The Present Moment
tom walsh

Over and over again, we read about the importance of living in the Now, in the present moment, because the future isn't here yet and the past is done and gone.  We have no guarantees of what will come in the future, so we can't depend upon our plans and ideas for it; we can have no effect at all on the past, so dwelling on mistakes and successes of the past is a futile waste of our time.  Only right here and right now can we hope to have any effect at all upon our lives and the lives of others.

The principle behind this idea, of course, is very sound--many of us spend much of our time worrying about things to come and thinking about things that were instead of looking around ourselves to see our present situations and to find ways to improve them.  We all have things that can and should be done, and eventually we need to make sure that they get done--things that include rest and relaxation and nice conversations with friends and many other positive, fun things.  Sometimes the best thing to do in any given moment is simply to enjoy ourselves, for that enjoyment helps to rejuvenate and reinvigorate us, making us more effective when we do the many things that we're called to do each day.

How, though, do we go about making sure that we get the most out of our present moments?  In many ways, it's a question of awareness--having the ability to know what's going on in our lives, what needs to be done, and what can wait.

We need to be able to make decisions that are sound and that we trust, even if that decision means that we take an hour-long walk in the woods instead of tackling that new set of tasks that we need to deal with.

I used to be completely out of tune with the present moment.  I would have moments of clarity when I was able to appreciate and enjoy what was in my life, but for the most part my mind kept me out of the present because it was focused on what wasn't there rather than what was in my life.  I would be worried about the relationships I didn't have, the money I needed, the problems that might be coming up.  I was successful in what I did because of the pressure that came from deadlines and the expectations of others and my sense of responsibility, not because I was getting the most out of my life and giving my all to what I was doing.

Our awareness and appreciation of the present moment is a mental issue, after all.  It's tied in with where and how we place our attention, with what we're thinking of and what we choose to focus on.  That person might have just insulted me, but the sun is shining and a warm breeze is blowing and there are really nice people with me--so why do I spend my time and energy being angry and worrying about what that person said to me?  What I focus on is, after all, my choice.

More important than awareness of the present moment, though, are our actions in each present moment.  I know people whose first action when they return home is to turn on the television, which then stays on for hours, never allowing the person to experience the amazing qualities of silence and reflection.  I know people who have the chance to go and talk to someone really interesting, but who instead pay more attention to their fears than to their curiosity or desire to know someone new and choose not to have that conversation.  I know people who sit down to relax, but who choose to answer their phones instead of relaxing--and they're suddenly spending their time dealing with someone else's stress and problems.

In his book Island, Aldous Huxley wrote of a society that had trained birds to repeat the words "Attention," and "Here and now."  These birds were wonderful reminders to the people of the importance of keeping our minds and our spirits attuned to the present moment, of paying attention to all that is around us, right here and right now.  We're virtually surrounded by thousands of amazing things all the time, but we tend to allow ourselves to ignore the wonder of the world because we're so caught up in all the little things our minds are doing.  When we pay attention only to what is in our minds, we lose what else there is in life at this very moment.

Living in this moment takes a lot of effort.  Existing in this present moment takes very little.  The effort involves making decisions--decisions to pay attention, to appreciate, to notice, to feel, to allow ourselves to ignore our own egos that are telling us to pay attention only to ourselves in the ego's own petty little ways.  Decisions we make right now will affect us in an hour, in a day, in a year, and in a decade.  Sometimes the decision is to do something we don't want to do, like the dishes or the homework or the phone call to that difficult person.  But sometimes the decision is to do something wonderful or remarkable or just really, really fun.

Right here and right now, where are you?  What's going on in your life?  Are your steps filled with peace, or with strife?  Do you see the wonder, or is your mind focused on a future outcome, a past mistake, or someone else's "wrong" actions?  You are able to make your choice to return to the present moment, to the now.  And when you do make that choice, you have the choice to view it with jaded eyes that tells you what's worthy and unworthy, or with wondering eyes that notice the amazing things and let your mind know that life is an amazing experience.  Right here and right now, there are tons of opportunities all about us.  It's a shame that we so often ignore them, isn't it?

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Love the moment.  Flowers grow out
of dark moments.  Therefore, each
moment is vital.  It affects the whole.
Life is a succession of moments and
to live each one is to succeed.

Corita Kent


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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