When I was a teacher, one poster I put on a bulletin board read, “Only that day dawns for which we are truly awake.” Spiritual writers recommend we focus on the present moment, a good practice to develop during Lent! A friend of mine, Roman Vaynshtok, posted an explanation of what this means and the value of it. He gave me permission to share some of it with you. Enjoy!
Living in the moment is the foundation of inner peace. It does not mean ignoring the past or future, but is the realization that they do not exist; they are our memories or imaginations. “When thinking about life, remember this: No amount of guilt can solve the past, and no amount of anxiety can change the future.” Buddha
Our past is the road that guided us to where we are now. But we can change directions at any time. Dwelling on negative images or emotions from the past could become a vicious cycle and self-fulfilling prophecies. Past is a lesson. “The past is a place of reference, not a place of residence; the past is a place of learning, not a place of living.” Roy T. Bennett
Learning to be in the moment and paying attention to the incredible world around us frees us from worries about our future. We are molding our future. When we think about the future, we worry most of the time. Worries are one of the brain’s primary functions to help us survive. By creating the worst scenarios, our brain prepares us and tries to find the best solution to events that may never occur.
Living in the moment gives us freedom from the past and the future. It allows us to experience the world and appreciate life and our surroundings fully. “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.” Lao Tzu.
How can we start living in the present? We begin with the realization that this moment we will never experience again. Living in the present is about fully experiencing the world around us. Experience without injecting thoughts into it or judgment. It means to use all our senses. For example, what information do our feet give us when we walk? How does the surface feel? What do we see? Are we seeing a reflection of the sun in the windows or a beam of light through the trees’ canopy? Is our path dry or wet? What sound do we hear is traffic, music, people conversations, or birds? What do we smell? Do we feel a breeze? How does it feel? How did it change in the next moment?
The benefit of living in the present is to experience life to the fullest, without stress. We all have busy lives and commitments during the day. But we can always take a few breaks to observe and be in the moment. We can do this during any meal. We must put away any distractions (cell phones, books, etc.) and pay attention to our food. How does it look (color, shape, size, texture, etc.)? How does it smell? How does it taste when we bite, chew, and swallow?
We can practice this in any place at any moment: Stop, then breathe and observe. Life becomes more meaningful when you realize you’ll never get the exact moment twice. Living in the present is an evidence-backed lifestyle recommended for people who struggle with anxiety and stress. When we are relaxed, it is easier to maintain an open mind and not jump to conclusions. We can make better decisions, and we develop gratefulness for our situation, friends, and loved ones.
It is easier to be happy when we live in the present. We learn to appreciate a little magical moment that otherwise would be ignored. We realize that life is a chain of beautiful moments that will never be repeated. Never let the sadness of your past and the fear of your future ruin the happiness of your present.
(Notice some quotations are from Buddha and Lao Tzu. When Sister Karita Ivancic and I wrote the book Ultimate Questions: How Major Religions Respond, we realized how much we have in common with other faith traditions.)
• What has been your experience with living in the present moment? Are you able to control your “monkey mind” that leaps from topic to topic?