Yesterday was my weekly volunteer day for the local branch of The Ophelia Project. I’ve been involved in this organization for a year and a half and it is an opportunity to mentor and meet regularly with local disadvantaged teenage girls looking for extra support. As you might imagine it is valuable for the girls, and a rewarding experience for me. But yesterday I knew we’d be short-handed with a lot planned for our 90-minute meeting, and I was feeling a bit anxious. Before I even left the house I was running lists through my head to insure that everything would be handled, and found myself thinking what a relief it would be when it was all over. Then something clicked in my head and I realized that this was exactly what I wanted to be doing—in fact I’d actually gone out of my way and signed up for the opportunity. But instead of relishing in the current experience, I was worrying over details and longing for it to be over. In other words, I wasn’t “here”—I was somewhere else.
Now if you’ve read much of my writing in the past you know that I’m very much committed to the idea that life is a journey—not a destination. I believe (at least in my head) that life is a process, and that what we do and who we become in every instance is more important than what happens in the future. I also believe that the present and future are not bound by precedence. That means of course that it doesn’t matter what’s happened in my past, the now is always filled with new potential.
Even better, I happen to own one of the original paperback copies of Ram Dass’s book Be Here Now (okay it was actually Thom’s book first but it hangs out in my office) so I know how important that statement is. As Ram Dass says, “Early in the journey you wonder how long the journey will take and whether you will make it in this lifetime. Later you will see that where you are going is HERE and you will arrive NOW…so you stop asking.” But what he doesn’t say (or I routinely forget) is that even when you’ve been doing it a long time you must stay awake and aware to the temptation to constantly project into the future, or hang out in the past, rather than simply “be here now.”
Am I the only one who ever does this? Do you ever catch yourself saying, “Once the New Year comes, then I’ll finish that book I’ve been wanting to write.” Or what about, “When I start feeling better, then I can start doing more things I want to do.” Ever said, “When I get rich, or meet that perfect mate/friend/boss, then I can be happy”?
Of course, statements about the past are equally as detrimental. What about, “Once I can learn to forgive my parents (ex-spouse, ex-boss, children) for everything they did to me I can finally find peace.” So, any time I “forget” and start believing that something has to happen for me to be happy or peaceful or whatever (living in the future) or anytime I think I have to let go of or get over something (living in the past) then I am clearly not living in the now.
Why do we do it? There are several reasons. On the surface I think it is habit. When I get busy or go unconscious then I tend to start planning out details to get things done in the future. Just like with my Ophelia Meeting I start worrying about how things will turn out, rather than experiencing the now. If for any reason my body isn’t feeling good I might start deliberating on what I did wrong or what I should have done differently instead of being fully invested in the present moment. If I haven’t stayed awake and aware of my tendency to overlook the present on a regular basis, my mind goes there automatically. Making such a focus a new habit is an essential way to train our minds.
Richard Carlson, Ph.D. said in his classic book Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff, that fear plays a big part of the reason. He says, “Many people live as if life were a dress rehearsal for some later date. It isn’t. In fact no one has a guarantee that he or she will be here tomorrow. Now is the only time we have, and the only time we have any control over. When our attention is in the present moment, we push fear from our minds.” It’s also likely that any time we are worried or afraid it is 99% possible we are projecting into the future.
Of course one of the more influential teachers in current times is Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now. Tolle teaches that the main reason we don’t live in the now is that we are too attached to our mind and it’s activity. Tolle says, “The compulsive thinker, which means almost everyone, lives in a state of apparent separateness, in an insanely complex world of continuous problems and conflict, a world that reflects the ever-increasing fragmentation of the mind.” He goes on to say, “Thinking has become a disease. Disease happens when things get out of balance…. it is not so much that you use your mind wrongly—you usually don’t use it at all. It uses you.”
Ouch! When you analyze it, all three of the above reasons lead us to living outside the present moment. At the very core of our living in the past or the future, is our mind’s attempt to distract us from living right here, right now. Tolle doesn’t suggest that the mind is bad in and of itself, only that we have so habitually allowed it to run around like a monkey-mind that we’ve lost control and it is “using us” instead of the other way around. It is also motivated by fear because it allows the ego part of us to convince us that if we don’t let it run around like a monkey-mind, then something bad might happen to us or those we love.
