The present moment is the only reality we have. It is the space and time we inhabit. The past is fiction, and the future is a dream.
I have been spending some time lately wondering if I spend too much time ruminating on the past, both the “good old days” and the times I felt mistreated. I probably do. And then I also realize that I have been spending a lot of time wondering what the future will hold for me. I am eligible to retire in five years and sometimes (a lot of the time) I start worrying about whether I have done enough to prepare for the next phase of my career.
The reality is, however, that neither the past nor the future are real. The past is gone. It is fiction. It is a memory. And the future is so wide open, it is impossible to predict. Worrying about a future that has not happened is harmful to my well-being.
So how do I learn to remain present, in the moment? This space, this time is the only thing that is real.
First, let us consider the past. The past is simply a collection of memories and stories that we tell ourselves. Yes, stories. Like our Instagram feeds, our memories are often curated, incomplete or inaccurate. Our brains are not like cameras that record every detail of an experience. Instead, our brains store bits and pieces of information that are relevant to us. When we recall a memory, we fill in the gaps with our imagination. We embellish, simplify, or even invent details to make the memory fit our current understanding of the world. That is why when people talk about the past – the memories tend to be all good or all bad. We remember entire decades with fondness or with contempt by whether our experiences in those moments were positive or negative. Think back to when you were in high school. Was high school a positive or a negative experience for you? I would guess that the memories we have (and the memories I have) tend to lean in a direction that paints that entire chapter of our lives in either a positive or negative light.
Furthermore, our memories are colored by our emotions. We remember events that were particularly emotional or traumatic more vividly than events that were mundane. For example, we may remember a car accident we were in years ago in great detail, but we may not remember what we had for breakfast last week. Our memories are not objective records of the past, but subjective interpretations of our experiences.
Moreover, the past is gone. We cannot change what happened in the past. We cannot go back in time and fix our mistakes or relive our happy moments. This is something I struggle with. I do tend to relive the past in my mind often. Not the long past, but recent past. I do tend to replay conversations I had, wishing I had said or done something differently. I analyze entire, often painful, times in my life trying to find the explanation as to why something happened or how I could have done things differently to change the outcome. But the reality is that there is nothing I could find, or reconsider, or do to change what has happened in the past. It is done. Gone. A memory. We can only learn from the past and use that knowledge to make better decisions in the present.
Now let’s turn our attention to the future. The future is a dream, an imagined possibility that may or may not come true. We often worry about the future, planning and preparing for every possible scenario. We invest our time and energy into creating a future that we think will bring us happiness and fulfillment. However, the future is uncertain. It is impossible to predict what will happen tomorrow, let alone next year or ten years from now.
Furthermore, our expectations of the future are often unrealistic. We imagine a future where everything goes according to plan, where we achieve all our goals and live happily ever after. We forget that life is full of surprises, both good and bad. We cannot control everything that happens to us, no matter how much we plan and prepare.
Spending so much time planning and preparing for a future that is unpredictable leaves us missing out on the present moment…a moment that will soon become the past. The future literally steals our attention away from the present. We postpone our happiness, thinking that we will be happy when we achieve a certain goal or acquire a certain possession. We forget that happiness is not a destination but a journey, a state of mind that we can cultivate in the present moment, and every moment we have can be savoured and enjoyed along the way.
So, if the past is fiction, and the future is a dream, what is the present moment? The present moment is the only reality we have. It is the space and time we inhabit. It is the only moment in which we can experience life fully. The present moment is where we can find peace, joy, and fulfillment.
As I watch my children grow up into adolescence, I can spend time reminiscing about when they were younger, when their problems seemed so much simpler. I can spend time worrying about their future, whether they will be successful and happy and enjoy their lives. Meanwhile, I am missing every amazing moment of their teen years, complete with the problems that become moments to learn and connect, and the mistakes which are inevitable and confirmation that they are growing into a new expression of themselves. I can worry that I haven’t taught them what they need to make it in this world, or I can trust that we have instilled in them the values and the lessons and the tools they need to make good choices and to navigate when they have made choices that are not so great. I can miss their childhood or I can miss out on their adolescence.
Living in the present moment is not easy. Our minds are constantly racing, jumping from one thought to another. We are distracted by our phones, our work, our worries. We rarely take the time to stop and just be. However, with practice, we can learn to live in the present moment.
One way to live in the present moment is to practice mindfulness. Mindfulness, as we have explored earlier, is the practice of paying attention to the present moment, without judgment. It involves observing our thoughts, emotions, and sensations without getting caught up in them. Mindfulness can be practiced through meditation, yoga, or simply by paying attention to our breath as we go about our day.
Another way to live in the present moment is to engage in activities that bring us joy and fulfillment. These activities may vary from person to person, but they often involve creativity, connection with others, or being in nature. When we engage in activities that we enjoy, we are fully present in the moment, and time seems to stand still. We are not worried about the past or the future, but fully engaged in the present. We are immersed in the moment, not distracted by fiction and fantasy.
Additionally, we can cultivate gratitude for the present moment. Gratitude is the practice of recognizing and appreciating the good things in our lives. When we are grateful, we focus on what we have, rather than what we lack. We appreciate the simple pleasures of life, like a warm cup of tea or a beautiful sunset. Gratitude helps us stay grounded in the present moment and brings a sense of contentment and fulfillment to our lives.
Living in the present moment also means accepting what is. We cannot control everything that happens to us, but we can control our response to it. When we resist what is happening in the present moment, we create suffering for ourselves. Acceptance does not mean resignation or passivity. It means acknowledging the reality of the situation and taking action from a place of clarity and calm.
Living in the present moment does not mean ignoring the past or the future. We can learn from the past and plan for the future, but we can do so from a place of mindfulness and acceptance. We need not dwell on the past or worry about the future, but use our past experiences and future aspirations to guide our actions in the present.
This Self-Care Sunday, how can we truly savour the moment and live in the space we have? Look around. Listen. Breathe. This very moment will be the past in an instant. Savour the day. Connect with the people who matter to you. Turn off the news, which is just a collection of stories from the past, curated to makes us believe the world is a scary and violent place. Yes, let’s acknowledge the past, the pain, the suffering. Let’s honour the moments we have lived, and learned. And let’s look toward the future with optimism and hope, looking forward to the next chapters of our lives. And then, let’s look around in this moment, this space. What is real? I am safe. My children are safe. I am enjoying a cup of coffee and engaging in one of my favourite tasks. I have food to eat and a warm home. The world is not as scary as the news would want us to believe. Millions of people went to bed safe and woke up safe this morning. The past is fiction, and the future is a dream. While we plan for the future, may we not forget the joy of living in the present. It is essential for our well-being and happiness. We can cultivate mindfulness, engage in activities that bring us joy, cultivate gratitude, and practice acceptance to stay grounded in the present moment.
When we live in the present moment, we experience life fully, and we find peace, joy, and fulfillment.
Savour this Sunday, friends. May it be a restful and recharging day for you.
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