Discovering the Present Moment
“Do not dwell in the past,
do not dream of the future,
concentrate the mind
on the present moment.”
~ Siddhārtha Gautama (Buddha)~
Many of you are familiar with this quote which reminds us to live “in the present.” Additionally, you have at least a general understanding of what living “in the present” means. However, although present-moment awareness (i.e., mindfulness) has become a key personal strategy, I wasn’t always a proponent of this idea – primarily because I didn’t understand it.
I’ve always been an extremely goal-oriented person. In the past, I spent a lot of time carefully planning and organizing the various aspects of my life. Therefore, when I was initially introduced to the concept of present moment awareness, it didn’t seem realistic for my life because of my “need” to focus on the future. However, the more I kept hearing references to it, the more curious I became about what it actually means.
What is Present Moment Awareness?
It took a while for me to fully understand it. Several years ago, during a conversation with a friend, I was explaining that I really wanted to get serious about challenging myself with longer local hikes in order to prepare for an upcoming mountain trek. During the discussion, she raised the concern that many people don’t complete the climb due to altitude sickness, and that she would hate to go so far only to FAIL in the end.
I instinctively responded that I disagreed with her point of view. I explained that whether or not I reached the summit, I would enjoy the climb itself, being able to experience a different natural environment, enjoy the challenge, and learn more about myself (insert “A-ha moment” here). Yes, I had spontaneously explained, to both her and myself, the concept of present moment awareness.
In general, present moment awareness refers to the state of being mindful of the present moment – not ruminating over the past, nor worrying about the future. It means enjoying life as it exists in this moment, and not as we wish it could, should, or would be. It also means being aware of what is happening in the present moment with a quality of attention that is curious, open and accepting.
To illustrate, I will further explain my hobby. I truly enjoy hiking. Even though I follow a predestined trail, I never go on a hike with only the end in mind. Instead, I enjoy the entire experience of it – nature, wildlife, openness of the outdoors, novelty, etc. I don’t focus on reaching the end of the trail, nor do I focus on anything that happened prior to arriving at the trail. I simply enjoy being ON the trail.
Why is This Important?
Mindfulness, intentional focus on the present moment, allows us to enjoy more of the moments of our lives. In contrast, when we are past- or future-thinking, we are ALWAYS somewhere else, not able to fully experience the present moments of life because we are either stuck in the past, or worrying about the future. Past/future-thinking also means that happiness is connected with a time OTHER THAN the present; it is either controlled by the past (i.e., I could have been happy IF . . .), or is pushed to a time in the future (i,e., once I finish school, retire, etc.).
The past, present, and future are all connected by present moments. Essentially, the past was at one time a present moment, and our future will become a present moment at some point. Hence, life consists of living in a series of present moments. And if you really want give your mind something to ponder, consider this: During every waking moment, we are experiencing present moments that individually and collectively will influence the future, because the present is where all of our decisions are made. Additionally, this present moment (as you are reading this article) will essentially become the past. Therefore the control of our “future past” is also in the present moment.
Appreciate Every Moment
Living in the present means accepting life as it is NOW and being aware of every moment AS WE EXPERIENCE IT. Present moment awareness allows us soak up the richness of each moment and ensures that we don’t drift through life without truly living. Most importantly, if we become more mindfully aware, it will enable us to look back on our lives at any given point and say, “Wow, I really enjoyed that!” And for that, our future selves will be thankful.