The challenge of being in 'the now'.
Updated: Oct 28, 2022
I don’t know of a self-help book that doesn’t extol the virtues of living in the moment. You know, that quote attributed to ‘New Age’ author Deepak Chopra: “The past is history, the future is a mystery, and this moment is a gift. That is why this moment is called ‘the present’.” Nice idea, you’re probably thinking. But who does that? Who truly lives in the moment?
We’re either revisiting or reliving the past — mulling over or fantasising about the what-could-have-been regrets, or the opposite, basking in an earlier success — or we’re planning for the future and worrying about what might happen, wondering what’s next. It’s perfectly understandable: how often do we criticise ourselves for something we did yesterday that wasn’t quite right, or someone thought it wasn’t and we got into ‘trouble’. And we catch ourselves saying, "If only I had my time over . . ." Or, we’re worrying about work tomorrow or that exam next week or that appointment we're dreading or a holiday and all the prep required for it or [insert your preferred worry of choice].
Now, I am not offering a fix. I don’t have a magic bullet. I don’t think there is one. I haven’t learnt to live in the now. I will say, though, that I feel I'm getting better at it. Sometimes when I design or write or swim or prepare food I can be so focused on what I’m doing that I’m only there and not somewhere else. Now I know I haven’t stopped revisiting the past, though I do feel I'm doing that a bit less. And even when I do, I’m not giving myself a hard time for it. I’m just letting it play out. And letting that wonderful thing called hindsight guide me — perfect for showing me how I’m going and what I could do differently next time, provided I act on it.
As for the future, I deliberately don’t have too many plans, nothing stretching too far out. That helps me. I have thoughts about what I might like to do, but I’m getting quite used to, even comfortable with, not coming up with a date or a timeline. (Booking flights is probably one exception.) If they involve other people, I’m especially mindful to not fix dates in my head. Changeable weather, for one, teaches us not to set outdoor events in stone! If things don’t pan out, I can be disappointed, but not for too long. Expressing disappointment for just a minute or so is a sign I have something invested in the activity and/or the person. That’s a good thing. I want to be doing things or being with people because I like to, because they excite me or interest me or I learn from them. Especially if it involves another person, because it means that person matters to me. The thing is not to stay disappointed. I do express the disappointment, allowing myself to feel it. And then move on to something else. This has evolved over time for me and now I can move on very quickly.
What helps is having enough adaptability to replace the disappointment with something else. What I find is if I like who I am and, therefore, what I think and do, I can easily find something else to get on with, even something as simple as going for a walk, or sitting in nature or getting on with reading that book or watching a movie and so forth. So, I would say liking yourself and, therefore, liking your own company, liking what you think and do is very important.
In such a state, less attached to what has happened and what might happen, I am getting closer to being present in the moment. That means being less attached to things and activities . . . and people. And spending less time reacting to what changes about me. The more I do that, the easier it is to remain relatively calm. Only in that state of calmness am I getting close to being in present time.
And for the time being, I’m good with that.