Have you ever found yourself pondering at length on something in the past that you can do nothing about? Have you caught yourself dwelling interminably on something in the future, that may well never happen?
Here's something else. Have you sometimes felt that time is going at the wrong speed, either too fast or too slow for your liking? My view is that the sense of time going at the wrong speed is a very handy indicator of not being in the present moment - something we all do a great deal.
I suggest to you that our ability to cope positively with life and flourish is greatly affected by the way we relate to the passing to time and our ability to be present.
Many popular expressions reflect this. You've probably heard yourself think or say some of the following, with considerable regularity:
- 'Doesn't time fly?
- 'Where have the years gone?'
- 'Time is really dragging by'
Time going at the wrong speed
I suggest that all of these responses have the same cause - neglecting experiencing and taking advantage of the present moment.
The feeling of time passing by too quickly is indicative of over attachment to the past - morbidly dwelling on something that has happened in the past, wishing things hadn't happened as they did, wishing we had done something differently, wishing we had married a different person, perhaps wishing we had become a best-selling novelist, millionaire or supermodel rather than the booking clerk, librarian or bus conductor we actually are. There's a sense that time is passing us by too quickly, that opportunities are being missed, that not enough has been achieved.
The sense of time passing too slowly is excessively oriented towards the future, and wanting it to be here now - the sense that life is empty, not enough is happening, or things aren't happening quickly enough - and also dwelling on all the things that will probably happen/ could happen/ might possibly happen in the future. Will I find the right person to marry? Will my partner divorce me one of these days? Now that I'm a successful millionaire novelist supermodel, will I miss being a booking clerk/ librarian/ bus conductor?
Of course, there's a totally valid place for reviewing the past in order to learn lessons and process issues, but most of us spend a disproportionate amount of our time obsessing about it. It's tempting to wish things hadn't happened as they had, or that we had done something differently, or married a different person. But these conjectures are totally fruitless.
Likewise, there's a perfectly appropriate place for looking into our future so that we can follow a structured plan and anticipate certain eventualities; but we must always come back to the present in order to put the resulting plans into action.
Alongside these habitual tendencies, we're also prone to squandering the present moment. Do you ever find yourself doing one thing (like washing the dishes, being at pilates class, making love to someone), but living through in your mind another activity (wondering what to cook for dinner, next week's pilates class, making love with someone else)? This seriously devalues what can be got from the current activity.
The power of the present
Why do we have such a strong habit of doing this? Why would we want to be absent so much, diminishing our true potential and powerfulness, avoiding the sheer intensity and aliveness of being fully present? Is this really so scary? Why would we want to have a sort of 'half life' for big chunks of our time?
I'm not saying you have to remain a librarian forever and be happy with that. And I'm not saying you can't become a best-selling novelist. I'm just saying that interminably obsessing about either is not going to help, whereas being in the present, planning action in the future, then taking that action, may very well make a big difference to realising your dream.
SEVEN PRINCIPLES FOR LIVING IN THE PRESENT
Here are some practical things you can do in order to be better at living in the present, and reap valuable results from that:
1. spend time with children, who are naturally present-oriented
2. do things that children do, like having a playful approach to life, taking risk, being open to learning
3. take a course in improv - it's a crash-course in presentmomenticity
4. mindfulness practices are helpful for sharpening the mind in the here and now
5. stop comparing this 'here and now' with other times, other places, and other people you might rather be with
6. try thinking: is there any way I can enjoy, appreciate or get value out of this moment rather than wishing it was different?
7. Apply an overall strategy to deal with time: review the past; plan for the future; live in the present.
And remember - you can never know how many present moments you have left....