The Principle of the Present Moment
Richard Carlson

Much has been said about "living in the moment."  Virtually every spiritual teacher throughout history has suggested this solution.  In fact, this may be one of the oldest and wisest pieces of advice for living a happier life.  Yet, despite all the emphasis on this advice, very few people seem able to implement this critical principle in their daily lives.  I believe this seemingly simple concept  is so elusive because the untrained mind is much like a puppy--it wanders off without realizing where it's going!  Before long, the puppy (like our thoughts) gets away from us.

Of the five principles discussed in this book, this is the one your therapist is least likely to have shared with you.  After all, much of therapy is spent discussing your childhood and other issues surrounding your past.  And while you can certainly gain some insight into your present life by understanding your past, doing so is almost always taken to excess.  Keeping your attention riveted to the past (or future) can become an insidious habit that's difficult to break.  Many therapists actually encourage their clients to live in the past (or in the future), without realizing they are doing so and certainly with no intended harm.

If you've ever been in therapy, you are undoubtedly familiar with the practice of encouraging a client to "reexperience" the past. Therapists prompt clients--sometimes harshly--to focus on, think about, and most frequently, discuss in great detail the past.  This is done instead of teaching clients how to bring their attention back to the here and now--the only way to experience true happiness.  In addition to focusing on the past, clients are encouraged to "get in touch with" the negative feelings that accompany their negative thoughts of the past. . . .

When your attention is primarily in the present moment, the bulk of your experience comes from a place of wisdom rather than reactivity.  Although you will feel content when you focus on the present moment, you won't repress or deny anything that's truly relevant.  The thoughts and memories you need to grow as a person (even the painful ones) will surface at the appropriate time:  when you have the ability to handle them and the inner resources to know what to do with the information you receive.  Wisdom is like a built-in emotional monitor.  It helps you keep your bearings and your perspective.  It directs you toward happiness without encouraging you to pretend that things are different than they actually are.  Wisdom does allow for negativity, but only when it's necessary and appropriate--a far cry from the negativity typically generated in a therapy session.

The only way to experience genuine and lasting contentment, satisfaction, and happiness is to learn to live your life in the present moment.  Regardless of your past experiences, the specifics of your current circumstances, how much you analyze your past or speculate about your future, you will never be happy until you learn to live in the present moment.  A mind that is "out of the moment" is fertile ground for worry, anxiety, regret, and guilt.  This doesn't mean that every moment of your life should (or ever will) be spent focused in this moment, only that it is important that this occurs more often than not. . . .

Thoreau said, "Above all, we can not afford to not live in the present.  He is blessed over all mortals who loses no moment of passing life in remembering the past."  I couldn't agree more.  I think you'll find that mastering this principle is remarkably simple.  It just takes a little practice.  Beginning today, start observing where your thoughts are focused.  Are you engaged in what you are doing right now?  Or, have your thoughts drifted toward the future or the past?  You'll probably catch yourself drifting away dozens, even hundreds, of times a day.  Don't worry.  Pretty soon, this number will diminish substantially.  You'll discover that when you are engaged in this moment, you'll feel happy and satisfied.  This positive reinforcement will give you the faith to continue your practice.

Many people believe
they can only be
happy when their
problems are solved,
relationships improve,
and goals are achieved.
This timeless book
guides readers through
life's challenges and
restores the joy of
living along the way.

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The only time that any of us have to grow or change or feel or learn
anything is in the present moment.  But we're continually missing
our present moments, almost willfully, by not paying attention.

Jon Kabat-Zinn


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What we are talking about is learning to live in the present moment,
in the now.  When you aren't distracted by your own negative thinking,
when you don't allow yourself to get lost in moments that are gone or
yet to come, you are left with this moment.  This moment--now--truly is
the only moment you have.  It is beautiful and special.  Life is simply a
series of such moments to be experienced one right after another.  If
you attend to the moment you are in and stay connected to your soul and
remain happy, you will find that your heart is filled with positive feelings.

Sydney Banks