“Man […] is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present; the result being that he does not live in the present or the future. He lives as if he is never going to die and then dies having never really lived.”
-The Dalai Lama.
Have you noticed how we’re never really around?
Okay, has this ever happened to you? A friend is telling you a story, then they ask for your opinion on something but you can’t answer because even though your body was there, even though you were nodding and putting in the ‘ahhs’, ‘hmms’, and ‘wows’ at the appropriate time, you weren’t really there. You got lost in your own thoughts, thinking about your to-do list or maybe even thinking about the much more interesting story you would tell after your friend finished telling theirs.
Or have you ever read a sentence from your textbook five times but didn’t understand it because you weren’t really there, so your brain couldn’t process it? Your brain couldn’t handle the dual task of daydreaming about what you would do when study hour was up and understanding this line from your textbook. So it does neither effectively.
Most times, most people aren’t living in the present. We’re either in the past—reliving an event that has already occurred, thinking of things we could have done differently, comebacks we could have given in a fight—or we’re in the future, imagining how something that is yet to come would be like. This means we never really live our lives in the now. It’s always in the before or the after but never the now. And that’s sad.
So how can we experience the now? How can we live in the present moment, in our present realities so we don’t end up never living? By doing two things: slowing down and being mindful.
I noticed a bad habit of mine a while ago: my inability to read anything that passed the 140 character limit. This has been perpetuated by the social media age where everyone is too much in a hurry to read long words so we all skims through and writers adjust their content to make it short and skim-able. Yes, it’s nice to have bite size content. But it was as if my attention span for long paragraphs had disappeared even though I love to read. I thought reading lengthy comments or informational pieces was a waste of time so I never had the patience to do so. But when I asked myself, what exactly am I rushing to do? The answer was: nothing. I would just spend more time, not being calm enough to really experience anything.
It’s like seeing an article with a topic you’re interested in, maybe even this one, and you sit to read the first line but that’s the moment all the things you have to do in the world come to your mind. So instead of reading, you end up skimming, telling yourself that you’re getting the main gist. So opposed to calming down to read, processing every word and understanding it and actually getting something from the article, you don’t. You leave thinking you’ve achieved something but you haven’t. What’s the worst that could happen if you calmed down and focused all your attention on reading something you might enjoy or learn from?
We’re always in a rush to do something, but have we asked ourselves what? This mind-set that time is scarce never allows us to calm down and enjoy the things we’re doing or calm down to do them well. So we never do anything really.
Even when I’m journaling, I noticed how jagged my handwriting became after the first page or so because I was rushing. I couldn’t calm down to finish writing the letters. But I’ve started reminding myself that I scheduled this time for journaling so there isn’t anything else I’m meant to be doing. I try to remind myself to calm down and do whatever I’m doing well.
After calming down, we have to be mindful. There’s no use in calming down if we aren’t aware of the present. Mindfulness is the ability to pay attention to the present moment with curiosity and without judgement. It is giving the present your undivided attention and not travelling to the past or the future.
How many people are unable to be in the present because they’re stuck on their phones? When they go out, when they’re meant to be having fun, they have their phones out trying to get the perfect Instagram worthy picture to post later and forget to just be.
When you pick the now over the past or future, when you are fully present, giving all your attention to the moment in front of you and the reality that you are actually living in, you watch everything unfold. It is here that you notice the little things and become more grateful. You notice the smiles on the faces of the people you are surrounded by and appreciate their presence or you notice the variety of colours in nature and the way the sun isn’t as scorching today as it was yesterday.
Be present so when you look back, you can remember exactly how something felt and it wouldn’t be blurry in your memory. Take note of what you see, hear, how the wind feels on your skin, what you smell in the air, how the food tastes on your tongue, the emotions that stir within you. You’ll feel more fulfilled.
As humans, especially in a society that worships consumerism, we’re never content. Always rushing on to the next, waiting for when we’ll finally glow up or have the life we want. We are in a cycle of putting the future on a pedestal but when we actually get to that future, it is never as we expected and we want the next thing. We never slow down. We never experience life. We believe we will in the future but that future will never come. If you keep waiting for it, like the quote said, you will die never having lived. Calm down and enjoy because no matter what the media or society is telling you, the world isn’t running out of time. You can do all you want to. But I hope when you get to do them, you really do them and really experience it.
I know it isn’t that easy for everyone to not think of the future. Some people are on survival mode, barely trying to get by. To be able to live in the moment is a privilege. So if you have that privilege, appreciate it now. If you don’t, it’s okay. Do what you need to survive and one day you’ll get to where you need to be.
Make a habit of slowing down and being mindful. Whenever you feel yourself rushing to go on to the next thing, remind yourself to calm down and feel everything. There’s no rush. Tell yourself that if you don’t enjoy and appreciate now, you won’t be able to appreciate later.
To be more mindful, you can practice the five senses exercise. This calms your mind and helps you focus on your surroundings and not your thoughts. Notice 5 things you can see, 4 things you can feel, 3 things you can hear, 2 things you can smell and one thing you can taste.
If you don’t fully experience and enjoy the now, you never will. So whatever you’re doing, wherever you are, as long as you’re privileged to, give it your full attention. Be patient for what is next while you appreciate and live through what you have now.