You might have heard the saying, “The past is history, the future is a mystery, the present is a gift; that’s why it’s called present.”
Often we are not aware of the present because we are thinking about what happened yesterday or ten years ago or what we will have for our next meal or what we’ll be doing next week or next year.
I find that when I don’t pay attention to NOW, I lose things, I don’t remember someone who was at the same event I was, and I can read a page or say a prayer without realizing the meaning of the words. I can’t recall what I ate for breakfast or whether I turned off the stove!
As I function on “autopilot,” I miss the wonder and grace of what is happening in real time. As for worrying about the future, Mark Twain noted, “I have known a great many troubles, but most of them never happened.”
On the other hand, anchoring our awareness in “right now” leads to happiness and wisdom (and may prevent accidents!). We savor what we are doing here and now. These moments will never come again. I will not be in this place, with these people, doing this activity, seeing this landscape exactly like this ever again. It’s a one-time-only experience. Like the Greek philosopher Heraclitus said, “You can’t step into the same river twice.” The water flows on.
I think of the play Our Town. When Emily is on the other side of the grave, she learns, “Most people don’t understand that the power of life exists not only the moments of great passion and joy, but in the details of everyday existence as well.” Every single moment of your life is a gift. Don’t let it slip by.
So how do we ground ourselves in the present? In one tradition, temple bells reminded people to come back to the present moment. They stopped talking and thinking and simply breathed. You might cultivate the habit of pausing now and then to focus on being present to the present. Awaken to what is around you. Look with fresh eyes. Don’t let your mind wander. Live consciously.
You may find that God is in the present moment. It is holy. God is speaking to you, teaching you, or loving you. Be aware of that encounter.
Focus on yourself: God lets your blood course throughout your body and fills your lungs with air. Silently your last meal is being digested. Your hair and fingernails are growing.
Pay attention to the gifts God sends you in the now: the sunshine to warm you and chirping birds to cheer you, friends to comfort you and make you laugh, and good food to delight and satisfy you. Jim Croce knew we couldn’t put time in a bottle. Like a foreign language, “use it or lose it.”
I heard that it helps to say things to yourself like, “Now I’m brushing my hair. Now I’m walking downstairs” as you are performing acts.
Another trick is to change up your routine so your day is fresh and exciting: Stay in bed an extra fifteen minutes. Take a different route to school or work. Eat a food you never ate before (like swordfish or kale). Fix your hair a different way. Adopt a new exercise. Instead of watching another Hallmark movie, call and old friend. Get ready to retire earlier than usual.
• Right now, take a full minute to stop, relish the fact that you are alive, and take in the scenery or people around you. That slice of eternity that you experience will not come again. Take advantage of it.