So what’s the solution? It’s critical to stay conscious and focused on the now. But that’s easier said than done. As Tolle says, “Most humans alternate not between consciousness and unconsciousness but only between different levels of unconsciousness.” If we want to stay in the now we must train our attention and keep it focused there. Obviously, meditation is one of the best ways to go about it. Meditation and practice. Practice and meditation. Now.
Once I caught myself yesterday I was able to go to my Ophelia Meeting and enjoy myself and the experience. With my focus on the present moment (instead of my fears or monkey-mind) I was able to laugh with the girls, appreciate my fellow mentors, and share the best of myself. I know that I know—I know that you know—that this moment, right now is all we have. Let’s just keep remembering to make it a practice we never forget.
Your turn: What do you do consistently that helps you stay in the present moment?
Kathy D says
Great post! The Power of Now was a life changing book for me. It made me aware of the fact that I was never living in the present moment. Of course, I continue to struggle with it daily. Good to know I’m not alone.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hey Kathy D.! Yes, The Power of Now is an amazing book. Did you read his A New Earth….in some ways I liked it better…maybe because the place I was in. Tolle’s work is very powerful for so many of us at this time. But even with a daily meditation practice I find that it is so very helpful to remind myself over and over again….and to hang out with others who are attempting to do the same. Let’s hang out okay??? 🙂 ~Kathy
I actually find it hard to stay in the present moment all the time. But when i do, I feel so peaceful. But I still find it elusive…my mind wants to think even in yoga class. But I am making small progress in the right direction.
I love toread Eckhardt Tolle but I have trouble watching. I wonder why that is?
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Kelly….oh that’s completely opposite of me!!! I actually can watch/listen to Eckart easier than I can read him–ha! Shows how different we all are huh? Of course I did enjoyed read his A New Earth better than the first one but for some reason I absorb more of what he’s saying when he talks….but then again, the talks I enjoy most are when he’s being interviewed. Did you ever see the series when Oprah interviewed him for about 10 weeks…that sort of got me hooked.
I do think yoga helps..as with all meditation. Baby steps as they say.. ~Kathy
Kelly’s comment resonated with me fully. I think that’s part of the reason I haven’t fully embraced the yoga culture — because I never fully lose myself in it.
I will say that I’ve come a long way in the area of quieting my mind and being more present (as compared to the Type A crazy person I was when I was still in career mode), but there is a long way to go.
I’m still trying to figure out this whole meditation thing. I’ve tried it on my own (with apps, music, etc.) but so far… not sold. I think I’m going to try a guided meditation with a group in the new year. I know how important and impactful a centered and focused (and quiet) mind is in the pursuit of a happy life.
thanks, as always, Kathy for providing food for thought.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hey Nancy! I am not currently doing yoga because one thing I learned was how different each and every yoga teacher can be. When I did it I gravitated to a more meditative yoga….and knowing you as I’ve grown to know from your blog…I’ll bet you go for the more aggressive yoga because you like to sweat 🙂 Depending upon the teacher, they can talk you through the poses almost like a guided meditation and that at least was always what I was drawn to. My first yoga teacher was that way and he ruined me for all others because I keep trying to find one that can help me experience it in the same way. So far no luck but I do keep looking.
As far as finding a meditation group or teacher I think it can be similar. If you keep looking around you could probably find one that just feels right. And when you do it will make such a different. Of course Thom and I played around for years (something like 10 years or so) on and off looking for the “right” way to meditate and then 3 years ago–right around this time of year–we gave ourselves a challenge to meditate together for 15 minutes each day for a month to see how we would do. It is now 3 years later and I think we have only missed two or three days during all that time. We keep it somewhat flexible in that we don’t do it at the same time or the same way…but we do do it together and have stayed with 15 minutes. It does help in so many ways.
