What does it mean to live fully in the present moment?
It means that your awareness is completely centered on the here and now. You are not worrying about the future or thinking about the past. When you live in the present, you are living where life is happening. The past and future are illusions, they don’t exist. As the saying goes ‘tomorrow never comes’. Tomorrow is only a concept, tomorrow is always waiting to come around the corner, but around that corner are shadows, never to have light shed upon, because time is always now.
‘The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.’ – Buddha
If you’re not living in the present, you’re living in illusion. But how often are we worrying about things that have yet to come, how often do we beat ourselves up for mistakes that we’ve made, no matter how much time has passed? The answer is too much. Not only will living in the present have a dramatic effect on your emotional well-being, but it can also impact your physical health. It’s long been known that the amount of mental stress you carry can have a detrimental impact on your health. If you’re living in the present, you’re living in acceptance. You’re accepting life as it is now, not as how you wish it would have been. When you’re living in acceptance, you realize everything is complete as it is. You can forgive yourself for the mistakes you’ve made, and you can have peace in your heart knowing that everything that should happen will.
The worst part about living in the past or the future is that you’re giving up your personal power. If you’re not living now, you’re giving up your life. You’re surrendering your power to create. If there are changes you’d like to make in life, it’s best to do it now.
If you’re living in the past, you can’t do anything about it, it’s gone. If you’re worrying about the future, you’re living somewhere that doesn’t exist. It hasn’t happened yet. If you want to change your life, the only place you can do it is in the present. But first you need to accept life as it is. When it comes down to it your mind is the only thing keeping you from living in the present.
There are many people that can give you their opinion or their advice on why it is difficult to live in the present. Some will say it is because we live in abstraction, we live in the world of symbols. Some might say it is because we have awareness of the passage of time, or the illusion of time, it produces anxiety because we can look at the past and predict the future. I think all of these answers are partially true. Though the biggest reason we don’t live in the present is because we don’t shut up. That is, we constantly talk to ourselves.
As Alan Watts aptly put it,
“if we are talking all of the time, we never hear what anyone else has to say. In the same way, if we are talking to ourselves all the time, we are never listening, we have nothing to think about other than thoughts, and are never in relationship with reality”. (Watts, 1957)
As humans, we love to create stories. We love to listen to other people stories and compare them with our own. This is beautiful. In a way we could say that the entire universe is based on one collection of stories, a cosmic story. The problem is when we feel the need to create a story about everything, we are living entirely in the world of symbols. We confuse the world as it is, with the way we think about it, talk about it and describe it. Reality though, is not a concept. When we realize this we are able to return to a state of peace and stillness.
Mindfulness is a spiritual or psychological faculty that, according to the teaching of the Buddha, is of great importance in the path of enlightenment. It is one of the seven factors of enlightenment, which is a state of being in which greed, hatred and delusion have been overcome, abandoned and are absent from the mind. Mindfulness, which, among other things, is an attentive awareness of the reality of things, especially of the present moment, is an antidote to delusion and is considered as such a ‘power’. This faculty becomes a power in particular when it is coupled with clear comprehension of whatever is taking place.
The Buddha advocated that one should establish mindfulness in one’s day-to-day life maintaining as much as possible a calm awareness of one’s body, feelings, mind, and dhammas. The practice of mindfulness supports analysis resulting in the arising of wisdom. A key innovative teaching of the Buddha was that meditative stabilisation must be combined with liberating discernment. Mindfulness practice, inherited from the Buddhist tradition, is being employed in psychology to alleviate a variety of mental and physical conditions. It has been popularised in the West by Jon Kabat-Zinn. Despite its roots in Buddhism, mindfulness is often taught in the West independently of religion.
Several definitions of mindfulness have been used in modern psychology. According to various prominent psychological definitions, mindfulness refers to a psychological quality that involves bringing one’s complete attention to the present experience on a moment-to-moment basis, or involves paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally, or involves a kind of nonelaborative, nonjudgmental, present-centered awareness in which each thought, feeling, or sensation that arises in the attentional field is acknowledged and accepted as it is.
Bishop, Lau, and colleagues (2004) offered a two-component model of mindfulness: The first component of mindfulness involves the self-regulation of attention so that it is maintained on immediate experience, thereby allowing for increased recognition of mental events in the present moment. The second component involves adopting a particular orientation toward one’s experiences in the present moment, an orientation that is characterized by curiosity, openness, and acceptance. In this two-component model, self-regulated attention involves conscious awareness of one’s current thoughts, feelings, and surroundings, which can result in metacognitive skills for controlling concentration. Orientation to experience (the second component) involves accepting one’s mindstream, maintaining open and curious attitudes, and thinking in alternative categories. Training in mindfulness and mindfulness-based practices, oftentimes as part of a quiet meditation session, results in the development of a Beginner’s mind, or, looking at experiences as if for the first time.
Practicing mindfulness can help people to begin to recognise their habitual patterns of mind, which have developed out of awareness over time and this allows practitioners to respond in new rather than habitual ways to their life. Recent conceptualizations suggest that mindfulness training improves the self-regulation of attention (Bishop et al., 2004). Although the systems that support attention are presumably involved, objective third-person measures of attention have seldom been used in research of mindfulness training. Instead, the bulk of studies have used introspection or standardized self-report data as dependent measures (Grossman et al., 2004).
There is much to gain from a more precise investigation of the role of attention in mindfulness training. If changes in attentional functions are associated with mindfulness training, further investigations could be conducted to explore whether or not these changes correspond to observable clinical benefits. This information could help clinicians to develop, implement, and evaluate mindfulness-based treatments. In addition, an understanding of the relationship between attention and mindfulness training could advance current cognitive neuroscience models of attention. That is, just as neuropsychological results enriched models of attention by providing findings that highlighted specific disease-related performance impairments, studies of mindfulness training may provide attentional findings that highlight training-related performance improvements. Such findings could lead to further exploration of cognitive-neural systems that are resilient to damage, amenable to reorganization, and capable of improving efficiency of processing through training or pharmacologic treatment.
Numerous writings suggest that mindfulness training improves two disparate forms of attention described as ‘concentrative’ and ‘receptive’ attention (Brown, 1977; Pfeiffer, 1966; Delmonte, 1987; Semple, 1999; Speeth, 1982; Valentine & Sweet, 1999). In the former, attention is restricted to a specific focus, such as the breath. In the latter, attention is instead “objectless” and the goal is simply to keep attention fully ‘readied’ in the present moment of experience without orienting, directing, or limiting it in any way. That is, attention is receptive to the whole field of awareness and remains in an open state so that it can be directed to currently experienced sensations, thoughts, emotions, and memories. Whereas extraneous stimuli are considered distractors in concentrative attention, in receptive attention no stimuli are extraneous because attention is open to the entire field of experience.