Being in-the-moment is the whole point of being a human.
But being in-the-moment is also the biggest struggle of being a human. Being in the moments that have happened, or are yet to happen, somehow feels a lot more natural.
We are not always out of the moment. There are some stray moments: when we are out in nature, are doing something we love, or are with someone we love; there are some fleeting moments we find easier to be in. But the social media-fueled culture seems to have taken even these few in-the-moment moments away from us. Instead of savoring them, we think ahead. What would make a good post? Do I have the internet to post it right away?
What is a moment?
Every breath. Every meaningful religious tradition is unanimous in this regard. A breath in the past is expended. The future ones you haven't claimed, nor are you entitled to them. The current one, you have to make it count. That is why every mindfulness practice starts with baselining your breath.
If you don't believe me, you can test it yourself. Observe your breath - when you are calm and anxious; when you are in-the-moment, and when you are out.
While an anxious human breathes unevenly, uneven breathing doesn't trigger the escape from the moment. It is the anxiety itself.
What is the source of anxiety?
Fear of the unexpected. Even here, every meaningful religious tradition is unanimous. It comes in two very salient ways:
- We want something to happen and fear that it may not happen.
- We don't want something to happen and fear that it may happen.
It could stem from any one thing - that raise at work, that stock you shorted, those damn home prices, the grades you want your kids to get. Or it could be from all of those things. Then you have a recipe for an anxious mess of a human being.
But here comes the part that I find hard to wrap my head around. Something that hasn't happened isn't real. But we can become an anxious wreck by planning for some imagined version of that future. And what has already happened (and you have observed the consequence), unless it kills you, in which case it is entirely irrelevant, shouldn't matter. Yet we can agonize endlessly about it - regret, shame, guilt, nostalgia.
But growing from the past and having a vision for the future are fundamental parts of human existence.
So does that mean we are screwed? Is anxious reality our only reality?
Yes, to a large extent, LOL. Sorry, there is no silver bullet. But there is one powerful mental tool to mitigate the effect. And with deliberate practice, you can eliminate anxiety, except for a few anxious bouts here and there.
By taking some meaningful action in-the-moment, whenever you find your mind wandering out of the moment.
If you worry about your future savings, you have to invest, now. If you feel terrible about your hangover, you have to change your drinking habit, now. Don't waste the emotion you are feeling in-the-moment. Decide to do something, now. The future we wish isn't happening if we don't do something about it in-the-moment. I want to be a good writer. For that to whiff the slightest chance, I have to get my butt in the seat to write, now.
WHAT CAN I DO about what makes my mind escape the moment?
I am not saying make hasty, spur-of-the-moment decisions. Just that, resolve if there is anything you can do about what is making you anxious. And simply asking the above question of yourself puts enough premium on the moment to bring you in-the-moment.
Because often the answer you will get for the question will be that there is nothing I can do, at least in-the-moment. Doing can be deciding not to do anything because what is bothering you isn't real or doesn't matter. That small mental resolution frees you up to focus on what is happening, now.
None of us can control what happens in the future, only what we do in-the-moment. But we all know life happens every moment. And more we can stay in-the-moment, the richer the experience of life gets. "Seize the moment" or "Be in the moment" don't have to be some vacuous exhortations thats look good on decorative plaques we hang on walls. They can be foundation of a rich life.
Soul of an Engineer
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