One of the greatest challenges in our day-to-day lives is keeping our thinking in the present. We hear so much about “living in the moment” and the “power of now,” we can certainly accept intellectually what that means and its value in being present and aware more of the time. But at a deeper experiential level, what gets in our way? What is it that prevents us from being “awake” to more of life?
It’s probably unrealistic to imagine that we could be fully awake to every moment. Such a heightened state of awareness would be considered an anomaly. In fact there’s a group of people now being observed and researched who appear to have total recall, that is, awareness of every moment or event. These are the exceptions. Perhaps, though, it’s a worthwhile goal for the rest of us to aim for more “now,” for catching more moments.
We’ve often talked about the problem of having “a busy mind” or being distracted. For most of us we know all too well the experience of “tuning out” and missing part of a conversation. We can drive for miles seemingly unconscious of what we’ve passed, simply lost in thought.
We can so easily develop the habit of following our thinking into the past or the future. We become immersed in memories which can carry with them a feeling of regret, sadness or pleasure. We can become equally engrossed in thoughts about the future which can fill us with anxiety, worry or excitement. Whatever captures us it’s our imagination at work and it’s robbing us of an appreciation of the moment.
How can we avoid missing so much of life? How can we stay awake and aware in each moment, as much as possible?
First, we need to recognize our thinking and the feeling attached to each thought. As we learn to tune into our feelings we’ll recognize our state of mind and where our thinking is taking us. For example, if I’m driving my car and I recognize a feeling of nostalgia coming over me I know that I’m thinking about the past. Perhaps it’s triggered by a song on the radio or a passerby that reminded me of someone. This will inevitably happen as we go through our day. What I can do then is choose not to pursue that thought/feeling and instead come back to the moment of paying attention to my driving.
Sometimes in conversation there will be mention of a place we visited or an event we attended and we again can recognize by the feeling that we’re being drawn back in time by our thinking. We can choose to return to the moment and the wonderful gift of listening.
As we calm our minds and catch ourselves in a momentary lapse we can then stop to smell the roses, see the sun on the water, notice the raindrops on a leaf, smile at the shaggy puppy.
Remember that “Each moment comes only once in a lifetime.” Although we cannot capture them all let’s try to catch as many as we can.