Most spiritualities and philosophies agree on one point: live your life here and now. To make the best out of our life on earth, and get in touch with the Divine in us and outside, is to live in the here and now. It could in fact be argued that here and now is the only real way to live; otherwise we may end up in the realm of the mind, chasing an image created by society, the media and/or family of what our life should be.
Living in the present did not come naturally to me. I struggled with that spiritual notion as I tried to apply myself to live in the here and now as if I were doing homework; in fact, it was a chore for the longest time…and of course it did not work in such a context!
At first, I understood life in the here and now in an absolute way, to a point where I would wonder if anything coming up around my past should be allowed into the present. Could I feel something or reminisce about something from the past in the present? Then, I would get angry at myself for choosing to daydream over and over again about some fantasy future instead of being present or physically conscious in my here and now. I literally spent years trying to understand how to “live in the present”, that often repeated but seldom practiced mantra. I would try to box this gospel truth into some kind of intellectual definition instead of letting myself be in the now, and feeling my body in the present.
In short, at first, and for a long time, I did not let life in the here and now develop organically in my life, as I was too busy trying to apply myself mentally and literally. I was to understand that it is only when our mind is with our body that we are in the here and now.
Inner child healing
A few years ago, I was sitting in New York City’s Central Park right by Strawberry Fields, when a little boy, no more than 2 years old, arrived with his dad who sat on the bench next to mine. The kiddie would not let his dad pick him up to help him sit on the bench, rather he tried to get “up there” on his own. It was fun and inspiring to watch him, but more to the point I was impressed with his persistence. Each and every time, the little one would try to get up on the bench, he’d fall on his bum, and yet he did not let that stop him. He got back up again and again…. He was relaxed, and seemed to enjoy the getting to the bench way up there as much as his actual goal.
In other words, the fact that he fell down repeatedly did not affect his next attempt. He did not make some limited, negative judgement such as “I have fallen down such amount of times, therefore I am not able to do this, and I will never be able to do it.” He fell, and would get back up without making more out of the fall than what it was, a simple fall…nothing else. He was focused on the present project, that of getting on the bench, and he simply kept trying until he got there.
Children can live in the moment because they don’t carry the heavy baggage we do from our past, but also because artificial notions of their self and ego are not yet formed in their minds. The future is also not an issue for children because of their being so naturally grounded in the present moment. It isn’t coincidence that many of the qualities and ways we seek in our self-healing process as adults are the ones we once had as children.
Know your destination, but be present with the journey.
Living in the here and now does not mean that we float adrift and aimlessly: we have a destination. The difference is that we know where we want to go, but our focus is to flow with the journey of our life.
When issues and painful memories come back to haunt us in the present moment, we need to deal with them as they come up. This however does not mean to bring our past into our present in a mental way; otherwise, we could end up believing that the failures and mistakes of the past will keep on repeating themselves. In other words, to be with our emotional experience of the past in the now is not the same thing as to live in the past.
What’s more, our life patterns and lessons repeat themselves until we learn them, and they get progressively more intense in a positive or negative way depending on our anchoring or not the lessons embedded in the experiences.
A team of psychologists from Harvard University conducted a study among 2250 volunteers, trying to determine if people were focused on their activities in the present.
“The results showed that happiness was more affected by how often people drifted off, and where they went in their imagination, than by the activity they were doing at the time. The researchers say they're confident that being distracted was the cause of unhappiness, rather than the other way round.”
Living in the Moment Really Does Make People Happier, Ian Sample, guardian.co.uk, 11 November 2010
There is a time and place for everything including dreaming, but daydreaming instead of dealing with what is in the here and now is not the same thing. Daydreaming does not seem as harmful as watching too much TV or food binging; in essence it is an escape from what our present reality is asking from us. Unfortunately, whatever we may be trying to escape from will remain in our life IF we continue to run from it, be it through daydreaming or other forms of distraction. In fact, when we prefer to see ourselves in some mental fantasy of the future instead of focusing on our present, we actually delay the manifestation of our dreams and happiness.
The sure and life-sustaining way to fulfil our dreams is to recognize, accept and work with our here and now; denying what is does not change the energy and patterns involved in the situation, and the fantasy keeps our mind floating besides our body struggling without being able to change anything.
“Love in the past is only a memory, love in the future is only a fantasy, true love lies in the here and now.” (Buddhist Teaching)
Most dog breeders agree that it is relatively easy to rehabilitate or heal a dog that has been abused or mistreated because dogs live in the present. That does not mean that the new dog owner needs to give his pet too much affection to compensate for the past abuse the dog endured, that “simply” means to be in the moment with the dog… often, playtime and pleasure are pretty sure ways to go! In that regard, man’s best friend is not so different from us.
Life is meant to be lived, not scheduled.
Being in the here and how will take some focus on our part, as we are conditioned to not be present in what is. As simple as it sounds, it actually does take persistence and focused intent on our part to root or anchor ourselves in being.
I noticed the difference with the photos I was taking during my travels; I was known for taking bad pictures. I did not care to take photos, and worse of all I would be daydreaming about another trip as I was travelling! In the last few years, while I have been applying myself to focus on my here and now, my photos have dramatically improved and I even catch shots I would miss in the past, such as incredible rainbows.
In reply to his father’s comment about the life he had chosen for himself, Emilio Estevez’s character in the film “The Way” says:
“You don’t choose a life, Dad…you live one.”