Grasping Today and Letting Go of Tomorrow: 5 Tips for Living in the Moment
Be present. That’s all we can be right now. That’s all we really can be ever if we’re truly being honest with ourselves. No matter if your life feels like it is held at a standstill or if the past few years have felt like someone has hit “fast forward” and has yet to let go, the inescapable truth is that life happens in the present. It’s happening now, although we often let ourselves forget while we spend precious, present moments anxiously worrying about the future or dwelling on the already trampled past. Clearly, it is not feasible to not look forward into the future or remember the past— planning and goal setting still stand as valuable motivators in a grand sense of things and memories are the fruit of life— but “living in the moment” does not necessarily entail forgoing all long-term plans and letting the past die. Instead, this mindset designates a life in which you are completely and fully aware of how you are using these irreplaceable moments in the now, feeling the present for the gratifying, freeing force that it is and truly seizing the moment in a way that doesn’t feel like it is seizing you instead. Here are five tips for taking time into your own hands and living your life for today:
- Notice Everything (Yes, Everything) Around You
Life happens in the little things in life, whether or not we always realize it. Living in the moment means realizing the things that make up these present moments. Look around you. Take in all that you can in one breath. Notice your own breathing, the smell of the air around you, the temperature, the way that you feel right now. Practice thankfulness for the beauties of now: the taste of your coffee, this moment that you have to sit back and read, the fact that you are here breathing, existing, noticing. Fully feel each victory and each loss as they occur in the here and now and realize that this present moment is the only time that they will ever truly exist this potently. Simultaneously, be grateful for the things that make you happy and consciously place each of these present moments into things that bring joy, even if that means finding the joy in activities that are more unsavory. I think you’ll find that joy is always there if you search for it. When time seems to slip through our fingers and drag behind us in a string of past moments, it is often because we neglect to appreciate the time that we do have now leaving it to fall unnoticed, unrealized for its potential for even the smallest bouts of happiness. No need to dwell on all of those lost moments now, however. Instead, just turn your full awareness and appreciation to the present right now.
- Really Take Your Time
A big part of enjoying life in the present is taking the time to truly savor these moments as they come and go instead of breezing through them. For even the most menial of activities—brushing your teeth, cooking your meal, doing your work—relish in the small moments and breaths that escape in between the activities that you are jumping from. Take your time to feel good about the work that you are doing, understanding that while you may only be doing it to feed a future goal, that it is the work that you put in during this present moment that will eventually get you there. Let the seconds pass by you and don’t make yourself crazy by trying to pin each one down in productivity. Each moment that you spend you is a moment well-used (you are ultimately using those moments for yourself, right?), so really push yourself to take your time and not rush through things like you mean to just propel yourself into the present moment. Time will take you in its flow and bring you forward. All you need to do is focus on what you are doing now and take the time to give each action its fullest potential and meaning.
- Take Note of What Is New
Another central part of mindful living that fully understands the present moment is recognizing the exciting parts of what make the present new and exciting without allowing your past triumphs and mistakes overshadow them. This means realizing that what makes right now distinctly present is that you have time to read this blog post and practice your self awareness without mourning over the fact that last year you were spending this day on vacation or out with friends. Perhaps your tea today didn’t taste nearly as good as it did yesterday, but perhaps realize that that was because you needed it more yesterday after barely getting a full night’s rest and that today is new and positively different in that you didn’t need your caffeine-fix as direly as yesterday. This is practice in engagement, in realizing that the ever-changing world is, in fact, always shifting and transforming to create new and beautiful opportunities for new experiences. Even if you seem to be re-living the same day over and over again, it is important to recognize that things are never truly stagnant. Perhaps look through your window. Is the sun out where it wasn’t yesterday? Did you wake up this morning remembering a good dream where you didn’t have one yesterday? Merely noticing that this present moment is not exactly the same as yesterday can keep you in the now, where everything is happening for you to see and grasp.
- Recognize Avoidance and Embrace Forgiveness
Sometimes, what keeps us tethered in our ruminations on the past and prevents us from seizing our present moments is pain that lives distinctly in that past. Be it past romances, past mistakes, or even past accomplishes, life in the present often is haunted by what you could have done then to make things right now, or by what you could be doing now that would outshine what you’ve already done. But that’s just it: you’ve already done those things. And, as they say, what’s past is past. When we focus on the should’ve, would’ve, and could’ve of life, this is often a tactic in avoidance. It is a way of wallowing in the guilt of the past instead of making any moves to work through it in order to get over it. Often you’ll find people advising you that avoidance comes in where you resist recognizing your pain. And while this is also true, another way in which avoidance manifests is in the distraction of the self by mulling over a problem and not searching for any solutions. Is your breakup from over a year ago still holding you down today? It may be worth your time to actually examine the reasons for your present unhappiness instead of allowing it to continue to haunt you. Perhaps it is because you are spending too much time on social media, the ultimate world of comparisons, and that you have to dial back. Most of letting go of past mistakes lies in forgiveness, both of others and of yourself. If you can, forgive those who have hurt you in the past. If you can’t, make steps towards that journey of forgiveness. In turn, forgive yourself for your own past mistakes and for perhaps not living up to your own past standards in present. Remember you can choose to own these mistakes and use them to inform your present: just pick them up, pick through them, and lighten them so they are no longer burdens weighing you down. Pain is workable and will inevitably be the past. Don’t use your present moments living blindly in the pain of your past, but use it to illuminate the beauty of where you are now.
- Set Aside Time to Do (And Think) Nothing
Okay, so maybe not nothing. But taking the time to stop, sit, and clear your mind (also known as meditation) can be the key to truly feeling the moment. Take at least five to ten minutes each day to find a quiet place and breathe in the silence. Push out all extraneous thoughts from your mind, focus on your breathing and become aware of everything inside of you and outside of you without allowing them to cloud up your thoughts. If your mind wanders, that is completely understandable (forgiveness, remember?) so long as you catch yourself and refocus on thinking mostly nothing. To meditate is to become fully aware that you are existing here in the present moment to just live in the small moments of silence, breathing it all in, not worrying about the past or future, and just understanding that this place here, now, is the only place you’ll ever have to be. This is pure mindfulness, becoming aware of the nanoseconds in a snap of your fingers, feeling each moment as you live them through, not worrying whether or not each moment holds up to the last or if you’ll ever feel this happy again. You are here. Now. Isn’t it wonderful?