This is it. Smell it, listen to it, feel it. This is life, happening all around you. The gentle sounds that fill the air, the aromas and energies that fill your senses. Inhale it all. Immerse yourself in this moment like salt in an immense ocean; when you are fully present, time and space dissolve into one taste of RIGHT NOW. If you are carrying heavy burdens and anxiety, pause and take in the moment. It demands nothing of you, but your presence. If you are troubled and lonely, stop and breath. You are safe in this moment. Your worries may or may not come to pass, but right now you are okay.
Take the advice of Wendell Berry.
When despair for the world grows in you and you wake in the night at the least sound, in fear of what your life and your children’s lives may be, go and lie down where the wood drake rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds. Come into the peace of wild things that do not trouble their lives with forethought of grief. Come into the presence of still water and feel above you the day-blind stars waiting with their light. For a time, rest in the grace of the world.
You are free. You are safe. In this moment, which is the only one you need to live, all is exactly as it needs to be.
Living in the moment is a universal truth taught in many (maybe all) traditions, and its a great antidote to anxiety.
Aldous Huxley described being present to the moment as part of the perennial philosophy, meaning that it is universal wisdom, emphasized in many traditions over many generations.
Jesus said, “Consider the lilies. They neither toil, nor spin….let tomorrow take care of itself.”
The Buddha described it like this- “Don’t chase after the past, don’t seek the future; The past is gone, the future hasn’t come. But see clearly on the spot the object which is now, while finding and living in a still, unmoving state of mind.”
Rabbi Hillel said, “If not now, when?”
Hopi Elders said, “This is the Hour and we are the ones we have been waiting for.”
Rumi, the great poet and teacher of Sufism, the mystical branch of Islam, said ‘past and future veil God from our sight; burn up both of them with fire.’
Mindfulness teacher, Jon Kabat Zinn said, “Wherever you go, there you are.”
And of course, Kermit the Frog offered his timeless wisdom, “Times fun when you’re having flies.”
The past is nothing but memory, often intruding in your life like an unwelcome guest at midnight. The future is nothing but projection, often casting a shadow over your life like storm clouds. You hold your breath, for fear of allowing yourself to fully embrace the moment.
Do you remember the Y2K scare that computers would crash when clocks rolled over to 2000? It was amusing to be in Australia, one of the first time zones to see the New Year. January 1, 2000 arrived without incident and yet people in other parts of the world still fretted about what would happen to them? We love to worry, don’t we. As Charles Schulz (creator of Charlie Brown) said, “Don’t worry about the world coming to an end today. It is already tomorrow in Australia.”
As if the present moment does not contain enough beauty of its own, we so often engage in mental time travel. We travel back in time, at least our mind’s best effort to reconstruct the past. It’s like living life through the rear view mirror. The problem with living life through the rear view mirror is that objects (and memories) appear larger than they really are. Situations that were challenging in the past might not be so challenging now that you have more courage and wisdom. Your fear that the hurts of the past will repeat is disproportionate compared to your ever expanding ability to deal with life as it emerges. Stop judging yourself for who you used to be or expecting yourself to be ten years wiser than you are now.
We also travel forward in time, at least our mind’s best attempt to guess the future. It’s the same problem. You think about the future from the level of wisdom and courage you have now, forgetting that you will be different, wiser and stronger by the time the future arrives. Mental time travel leads to such a distorted sense of identity, and so much unnecessary suffering.
Of course, it’s essential to do some mental time traveling. That’s how you learn from the past and anticipate the future. It’s right to reflect on the past and plan ahead. Just don’t dwell there.
Zadie Smith offers a beautiful turn of phrase when describing the passage of time in White Teeth. She says; “don’t fall for ‘the myth, the wicked lie, that the past is always tense and the future, perfect’.”
Grammatically, the perfect tense has a neat relationship with the present tense. The perfect tense implies that everything that needs to be done is already done. It all collides in this moment; everything necessary for contentment comes together in this moment. The past is what it is, and what your memory makes of it. You make the future perfect by living fully in the present.
The point here is, “live your life in the perfect, present tense.” When you do, it tends NOT to be tense. You lack nothing in this moment. You need nothing in this moment. All is perfect right now. Sometimes it takes a young child to remind us to stay awake to the moment. I have a special memory of a phase in life when I spent Fridays with my two-year-old son. We walked and sometimes, we even walked backwards. Occasionally, we walked with our eyes shut. We smelt flowers. We got lost as often as possible.
One of our favorite tricks was running sticks along the metal fence of the Jehovah’s Witness Kingdom Hall. It occasionally disturbed the meetings taking place inside, and briefly the attention of these pious people was diverted from their future hope discussions to the reality outside. They probably expected trouble, yet when they looked, all they saw was a young child and his dad, both being kids. I often imagine that they might have pitied us as people who had no future hope according to their religious beliefs. If only they knew. If only they realized that this was one of the times in my life when I felt most alive and hopeful; precisely because nothing was further from my mind than the future.