Many people who learn that I practice mindfulness ask me these questions:
Why should I try to “live in the moment?”
What’s wrong with mind wandering, planning the future or reminiscing the past?
How exactly “being present” is supposed to help me — especially if what’s happening in the present is dull/painful/unimportant?
That last question especially gives me a strong hint on how to answer. If you consider some parts of your life “unimportant,” then this is probably something to start with.
Between the mindset that considers certain moments “important” and others not, there is only a thin line separating it from an attitude which simply treats life as a means to an end — death.
Do you want to pass your life unconsciously while waiting for death — or do you opt for making the most out of every moment that you are given?
If it is the latter — which I sincerely hope it is — there is really no other way than doing your best to be more present in whatever is happening now. The past and future are only imaginary places in our minds — which don’t have as much to do with what is happening in the present as we tend to think.
The human mind is an extraordinary phenomenon of Nature — and we have every reason to appreciate its magnificence. We should recognize that human ability to plan the future and learn from the past has allowed us to evolve into the beings we are now. This ability to “live in time” made it possible to build the civilisation, come up with the idea of human rights or to create science.
That’s all awesome stuff. But the more humans exploit their thinking, the more they become detached from what is happening right in front of their eyes. And so, most people today pass a huge chunk of their time living in a mental world — rather than participating in the physical one.
It is most easily observed when you afford yourself a moment of consciousness in public transport. When you look around, you will likely see people reading, staring at their screens, watching videos or texting.
If you look closely at their faces, you will realize that they are only remotely aware of their immediate surroundings — such as the person sitting next to them. The view behind the window may not even be registered at all.
That’s because their mind is somewhere else — in the thinking realm. They are preoccupied with a text conversation they are having or the video on the screen. They are most likely thinking about something — and usually, the subject of this thinking has little to do with what is happening in the physical world.
So why would this be a “bad” thing? — people ask. What’s wrong with passing some time on entertainment, while there is little happening in the physical realm?
I say, there is absolutely nothing wrong with it. You are free to spend your life as you please. But it is worth asking yourself:
Is engaging with abstract thoughts about the past or future really what pleases you the most?
It is, of course, often the matter of proportion. If you spend only a fraction of your time watching Youtube and utterly enjoying it — go for it. As for mind-wandering, it is now accepted by the scientific community that a certain amount of idle time is actually beneficial for the brain. And planning and reminiscing — they also have their value, as they allow us to learn from past mistakes and be more deliberate about our future.
All these faculties of your mind evolved for a good reason and there is no reason to downplay them. However, as I said — it is the matter of proportion— as well as the intention as to how you use your mind.
Today, most of us escape the present moment not because we choose to — but because we are unconsciously driven into it. We have a hard time just being with ourselves, without occupying our minds with some type of distraction. As Michael Brown said:
“When we live in a time-based consciousness, the hardest thing to do is nothing when there is nothing to do!”
We hardly ever find ourselves doing nothing other than paying attention to what’s happening now. And this makes us miss out on a lot of opportunities. Opportunities to learn. To experience abundance. To connect with other living beings.
The irony is that, as long as we live in time, we don’t even realize what we are missing. Usually, only after we consciously experience the quality of being fully present, can we grasp the value of it.
When we are present in interaction with somebody else, we suddenly see them for who they are — rather than projecting an image of them we hold in our minds. We are able to hear what they really have to say — rather than interpret their words through the filters of our own conditioning.
This enables a quality of connection that we may have never experienced before.
When we are present with ourselves, we suddenly become perceptive of the parts of our experience that couldn’t break through the thinking mind that “lives in time.” We may realize, for example, that we are more tired than we thought we were — or that there is another need of ours to be met.
We may also experience the profound sense of abundance when realizing that right here, right now, we have everything we need to live well. This may come as a grand surprise to this part of ourselves that is used to always chasing more, better and faster.
Ultimately, being present in the moment helps us act responsibly in any circumstances. To act responsibly — as opposed to reactively — is to make decisions based on what is happening in the present.
So often, we display behaviours that are based on our past conditioning. When we feel threatened, for example, we may unconsciously resort to the ways of dealing with threats that we developed in childhood. Unless we are present enough, we may not recognize that those ways of conducting ourselves are not relevant anymore.
Unless we are present, we are disempowered to change our ways.
Often, we don’t even have an accurate perception of what is really going on. We spin in circles, looking at the world through the lens of fear, anger and grief.
Present moment awareness allows us to touch upon real events, our true intentions and the true intentions of others. This is how we grow up. This is how we become responsible citizens of the world.
And, maybe most importantly — this is how we make the most of each moment that is given to us.