The Power of Living in the Now: Suggestions on How to Enjoy the Present Moment and Not Dwell So Much on the Past
Rev. Dr. Kitty Boitnott, NBCT, RScP
Heart-Centered Career Transition & Job Search Coach | Certified Stress Management Coach
Sometimes people think that the idea of "living in the now" sounds a little like a New Age concept for hippies and flower children. It sounds a little simplistic, after all. How do you live in the "now" when you are reliving the past or chasing goals of the future?
The truth is that "living in the now" can be one of the most powerful tools you can use to make for a happier and more content life. Focusing on the "now moment" is critical if you are serious about living your best life.
Now the rest of the truth is that "living in the now" is harder than it sounds.
It is something we don't necessarily do naturally anymore. Our society is very future driven. And there is some nostalgia for the "glory days" of the past. I think it is probably true that our ancestors were much better at staying in the moment than we are today.
Let's not overlook the fact that we are human beings. Sometimes we forget that, and we become human doers. We get caught up in chasing what we believe to be "success."
Success, however, is not a fixed concept.
Thankfully, success is in the eye of the beholder! In our society, being a veterinarian, doctor or lawyer might be considered a sign of professional "success." But we know that there are many unhappy doctors. Did you know that doctors have one of the highest suicide rates of any profession? Statistically speaking, doctors are more likely to commit suicide than the average American. That is a documented fact. So there is a disconnect somewhere. Is it possible that being professionally successful doesn't lead to happiness?
Consider this. The drive to always be doing something keeps us distracted and as a result, we stop noticing our surroundings. We become unaware of the blue hue of the sky or the warmth of the sun on our faces as we rush to the car to keep some appointment that we are anticipating or dreading.
We stay so focused on the daily grind that we have little time for relaxation. We have to schedule time for de-stressing and self-development!
It makes us feel stuck!
We tell ourselves that we can’t change because we have no time. We are sure that the whole world we have created for ourselves will fall apart if we change anything.
In this post, you will discover the power of "living in the now." You need to do that if you wish to achieve personal transformation. As a result, you will learn how you can be more present in your life in every sense of the word.
Let’s look at one of the main reasons we fail to live fully in the present.
Much of the fault lies in our tendency to live in the past.
Many of us think we are living in the present, day after day. But the truth is that we are often more focused on the past and future than on the present.
We start our lives by being plugged into a particular role in our family from the time we are born. You may be the "good son" or the "little lady." Your interests, even your clothing, are dictated by societal norms.
It is better than it used to be, thankfully. But for years there were many stereotyped rules based on gender. Blue was for boys. Pink was for girls. What you wore was dictated as well as how you were expected to behave.
But it is all a question of perception.
For example, colors carry different symbolic meanings in different cultures and at different times. You may think that the colors black and white are straightforward, right? But they carry different symbolic meanings depending on one’s culture.
White used to be the color of mourning in Europe in the Middle Ages. So the idea of a gorgeous white wedding dress would have horrified them!
Similarly, a "sexy" little black dress that most women have in their closets today would horrify Buddhists. Black is considered the color of hate in Buddhist symbolism.
We are forced into societal roles and live them day after day in our parents’ house while growing up. The habits and attitudes we adopt when we are so young and impressionable can be hard to break away from. It’s easy just to keep doing what you’ve already done. You go along with what your parents want for the sake of survival when you are young.
In some cases, you wind up denying parts of your inner self that may want to be different. You might long to be a writer, for example, and you may be very talented at it. But nothing will satisfy your parents except you becoming a doctor or a lawyer or an engineer.
Old habits die hard, even when you want to make positive changes in your life. It is easier to stick with old habits than to break them even if we know we should break them. If you have ever tried to quit smoking, you know what I mean.
We also stay stuck to avoid conflict.
No one wants to be alone in life. So we put up with certain situations to maintain our relationships. Why? Because change is scary. Rebelling against your family and their traditions can be terrifying.
I recently saw the movie The Big Sick for the first time. (I highly recommend it.) The story is semi-autobiographical about the main character who is a Pakistani-American. Kumail Nanjiani's
parents are very traditional, and they want him to marry a Pakistani girl. He knows that not complying with that tradition will mean being disowned. That happened to a cousin. He doesn't want to be disowned. He loves his family.
But he also loves Emily, a white girl he met while doing standup comedy. He doesn't tell Emily about his family's expectations. And he doesn't tell his family about Emily. For several months, he lives a lie, torn between the woman he loves and the family he also loves.
After several months, Emily discovers his secret and breaks off their relationship.
And at first, he tries to make the best of it. He keeps the peace with his family, after all. For the time being, at least.
At the end of the day, however, Kumail is faced with a dilemma. Comply with his family's wishes and his culture's expectations, or be with the woman he loves.
He breaks the tradition and chooses Emily.
Not everyone is so brave. Many choose the path of least resistance to keep the peace or avoid rejection.
Think of the millions of gay and trans children who are keeping their true selves to themselves for fear of rejection by their family. It is some better today than it was fifty years ago--or even ten years ago--but for many kids, it is still very much a risk that they will be shunned by their families and friends if they come out. So they stay quiet. They go along to get along, and they are miserable inside in the process.
Have you ever wondered how a battered wife could remain with the spouse who has been beating her? The truth is that staying is what she knows.. The adage is, "Better the devil you know."
The past soon becomes a pattern.
Furthermore, if something traumatic happens to us, it can often cause us to "freeze" and stay stuck to that moment. You may have trouble moving on. Depending on the nature of the trauma and the age you were when you experienced it, you may need help moving on. That is when therapy can be beneficial.
Many different events can create trauma for us. A death in the family might be one example. A bad break-up with a spouse or loved one might be another. Depending on the depth of the scars you have, you may have trouble ever trusting or loving anyone ever again.
A simple argument can cause some people to get stuck in the past.
Have you ever met someone who had a grudge against someone else and had not spoken to the person they were angry with for years? Some arguments can go on so long that people forget what triggered the disagreement in the first place! What a loss of precious time!
There is an adage about the harm of holding on to a grudge or anger for a long time: "Holding onto anger is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die."
Something to think about it.
Here is another example of being stuck in the past.
I know someone who is well into her sixties. She feels aggrieved over the way her mother treated her when she was a child. As a result, she has many unresolved feelings about her mother and other members of her family.
This sense of grievance is keeping her from functioning as an adult on her own even though she is now a "senior."
She can't keep a job. She distrusts everyone she meets. She is paranoid and distrustful. And she is desperate. Many of her present-day problems have roots in her childhood.
But she is not alone in that. Many people have similar stories and suffer identical limitations. They blame their parents. They hang onto grievances from the past.
Living in the present allows you to create a new identity for yourself.
By releasing the pain and the self-limiting thoughts from the past, you can start taking things one day at a time. Concentrate on living in the moment.
Another reason we get stuck in our lives is that we get too wrapped up in thoughts or worry the future. As a result, we don’t pay enough attention to the present.
In next week's post, I will offer suggestions on how not to focus so much on the future that you miss the present.
Until next time.
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