We often hear from spiritual people that it is important to be in the present. The words of my dear friend Yoda always ring through my ears, “…always looking into the future, into the horizon, never his mind on where he was, or what he was doing”. He knows me so well.
I understand the concept of being in the moment, and of cherishing every moment with those I love. I understand the importance of listening, and of taking time to smell the flowers. My problem with the present is that I spend a lot of time in the present and get nothing for it. When I have deadlines to meet, I’m in the present. When something breaks around the house and starts leaking all over the floor, it is happening right now and needs my immediate attention. That is living in the present, is it not? Every mother of a toddler spends every waking minute in the present. She knows what I’m talking about. When we are at the demands of others at work, we are living in the present. Clearly the present isn’t necessarily the present we are told so much about. I would argue that a lot people spend most of their time living in the present. It’s just not the present that is necessarily beneficial to our well being.
Let’s define for ourselves the types of “present”. The type of present that brings us peace of mind is the kind when you are in the moment with your kids. When you lovingly stroke the hair of your significant other. When you stop to smell the roses. When you stop to breathe in the scenery from a mountain top. When you can say to yourself, “I am happy, right now”. Let’s call this type of being in the present: A.
Let’s call the following type of present: B. This is the present that tends to the needs of others. The boss, the child, the spouse, the bill collector, the mother. When your full attention is needed in the here and now.
Now for the type of present we haven’t talked about yet. Let’s call this type: C. This is the zone present. When you are in the zone. When you are doing your thing and totally into it. When you are engulfed in the creative process.
Now, let’s talk about what the present is not. It is not the past, and it is not the future. It is also not you having your head in the clouds or being entertained to the point of zombification.
We relive our past successes and failures. Constantly replaying events that will never come again. There is no reason to live in the past except for the sake of gratitude. Others, such as myself, live in the future. Always re-designing, always thinking about how things could be, always hoping for better. The only reason to live in the future is to clearly define what you want. When you know, get out. Don’t stay there too long. The past and the future can both occupy a lot of your time if you are not careful.
Because of present B, present A and C are often neglected. It is therefore important to schedule time for A and C. B will always make time for itself but you will have to organize it so it doesn’t over run our lives.
To be able to live in the present, as in present A, meditation can be useful. Also, spending more time in nature. You can also, dare I say, go on a media fast. This includes the internet or most things with software. If these don’t work, then you can always do what the Samurai did. It may seem a bit off topic when I talk about Samurai, but I promise it will make sense in a moment.
One of the main things Samurai had at the forefront of every thought was death. For them, death was a constant. It was always looming around every corner and they never knew for sure when it would strike. Death, however, did not mean to them the same as it does to us. To the Samurai, death was not something to fear and avoid. It was an honor to face death. It was an honor to live and it was an honor to die. Death was like a companion for them. The thing about always considering death is that you appreciate life more. It is easier to forgive, to resent less, and appreciate those you love. It is easier to honor your parents, when you believe every meeting may be the last time you see them. Every moment with the one you love is sweeter. You are not likely to start an argument and leave in a tiff until things blow over. You cherish every moment of life you have with them. For us however, when we consider death, it comes with fear. This was not the way of the Samurai. Death and fear were not companions. You do not have to have one with the other. For them, fear was banished from the heart but death was welcomed. This way of thinking is difficult for most of us but we could learn something from it if we could lose our fear. As they say in The Last Samurai, “Life in every breath”.