Living in the moment helps me
I often harp on about living in the moment. It’s a reminder to myself to stop and smell the roses! To curb my overthinking mind. Growing up as a worrier meant I was always thinking about something I’d said that may have offended someone. Or worrying about what might happen – lot’s of ‘what if’s’! So more recently, my new mantra became ‘live in the moment’.
I’ve been reading books about it and listening to podcasts too (I can’t believe it’s not Buddha podcast – Lee Mack & Neil Webster). Living in the present moment is the key to enlightenment in Buddhism. This is explained well in Eckhart Tolle’s ‘The Power of Now’. But the other day I was thinking about those times in life when it’s seemingly impossible to remain in the present.
Looking to the future
My friend is planning her wedding and also buying a house! Her past year has been mainly all about the future. It’s impossible to remain fully present when you have so many things to do to make your wedding day perfect!
And buying a house is just the same! Searching for that place where you will make memories one day – it’s all future thinking. The pandemic extended this timescale too. An extra year of yearning for that day to come when she’d walk down the aisle. An extra year dreaming about picking up the keys to their new home!
When the present is all we have
The Covid-19 pandemic plunged us all into the NOW. With no ability to be able to plan, we were faced with the reality that now is all that exists. If your situation at the time was good, or made better, that was great! But not so great for those in a lonely or overstressed situation.
One of my friends hated going into the office. She was ecstatic when she started to work from home instead – in her pyjamas! Likewise for me. I was at a stage in my life where I was unemployed for the first time in 20 years. It felt like a huge holiday! Living in the moment came easily!
Holidays are times when we’re all enjoying the present aren’t we? We’re away from home and work, in different surroundings – maybe even abroad. Often the places we go to hold no memories. We also know we’ll leave in a week or two, so we have to enjoy the time we have.
Taking a break from work and our usual daily routine is somehow freeing. The expectations that others and we ourselves, place on us, are gone! We feel more free and refreshed and life feels more fun! Trying new things sparks our playful side and invigorates us.
Anyway, back to the pandemic….
For keyworkers this became a time of extra pressure. There was no ability to let off steam with loved ones to soften the blow. Many worked longer hours and a holiday was off the cards for everyone!
The impact of the pandemic on the mental health and wellbeing of our nation will be immense for years to come. The same is true of other countries. Many will have suffered burnout as a result.
Dwelling on the past
I’m sure many spent lockdown reminiscing about the past too. The celebrations and holidays with friends and family that were no longer a possibility. Living with the uncertainty of what the future will bring makes living in the past much easier. And living in the past is something we do when we’re grieving. Remembering our departed loved ones – their smile, their laughter. Their little quirky ways. When life without them seems unbearable, we turn to our memories for comfort. Some of us never even got to say goodbye, and the impact of that is huge.
Grief doesn’t have to be from the death of a loved one. It can be grief for the end of an era (leaving school) or ending a relationship. Any situation where your present feels worse now than it did in the past. You can grieve for how things used to be. Living in the moment is hard because it hurts so much.
What happens in our brain
From a neurological perspective though, it makes sense that we struggle to live in the present. Our minds view time as a continuous process. A moment ago (whether that be a minute or a second ago) is already in the past; the next moment is already in the future.
Survival of the fittest also comes into play. As cavemen, our brains were alert to the dangers that might threaten us. We constantly compared ourselves to each other to see where we fell in the pecking order. We learned from our past mistakes and planned not to repeat them. Many animals live in the present because they have much smaller brains. They also show innate behaviours that we are not born with! Our minds are much more complex.
Our minds are also often very visual. We can close our eyes and remember what we did last week. We can use that memory to predict how it will be in the future. So in essence our minds trick us into getting stuck in the past. Or stuck in the future. When now is all that really exists. The amazing thing about the brain is that it has something called neuroplasticity. This means we can train it to change the way we think, for the better! For example, when we try something new, our brains create new neural networks. This releases happy hormones to make us feel good! We can also ‘wake up’ those networks that have laid dormant for many years. We can start to strengthen them with old hobbies rediscovered!
Living in the moment to feel good
It’s hard to live in the moment. Sometimes it feels good to reminisce about the past and let those feelings envelop us again. Sometimes it feels good to get excited for the future and share this excitement with those around us. But what about when it doesn’t feel so good? When we recall a hurtful memory or focus on an experience we’re dreading? This is when living in the moment can be freeing.
Too much future or too much past and not enough presence can mean we forget to look after ourselves. Getting take aways all the time, not exercising, spending hours trawling the internet. We forget to enjoy each moment as it unfolds. Letting our minds wander to past events and dwelling on them. Or thinking about ticking off the next thing on our massive ‘to do’ list.
The answer lies in choosing to deal with issues from the past that keep haunting you (maybe consider hypnotherapy?). Deciding to take action to do something about that thing you’re dreading (with the help of a life coach!). So that in the end, no matter whether you’re living in the past, present or future, you feel good about it either way.