come. Straying habitually away from the present moment we miss a large proportion of our lives; we aren’t truly here as our consciousness has wandered off again.
So what are the benefits of being in the Now? You experience more for a start. Have you ever looked at a beautiful view but had your mind so busy that you barely saw it? Or taken part in a fun activity, but been so preoccupied that you felt somewhat removed? If so you've been missing out.
The master teacher of being in the present moment has got to be Eckhart Tolle who wrote The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment. Although his book is very good I would suggest listening to one of his CDs or watching him on DVD. His manner of delivery is an acquired taste, whereas you can race through the book you have to slow to his pace when you are listening to him. If you are a mile a minute person, as I can be at times, you may find you get irritated by his slow and careful speech. The first time I saw an Eckhart Tolle lecture I admit I wanted him to hurry up, spit it out, just get on with it! But of course the joke was on me. If you are truly living in the moment there is no need to hurry up, no sense in rushing. There is only one eternal moment.
When you hurry you are trying to take yourself out of the present into a future that isn’t born. How ridiculous is that? Yet this is how most of us run our lives (I use ‘run’ deliberately here). Modern living encourages us to rush and run and catch the next thing and the next thing. I think the speed of communication through email and text messaging has increased this sense of always being on the go. We feel like if we stand still to appreciate for just ten minutes we will be left behind. In the process we miss most of our lives.
Once you notice you are doing this it is a bit of a shock. Try monitoring your consciousness for a day. Take a piece of paper and divide it into two columns. Label them Past and Future. When you catch your mind going over the past in any way note what you were thinking about and do the same when you find yourself projecting into the future. It is interesting to see where you send your energy out of habit. When you are fully present, even for a short space of time in the here and now, well done!
I’m not saying that sensible forward planning is a waste of time, nor denying that some daydreams are enjoyable and creative, however most of our projection into the future isn’t practical or helpful at all. Usually our thoughts for the future run along a well defined track and we have had these thoughts many times before. They are a distraction from our awareness and appreciation of the Now.
So how can you get into the Now?
Try paying attention to something, fully paying attention, rather than anticipating the next thing & looking around & about. Perhaps look at a flower, a tree, a crystal, or look into the flames of a fire. Maybe watch a pet or a child, or gaze at a mandala. You’ll find your mind goes very quiet and feels expansive when you are in the Now, you should not feel sleepy, not unless you were tired when you started. Being here now is a more wakeful and alert state that is at the same time relaxed and accepting. You are noticing with full attention, rather than the divided and limited attention we normally pay things. Don’t try to think about the thing you are watching- your thoughts pull you out of the Now, simply watch and experience.
This exercise will probably take some practice as we are so used to having minds that flit here there and everywhere, or try to categorise, judge and compare everything, but it is an enjoyable exercise, so persist and you’ll find you develop a deeper appreciation of whatever it is that you choose as your focus, as well as an inner sense of peacefulness.
With practice the habit of bringing your full attention into the Now will become easier. Your mind chatter will start to ebb away in this state and the more often you do it the more you’ll notice that your stress levels are diminished through your life in general and you fritter away less mind energy into the past and the future. You may start to get an expanded awareness of yourself as an unlimited being that is connected to all things and when that happens you have truly awakened!