The other day I was sitting quietly at the dining room table drinking my morning coffee. The birds were chirping outside. The house was quiet. The summer breeze was coming through the window; I could feel it swirling around me. As I looked out onto my front lawn, I could see a few birds pecking away at the ground looking for their breakfast, a rabbit eating some grass and a couple of squirrels playing in the tree. I did my best to slow down and enjoy what I was hearing and seeing outside.
I want to be better at taking in moments and training my brain not to be so quick to move on to the next random thought or notification on my phone, another web page or whatever is ahead for the day.
Breathe slowly. Relax. It’s ok to slow down.
I’m 44 years old, let’s call it my halfway point, and 2022 has been a year where I’ve come to terms with a few things. One of which is the simple fact that I am not growing any younger. I know, right. Crazy. My body is letting me know. I was looking at some pictures that my wife put up on the wall for fathers day and recalled a time when my body was way more flexible and fit. I was slim, full of energy, able to run on all fours while chasing the kids or carrying them on my back as though I was a friendly polar bear from The Golden Compass or Aslan from the Chronicles of Narnia. My kids are older now. The days when they enjoyed riding on my back and playing hide and seek in the basement are long gone. I also have a bit of weight settling into certaine areas of my body and it’s getting harder and harder to get rid of it. Some of my joints no longer enjoy being put to work. Don’t get me wrong. I’m not complaining and letting myself go toward old age! Au contraire, there is plenty left in me, and my mind is telling me I’m still young. However, there is a big chunk of my life behind me and I hope to have another relatively healthy 44 ahead, but I have no clue.
Back to that quiet morning. At one point I felt in tune with that very moment. Aware of the passing of time. Connected to the stillness, the breeze, the sounds outside and the hot coffee in my mouth. My mind, heart and soul were one.
I had a thought and followed it through. It was as though my mind was talking to me. Put your hand over your coffee mug. I did. Feel the mug with your fingers and the heat coming out of it as it warms the palm of your hand. Leave it there for a few seconds and breathe. Now remove your hand from the mug and close your eyes and reflect on what you just did. That moment is gone. It is in the past. All you can do now is remember it as clearly as you can and to the extent that you were experiencing while it happened. A few seconds ago it was reality but now it is simply a memory. You’ve moved on to the next moment.
Maybe you’re reading this and thinking I’m a nut. You could be right about that! That moment with the coffee mug was an exercise I could wrap my mind around. Yet it was an illustration that pointed to everyday life, moments and opportunities. Big and small.
As human beings, we continually grapple with the past, the present, and the future. We may only live in the present, but all three tenses carry many emotions. The present moment might be the only real thing; but it is stuck between the past and the future. Although the past is gone and the future does not exist, both carry huge weight on how we live the present moment. So much so that we often have great difficulty seizing the moment in the way that I seized the coffee mug and experienced it. Trapped in the memories of the past and in fear of the future, our present moments pass by without being given a chance to create new memories and prepare us for what is to come.
Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow does not exist. All we have is today. We have now.
I don’t write this to be depressing! It is meant to be life-giving. Our pasts are filled with stories, events, people, successes, and failures. When we think back, we can experience various emotions ranging from the greatest joy that brings a smile to our face to the greatest shame that wants to box us up in a corner. Those events and those emotions, while they only exist in our recollection (and maybe in some digital or written form), have a powerful hold on how we live today. Interestingly enough, those past events and emotions also have immense power on how we anticipate tomorrow and how we anticipate tomorrow can fill our minds today. It’s easy to see, and we’ve all experienced it, how difficult living in the present moment really is.
Our past may be gone, but it was real. As time passes, we can only remember it partially. We can learn much from it and we should but we don’t need to let it dictate what is possible today.
Our future has not come and it is only the figment of our imagination. As we move toward it, we can only guess what it holds. We can plan for it and we should but we don’t need to let it paralyze us today.
This present moment is what you have. Let the past be a tool for today, not a master.
This present moment is what you have. Let the possibilities of the future give you hope, not fear.
Stop for a moment, if you will, take something simple and practise capturing the moment with all your senses. How did it go?
*In the next few posts, I hope to dig a little deeper into how we can live with our past, anticipate the future, and embrace what has been given us for today.