Not sure if that helps any but it sure helps me on lots of levels. I guess it’s one of those things when the time is right you just do it….sort of like the exercise thing 🙂 Hey, when you get done with this “my year of sweat” you could do “my year of meditation” 🙂 !!!! Let me know if you ever get something going for sure…. ~Kathy
Thanks for sharing what meditation looks like for you. I’m in the information-gathering stage at this point. 🙂 I know I want (and need) to do this as the next step in my journey, but – as you say – I need to find the right fit for me. I’m looking forward to it, actually.
And re: Yoga, actually, I don’t necessarily want to find the high-intensity crazy-workout style yoga, rather, I’d like to find that deep, connected, meditative style. The challenge I have is that I can’t seem to ‘lose myself’ in the moment. I watch others, with envy, when I see them sometimes crying at the end of class from the depth of emotion and connectedness that they feel.
I hope to get there some day.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Nancy…okay that’s weird…I just pulled this comment out of my spam box…but the other one was just fine ??? I think this is the second time that one of your comments has ended up in there. Good thing I keep checking it huh?
And about meditation…yeah I’ve never done the deep connection thingy that you explain either. But just the practice of focusing on doing a posture that is complicated and then breathing into it is something very “meditative” as well. I think some of us are wired differently–shoot I KNOW some of us are wired differently 🙂 and the connection comes to each of us differently. What I love most about meditation is that it is training my brain to stay focused (and or blank) when needed rather than to connect me–I find my connection in other ways. Looking forward to hearing which way you go with it all! ~Kathy
jo Casey says
Mindfulness has made such a huge difference to my life – even spending a few minutes a day focusing on the now helps to settle and ground me. That doesn’t mean I can do it the rest of the time though! It’s a constant process of reminding myself to focus in. Just yesterday I was at my daughter’s first Christmas concert – she was so beautiful and I wanted to savor every moment – so I pulled out my phone! Then I realized that instead of focusing on this beautiful moment that would never happen again, I was stepping out of it to try (and fail) to try and capture it. I caught myself just in time and put my phone down so I could fully focus on what was happening.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Jo! Thank you so much for being honest! And pointing out the phone issue is HUGE. How many times do we either rush to capture something in a photo or movie and forget to just “be here now?” Good for you for catching yourself. And what about when the phone rings…no matter what is going on there are very few of us that can stay “present” without being sucked into that ringtone. I have to watch myself on the computer because if I don’t turn off my email, every time it “dings” I am distracted and loose my concentration….and yeah, I think that’s all part of not honoring the present moment.
I’ll bet your experience of your daughter’s first Christmas concert was especially sweet because you remembered what was most important! Thanks for sharing that! ~Kathy
Kathy, years ago I had trouble with living more in the past than the present, I had to shake myself up. I have never lived in the future because I was never secure enough that I had one. With doctors telling my family my life expectancy was a maximum of 14 years my family taught me to live in the now from a very young age and to appreciate each day and experience. I never planned for a future as a result so waking up to realize I am about to have my 51st birthday before the new year is a surprise.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Lois! You were fortunate (which seems a little funny all things considered) that your parents raised you believing in how important every single day was. I think I remember Eckart Tolle say something about how there were two groups of people who were able to live in the now much better than the rest of us–and those were people who had a terminal illness and those given a life in prison sentence. He said those were two things that helped people realize that projecting into the future was not a benefit.
And good for your realizing that you will soon be celebrating 51 years AND another New Year. Not only did you prove all those doctors wrong but you’ve gone on to be a great writer/blogger and help people all around the world Live-Simply-Free! ~Kathy
Wow Kathy…what a great post!! Who could imagine the complexities of living a life purely in the Now.
I have been guilty of living both in the past and in the future but try hard to live in the moment. It’s amazing how much work it actually takes to do so and I truly appreciate and admire those who do!
Thanks again for a truly insightful post and take care. My best to all.
Kathy Gottberg says
Hi Lyle! Thank you…glad you liked it! And yes, isn’t it strange that it takes so much effort for us to stay present. Of course there remain quite a few benefits to living in the future (especially if you’re a planner like me) but it should never come at the expense of a really awesome NOW right? And for the most part, I can’t see much benefit to living in the past as much as we all do–but again, that doesn’t stop us. Hopefully if we can recognize others doing it–that too should help us stay on track–and maybe inspire others too. Stay in the now and enjoy your holidays! ~Kathy