Do you like the idea of living in the moment?
How can we do that — live in the moment, in the present, in the here and the now? Buddha had a lot to say on the subject, and in this age of distraction, depression, and worry there seems to be both great interest in and need for his advice. Personally, I have found Buddha’s teachings on impermanence really practical in solving a lot of otherwise seemingly intractable problems or unpleasant feelings; so I want to share some thoughts here.
How much energy do you put into the present?
First, a question to ask ourselves:
How much energy do I spend dwelling in the past or thinking about the future?
50%? 80%? 90%?!
Instead of being present and discovering the beauty and fullness of the moment, we seem to spend an inordinate amount of time dwelling in the past (living in its shadow) or worrying about the future. Perhaps most of our energy? When we are on our commute, are we in our hearts focusing on the people around us in the here and now, developing love for example — or are we in our heads contemplating what a mess we made at work yesterday and/or worrying about all the things we have to get done this week? Even when we are out supposedly enjoying ourselves in a beautiful place, are we nostalgically missing the last time we came to this place with someone now gone and/or longing for a chance to show someone this place later?
We are constantly distracting ourselves from what is going on right under our noses! We don’t need the advertising industry to take us away from our enjoyment of life as it happens (“you’ll only be truly happy once you get this new car/perfume/iPad” ie, in the future) — we do it to ourselves all the time.
I remember when I first came to America and was watching a Roseanne episode in a motel room. I had what seemed like about 4 minutes to get into it before the show broke for loud ads – that interruption was unwelcome enough (in England the ads were not quite as frequent or long-lasting), but then I noticed that the ads were for, guess what, the NEXT episode of Roseanne!! So, rather than just absorbing into the Roseanne in the here and now, I was distracted by the anticipation of the real enjoyment coming in tomorrow night’s no doubt more fulfilling episode.
To me, that postponement of joy to the endlessly receding horizons of future Roseanne episodes, even while I already had a show running right in front of me, illustrated the disconnection caused by our own distracted mind as we sleepwalk through the day wondering what is coming next.
What would happen if all that 50%? 80%? 90% of energy was freed to focus on enjoying the present moment?! How alive could we become?
Living in the past or future is not really being alive because — bottom line — there is no past or future to live in. When we learn to let go of the past and stop procrastinating into the future we connect to the depth and meaning of the present moment, the only moment there is.
Recreating the past in the present
Before we can live a life more centered in the present, we first have to learn to let go of the past. This doesn’t mean forgetting what has happened – it means letting go of the emotional baggage that we have accumulated in our many experiences. In a way our mind has been conditioned to think and act in a certain way, and we bring all of this into our life today. It is as if we allow our past to recreate itself in the present moment.
Let’s say for example that many years ago we had a relationship that came to a sad end (has anyone not been in this position?!) Maybe we still feel that pain today whenever that person appears to our mind, and — judging by how many sad songs, websites, and so on there are about broken hearts — maybe great pain. And the question comes, “Why, when that relationship ended so long ago and is past — it doesn’t exist anymore — do I still feel pain or anger or hurt or loss when I think of it?”
The reason is that we are recreating the past in the present. The problem isn’t what happened in the past but what is happening right now. Dragging the past into the present, reliving it as it were, is a bad habit we have, which will flavor our mind with sadness and condition other friendships. Holding on like this makes it very hard for us to do anything really new or fresh in our life, and it casts a shadow over our joy.
Some years ago I remember asking an older friend about how long she thought it would take me to get over a break-up. She shrugged, “You never do completely.” As she had gotten divorced over 20 years previously, I was somewhat horrified to hear this; and it had the salutary effect of making me more determined than ever. This is because, as I said to her:
You never do completely?!!! Hmmmm. I intend to get over this completely. Otherwise grief will pile upon grief as life goes on, won’t it? Everyone will end up sadder at the end of their lives.
And this is when I got very interested in Buddha’s teachings on subtle impermanence as a powerful method to counteract these stale habits, replacing them with a day by day happiness to be alive.
Continued here …
I’ve been contemplating your teaching and I have some questions.
You say we dont’n forget the problems we expiriens, just to have an acknoledge of my negative karma? Or to act upon the ripening karma of the present moment? So we learn the presents efects that my karma make me expiriens with out remembering what it makes me feel?
When somebody is not beeing nice to others, how should I react to the nasty apperarance.
There are many ways to react to nasty appearances in the present moment — with patience, love, wisdom, and so on. It is easier to react appropriately if we are not hanging onto the past.
I just came across this article. I can relate very closely to this article and the experience of the writer. At the very outset 1989, I knew I had to bite the bullet and do what had to be done. I knew some how forgiveness would have to take place. But, I did not know how or what could make that happen. After a few long years of searching for happiness and court battles, because children were involved. It actually ended, 2004. I stumbled into a Dharma house, 2002, Safety Harbor, and received wisdom teachings. Basically, I developed some vague understanding of self-grasping and suffering. So the next time I met my “ex” (San Francisco) in April 2004, I had only compassion for him. I had just completed my first Lamrim retreat. I can only thank my Kind Teachers for giving me Dharma.
Maybe you are a Buddha, yourself, doing Taking and Giving for all of us caught up in Swamp of Samsara.
It is so cool when we can let go of our attachment and aversion and leave space for nothing but love and compassion for our exes. That really heals the heart.
each of your post makes me realize things..
Helpful things i hope 🙂 Thank you.
What a helpful post. Is it a contradiction when practising a focus on the present to look forward to the continuation ……
If you grasp at it continuing, then it gets in the way of simply enjoying the present, and can also set you up for disappointment… but if you are not grasping then you can, for example, look forward to Part 2 of this article 😉