The adage, ‘life unfolds in the present’ has hit me hard! It is one thing to ‘know’ it but quite another to ‘do’ it. Having recently returned from a family vacation, I am only too acutely aware of this once again. I do practice mindfulness quite often and am aware of how much it helps me. And, yet, I struggle so often to achieve this ‘living in the moment’ thing! Why so? Ask me not. I have no answer.
This much-awaited trip, was one that I had been looking forward to for a long time. It allowed me the luxury to let me think at an unhurried pace; of letting me sift through thoughts and making me even more aware of how my thoughts were actually leading me on, carrying me forward. But all I could do was to think of the pressing issues of the day that have been bothering me; things that I have not been able to get out of my mind; in fact, all those things that I had been trying to get away from, were coming to haunt me. I sat, hanging my head, ruminating about things that I had no control of, and worries that were lurking around in the near-future. I worried that my ‘to-do’ list was still incomplete and that I had a few tasks scheduled for the next few days which was now impossible to tick off since I was away on holiday. Oh, why couldn’t I just get that list out of my head, I thought.
The beach was quiet, save for a handful of tourists – some lazing around, some standing and watching others, and some in absolute delight and child-like glee, splashing in the waves, while a few newly-wed couples sat glued to each other, smiling and busy posing for selfies.
Before me was the vast horizon, a phantasmagoria of spectacular hues that changed in quick succession, as the day was about to end. I was back from a long walk, resting my tired feet and trying to capture the dramatic sunset on my phone camera. Miles away from the busy city where I lived, and yet, my thoughts were taking me back and forth, as I kept oscillating between tasks, worries and concerns, constantly swaying between yesterday and tomorrow. I could hardly tell when dusk came and enveloped me and the evening was all but lost!
On my way back to the hotel lobby, where I was due to meet some of the other members of my family, I was angry with myself for ‘losing’ the moment. I felt defeated. That night all I managed to scribble in my diary was, “Unable to unwind. Tried best.”
I wondered why I let the present slip away, squandering my precious evening by the sea with a gorgeous view that I would only dream about, later on. I was suddenly reminded of something that I had read only a few days back. I must admit here that until that moment, I had not taken my thoughts in awareness. I soon realised how I was being controlled by something far beyond my present reality. Why could I not savour the moment? What was getting in the way?
An expert on Tibetan Buddhism, B. Alan Wallace once said – “We’re living in a world that contributes in a major way to mental fragmentation, disintegration, distraction, decoherence. We’re always doing something, and we allow so little time to practice stillness and calm.”
Exactly my point. Isn’t it worrying that we’re losing our ability to live in the moment? Or else, why is it that when we’re at work, we dream of being on holiday; on vacation, we tend to worry about tasks piling up at our desks. Our minds harp on the memories of the past or fret about the uncertainties of the future. Our minds, like monkeys, swing constantly from thought to thought, grabbing our present and controlling us.
In ‘Eat, Pray, Love’, Elizabeth Gilbert writes about a friend who, whenever she sees a beautiful place, exclaims, “It’s so beautiful here! I want to come back here someday!” Gilbert writes, ”It takes all my persuasive powers to try to convince her that she is already here.”
I don’t know when I drifted off to sleep, reflecting on that day’s happenings. The next morning, I woke up, telling myself that I was going to savour the rest of the vacation by enjoying the little acts of the moment—watching a sunrise, eating a meal, enjoying a swim, soaking in the bath, drinking a cup of tea, reading a book, strolling on the beach, or capturing fleeting moments of the clouds in the sky. There is so much to gain from those precious seconds.
The most fundamental paradox of mindfulness is that it isn’t a goal, but it is essential to set the intention of paying attention to what’s happening at the present moment.
To all my readers, I urge you to do this right now. As you read these words, wake up. Become aware of the fact that you’re alive. And breathe. Focus on your breathing and feel the rise and fall of your diaphragm. Feel this moment. You need not wait for the next moment for something to happen. THIS is the moment. This is it. You are where you ought to be!