I had this moment of clarity. I had been giving a good deal of thought to this idea of living in the present. We hear and read so much about it these days that the message can seem a bit pedestrian at times. And I suspect that some sources of this chatter are more parrot than practitioner.
Nonetheless, the message was apparently sinking in because it suddenly occurred to me one evening—and I’m aware of how trite this is going to sound—that I was always striving for something. From my earliest recollection, I have been hyperconscious of my age and the short time I have on this planet, which has driven me to find something that tells me I have arrived, found my place, made my mark, or something.
But the moment of clarity was not that I was always striving. The moment of clarity was that I never fully understood the corollary to that. That is, by being focused entirely on striving, my entire life I had been preventing myself from ever appreciating the moments when I had accomplished what I had been striving for.
I almost never stopped to realize, “This is it. This is the moment I worked for, that I have been searching for.” And if I did happen to appreciate a moment, it was shallow and preoccupied by other thoughts. I didn’t let it sink in. Far from it, in fact. I was distracted with thinking about what the next step was going to be, what I had to do next in order to finally be happy and fulfilled.
Fairy tales and Hollywood movies have done us all a great disservice (though I wouldn’t want to live in a world without either). In our culture we really do tend to believe that there is this moment—the happily ever after, swelling music, and goose bumps moment—when it all comes together. When we finally are able to declare victory over all our adversity and somehow live in this stasis of triumph and glory. We sincerely believe that at some point we will complete that last item on our to-do list or meet that person of our dreams and we will finally cross the bridge into a perpetual crescendo.
And when it doesn’t work out that way—when we aren’t able to capture that moment in time where we are forever in ecstasy—we are disappointed with our reality and continue our futile hunt. Time marches on and we are swept away with it.
This is no way to live. It’s a sisyphean disappointment of our own making. It is a deceitful manifestation; a malicious mirage. The reality is that we are forever creating these moments of rapture, but we’re too intent on capturing it in a bottle (or a tweet or a photo or a post) to notice. We are too distracted to stop and say to ourselves, “This is it, this is that moment I had envisioned. This is a moment of perfection.”
It may not be a moment that you worked for, but instead it was given to you like a gift in its purest form, as will happen in life. And it was gorgeous and full of living. Ephemeral, yes, but that should not diminish it’s value in any way. On the contrary. This is what life is, and we can be in awe of a moment (without regret) even as we move through it and on to the next. We do it without effort, I think, as children. Biting into watermelon on a hot day, running into a cold lake, sledding down a snow-packed hill. These kinds of moments are exquisite as a child because we are in the moment, not preoccupied with the idea that they will end.
And that’s what being mindful and living in the present is, I suppose. It’s not all that mystical or fantastical. What’s fantastical is thinking we can capture a moment of time into eternity, while simultaneously neglecting its splendor. Certainly we always want to do more and strive to do better. That’s human nature and it is good. But we can also live in the moment. We can see where we are and the astounding beauty in our lives, and say to ourselves, “This is it.”