What I’ve Learned about Living in the Present: Now is All there Is

By Enoon Gnighton

Are most of your thoughts about what might happen in the future? Are you more concerned about what could happen than what is happening right now? If the answer is yes, you are addicted to the future. Some people are addicted to the past. For them the most significant events in their lives have already happened and they are continually reliving them rather than living in and enjoying the present moment.

Why are thoughts about the past and future so compelling for us? The uncertainty of the future and the unchangeable past inundate us on a daily basis through the media, through conversations and through our thoughts. Everyone is talking and thinking about what happened and what might happen. The past and the future obviously hold significant meaning and relevance for us. But when our thoughts are continually preoccupied with the past and future we miss the most important part of our lives - the present, what is happening right now.

You are not your thoughts

Thinking is not living. Thinking is thinking about living. Our thoughts - living in our minds - become a poor substitute for experiencing the world that is going on all around us right now. The first step to living in the present is the realization that you are not your thoughts. We are the thinkers of the thoughts. The ability to step back from our thoughts is extremely empowering… and challenging. It allows us to see thoughts for what they are, mental images of our experience - not the experience itself. Thinking about eating an apple is a meager substitute for the experience of eating an apple.

The most important skill that we can apply to make our present the best that it can be is to pay attention to our thoughts about what is going on right now because ultimately now is all there is.

 “Your entire life only happens in this moment. The present moment is life itself. Yet, people live as if the opposite were true and treat the present moment as a stepping stone to the next moment - a means to an end”. Eckhart Tolle

You are not reading this article yesterday or tomorrow, you are reading it now. You cannot live in the past or the future, you can only live now.

Negative Thoughts about the Past and Future

The greatest motivation for thinking about the future is our discomfort with not knowing what is going to happen. We want to have a sense of control of our lives so we continually rehearse the future in our minds in the mistaken belief that we can prepare for all of the things that might happen.

Negative thoughts about the future are a significant and stressful source of worry, apprehension, uncertainty, uneasiness, fear, distress, concern, and anguish. Negative thoughts about the past fill us with regrets, bitterness, disappointment, grief, sorrow, suffering, and torment. Since the future remains unknown and the past is still what it always was - the past, negative thinking diverts us from the only thing that is real - the present.

Planning for the Future

Planning for the future and setting goals are appropriate and necessary activities that can only take place in the present. The present is where the lessons from the past and plans for the future come together to create our ongoing daily experience. We can only act in the present to benefit from our past experience and to plan for our future.

“Planning is bringing the future into the present so that you can do something about it now.” Alan Lakein

Breathing into the Present

One effective way to experience the present moment beyond our thoughts is to be physically present by just focusing our attention on our breathing. Contrary to popular belief, our brains are not good at focusing on more than one thing at a time. When we stop to become aware of our breathing, it reduces the energy of thoughts and releases that energy to bring us back into the present moment. Just becoming aware of the feeling of slowly inhaling and exhaling for a few breaths is sufficient to suspend our thoughts long enough to create mental space to experience the present moment.

The good news is that you can use breathing to become present at any time - you carry it with you everywhere you go. It’s free! An excellent opportunity to practice breathing is when you are waiting in line at the grocery store or sitting in traffic. Instead of allowing your thoughts to just wander, take a few precious moments to breathe, to center and to experience that moment completely. You will be amazed at how calming and relaxing simple breathing can be.

 “You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.” Henry David Thoreau

How to live Completely in the Present

If you would like to improve your ability to live more completely in the present consider practicing the following techniques:

  • Learn what you can from the past, then let go and apply it in the present
  • Prepare your plans and goals for the future, then let go and return to the present where you carry them out
  • Breathe presence into your every day routine activities (getting ready for work, brushing your teeth, waiting in the check-out line for groceries)

Living in the present will empower you to:

  • Reduce stress - less of our precious mental time spent in worry and regrets
  • Improve your focus and concentration - we reduce or eliminate distractions when our attention is fully committed to the present moment and we think more clearly
  • Enhance your relationships - negative expectations, regrets, and grudges create barriers that make cooperation with other people difficult. Living in the present empowers us to better assess how we are interacting with those around us and to better respond to them without the baggage of the past and future
  • Gain Peace of Mind - When we are free from worries about the past and the future we are much more comfortable, peaceful and at ease

Become aware of the moments when you begin thinking negatively about the future. Be aware that it has not happened yet. It might happen, but in a very different way or it might not happen at all. Remember the time that you spent worrying about things in the past that did not happen. These are wasted precious moments of your life that you can never get back. Our time in this life is not infinite. Spend your present moments wisely.

You’re cheating yourself out of today. Today is calling to you, trying to get your attention, but you’re stuck on tomorrow, and today trickles away like water down a drain. You wake up the next morning and that today you wasted is gone forever. It’s now yesterday. Some of those moments may have had wonderful things in store for you, but now you’ll never know.” Jerry Spinelli

Do not wait until tomorrow to start living today. Do not wait until later today to start living in the present. Do it right now! The present is life and living. What I have learned about living in the present is that now is all there is.

copyright 2019 Life Art Unlimited