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When I experience or witness sickness, I vow to appreciate every moment of my life.
When I sit on a bench, I am reminded of the joys of simply being present to my surroundings. Enjoying my breakfast and morning paper is my cue to be here now.
The word “present” has a double meaning. There’s present, as in here, in attendance. And there’s present, as in now, a moment of time.
The world’s religions all recommend living in the moment with full awareness. Zen Buddhism especially is known for its emphasis on “nowness.” Hindu, Taoist, Jewish, Muslim, Christian and other teachers urge us to make the most of every day as an opportunity that will not come to us again.
The contrasts to being present are living in the past and living in the future. We do the former when we hold on to regrets.
We constantly review things that have already happened, trying to explain them in terms of our own or someone else’s actions. Often this kind of thinking leads to guilt or blaming.
We live in the future when we make assumptions or fantasize about what could happen and then become attached to those expected outcomes. This habit usually results in disappointment.
Whether we are consumed with positive expectations (optimism) or negative projections (pessimism), we are not living in the moment.
When you find yourself constantly reacting to your experiences in one of these ways, when you always want to be otherwise and elsewhere, it is time to be present.
The companion of this practice is contentment.
Try a here-and-now exercise. Record in your journal what you are experiencing at this very moment: what you are seeing, smelling, hearing, the reports of your senses, as well as how you are feeling, an emotional reaction.
You might do this through writing a description, making a list of impressions or drawing a sketch.
Free intuitive writing puts you in touch with the present, often on a very deep level. To try it, open your journal to a blank page, relax and clear your mind.
Then write or draw whatever comes to you, even if it doesn’t seem to make any sense.
Some people find that writing very fast releases this kind of spontaneous thought.
During a visit with a friend, act as if it is to be your last meeting. See how this awareness affects the quality of your presence.
Before parting, or soon afterward, review this aspect of your encounter.
Did you friend notice anything unusual about it? Talk about what you can do to bring the same quality of experience to all your meetings.
Watch children at play. They know how to be in the moment.
If no children live in your home, volunteer to be with children at a nursery school, day care center, library or elsewhere.
It is easier to be present in some kinds of activities than in others. Examples are gardening, playing or singing music, or putting together a puzzle.
Choose one of these to do as a family or a group one evening this week.
Not living in the present moment is rarely a choice we consciously make. Like the daydreamer’s subtle drifting out of awareness, we evade the now.
We learn to escape the uncomfortable challenge of change, to avoid the disquieting energy of a feeling, or to resist the nagging persistence of an unsatisfied need.
Other familiar ways we trick ourselves into being less than fully present include excessive work, exercise, housecleaning and talking.
More extreme examples include obsessive thoughts, compulsive behaviors, co-dependent focus on other people, and the full menu of addictions that effectively block us from experiencing our lives in real time.
So remember: Every moment is enormous and it is all we have.
Bob Mueller is the vice president of Mission & Stewardship at Hosparus. Learn more at bobmueller.org. The views expressed in this column are those of the writer.