‘Live in the moment.’ Yes, we’ve all heard that before. But really what’s the big deal about the present moment? What’s wrong with all those other enticing moments that draw our attention?
Simply this: They don’t exist. Moments previously experienced are now just memories. Future moments are just hopes and fears. We can’t experience them with any of our senses. We can’t taste the apple pie we ate yesterday. We can’t hear the concert we heard last night.We can’t see tonight’s sunset this morning. We can record it, we can remember it, but we cannot experience it fully as we did in the moment it occurred.
Even as you admit this is true, you may be experiencing some resistance to the idea of such a narrow focus. Staying present for just this moment, you may be afraid you’ll be missing out on something else. Why wear blinders? you may ask.
But full awareness in the present moment is the opposite of wearing blinders. It is suddenly being really able to see it all! Bringing awareness of all the senses to bear on this moment, we open to the sounds we had ignored in our rush to the future. We see the way light and shadow play across the scene we hadn’t noticed before because we were trying to remember something. We sense the texture of our clothes on our skin as if we never felt it before as we were lost in our thoughts. Our mouths suddenly feel more alive as we taste the complex flavors and texture of food. Perhaps we’d never allowed ourselves the pleasure to simply taste what we eat without running a whole story about calories, fats and our inability to control our cravings.
Coming into full awareness of what we are experiencing right now makes us, perhaps for the first time we can remember, fully and completely and richly alive! Alive to ourselves and the world around us. Fully present, fully engaged, fully available for others.
So are we saying that to live in the present must we block out the past and the future? Not at all. The effort of blocking thoughts in itself knocks us out of the present moment. Every moment holds an awareness of past and future as threads of thought and residual or anticipatory emotions we can feel in this moment in our bodies.
Through the practice of meditation we are able to begin to see these threads for what they are: Just thoughts and feelings passing through. When we get lost in the past, remembering, revising or regretting, or caught up in future planning, fantasizing or worrying, we bring ourselves gently back to an awareness of the present moment. Again and again.
At the beginning, or in challenging times, we might not get fully present for long before our minds set off to wandering again. No one said this was easy! But the beauty is that a single moment fully lived with all our senses has a radiant quality that enriches our whole lives.