I prefer the present to the future: the current moment offers a possibility for course correction, just before it slips back into the immutable past. Surfing on the river of time, requires an appreciation of immediacy; a perpetual closeness to your own self. Conversely, distant aims provide no quarter – your life – inexorably drifting off course.
Inattention to the present robs you of the only slice of time where you truly exist.
Focusing on the past or the future gets you to bypass your actual life, miss instant opportunities, and slowly relegate your life into forgettable smokescreens.
It is very hard to focus on the train of todays, made blurry by the rush of all tomorrows into the waiting yesterday. An eye blink, yet another present is forever lost in the black hole of yore.
Start by paying attention to what is happening now, together with you. I like to think about it as collecting sunsets (which I do) – sunset, spring, a good cup of coffee, all volunteer their beauty slowly and presently. You and the sunset are here and now: The sun sets leisurely into your past and you continue forward as the last drops of light give way to the evening. Picture yourself sitting by the river of your life, fascinated by the minute representations of your now.
Imagination allows our attention to constantly dart between the past, the present and the future. It instigates us to perceive ourselves as moving back and forth along a static time. We zigzag above our time like a bee’s dance over a flowering bush. This innate inattention to the present is complicated by the numbing sensory onslaught of the 21st century. Our swelling virtual world competes with what we actually experience. Drowned by the digital deluge, our introspective antenna fails to register our humble, unadorned present.
TV, social media, YouTube, video games, you pause for nothing short of sensory explosions. The fabricated reality, glimpsed through various media portals, has long taken over your true self. You happily entrust your ideas to information illusionists. You care about the ones you will never meet, and covet places you would never be invited to. Life by the shock value is a choice like any other; you need no one’s permission. However, the virtual playground comes at a price. Your real life, cast like hollowed husks, get only cursory attention. Your delight is vicarious; you no longer own your pleasures. Your fantasies are generated elsewhere, rammed into a craving brain. The trivial sirens allure you to the external, to the irrelevant, to a life not lived by you.
I often exhort my patients to live their own life. This simple advice – get rid of the redundant emotional stuff and just be yourself – is absolutely the most difficult one to observe. And it should have been so easy: after all you are yourself! Why do we struggle so hard to become what we already are?
In a badly lived life you have an amorphous sense of self. Ambivalent, indecisive, you alternate between competing “selves”, swept passively in your lifetime, a billiard ball knocked into this and that tributary. Undoubtedly the randomness guiding your trajectory has little in common with you.
Staying connected to the time of true existence, your now, is the only way to live your own life. Whether you recognize it or not, in reality you only live at this moment. The rest, the entire perceived arc of your life is in your imagination. So paying attention to where you are now guarantees that you are mostly alive. The more minutes you experience in your real life the longer and richer your life would become. Emotional substance is not an external nutrient. Emotional substance gets generated from the inside, from your own experiences from your memories and your feeling and the entire edifice of the years having passed since your birth. Emotional substance is not a shared experience; it hails from the most private, intimate recesses of your inner world. It is here, inside you, waiting patiently to be noticed. Come back, don’t linger outside of your life, in strange fields of other people’s realities. Don’t let them distract you from your own humble quiet, translucent one.
Hesitant, somewhat reluctant you dislodge yourself from external seduction and start noticing your own reality. It may not be as wonderful as the fantasy, nothing is, but it is real. And it is yours. And you can do something about it now.
Obviously, having spent all this time away from your self, becoming introspective would take some time and practice. Like a novice acrobat, you need to be tethered at first. This is where usefulness comes in handy. Being useful anchors you to the recipient of your kindness. Objects can be passively useful but humans have to do something both active and present. Strive to be useful to someone or something that is here with you. You cannot be useful in retrospect. And since the future happens only in your mind, prospective usefulness – doing something for the future benefit – amounts to no more than a fantasy.. It is the tangible effect of usefulness, the active conscious engagement with the present that can stimulate the “muscle memory” so to speak, necessary develop a usefulness reflex.
Try to be useful to someone or something everyday. It can be anyone including yourself. It can be an animal, a plant, or even an inanimate object. So long as you do something useful that is happening now it satisfies the practice criteria. When you get to know the pleasure of being grounded through usefulness, it will become a reflex, an automatic daily event, much like putting first your feet on the floor when getting out of bed. What is considered useful? It is for you to decide. Pay attention to the possibility of contentment and well being that follows being useful. It is there, waiting for you to discover. You will feel anchored to yourself, to your life and to your own presence here and now. No more passive stumble down the river of your life. You can stand tall, taking in where you are, when you are, able to maneuver, to dodge obstacles, to be in charge of the only thing that you truly have, yourself and your life.