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Staying in the present harder than you think

Published October 26. 2013 09:00AM

We often hear about the importance of staying in the present.

Some call it "living the moment."

We're told the happiest people are those who refuse to be chained by the past or worried about the future. Instead, they live today to the fullest, staying in the moment.

When I read advice like this, I nod my head in agreement, thinking it would be foolish to do otherwise.

I like to think I spend my time living in the moment. But that's not quite true.

I'm pretty good about not living in the past. The only time I do is when I want to recall a special person or precious times that gave me so much happiness. When I remember those times, the warm memories fill me with appreciation.

But I try to live the day at hand, not days in the past.

Marriage experts tell us when there is a disagreement, discuss it only by sticking to the issue at hand. Don't bring up the past. Shut the door on the past and concentrate on making the present better.

I had a relative who argued for days on end with his wife. That's because when they had a disagreement, both of them recited every offense the other committed, going back to the honeymoon and continuing to the present. No wonder they could never resolve anything. It was no surprise when the marriage ended.

While I seldom get snarled by the past, what keeps me from living totally in the moment is worrying about the future.

I sometimes catch myself fretting about something that "might" happen or projecting problems I believe might come about.

I have a wise friend who gives me a verbal kick in the pants whenever I drift into anxieties about the future.

When I told her I'm worried my torn tendon won't heal and I may have to have surgery she didn't commiserate.

"Well, you're not having surgery today and it may never happen. So stop wasting your time worrying about it," she said. "No matter how much you worry, you can't control the future."

The Bible is filled with admonishments about wasting time worrying about the future. "Be anxious about nothing," it tells us repeatedly. Whenever I read one of those versus, I remember to adjust my thought process.

The past is gone and the future may never be ours. We have only today. We can best maximize today when we stay totally and fully in the moment. I call it "being present to the present."

That's harder than you think.

Often, I'm at one place but my mind is somewhere else. I bet that happens to a lot of us.

A few years ago I read a good article about how to stay in the present. It suggested when we are driving somewhere, instead of stressing about traffic or worrying about being late, take time to look at the world around you.

Appreciate the bright flowers in the median or along the highway. See the scenic fields and the pretty view.

While I do this most of the time, there are times when I'm driving somewhere for almost an hour and I'll get there without seeing anything because I'm too caught up by the thoughts in my head.

Does that ever happen to you?

That's sure not being present to the moment.

We're told that living in the moment means paying attention to all your senses, touch, sight, smell, sound and taste.

Listen to the birds singing. Look at the beautiful cloud formation. Appreciate all before you.

But you can't do that if your mind is in the past or you're thinking about the future.

Have you noticed that much of our negative emotions don't involve the present? Either we're sad because of something that happened in the past or we're anxious about what may happen in the future.

I just had the most amazing interview with a man who will soon be 98. To me, he's like the Wise Man of the South.

He made a point of saying he relishes every day and thrives on being outdoors studying nature. "There is beauty in everything," he says. "Butterflies are fascinating but so are bugs, beetles and ants."

Upbeat by nature, he only grew a bit melancholy when he mentioned his late wife. "She was often worried about something but it was wasted worry because it never came about," he said.

Because he was 15 years older than she was, his wife worried about how she would get along when he passed away. Instead, she died years ago from a heart attack and he's still going strong.

"She worried so much about money, thinking we would not have enough when I retired. Instead, we had more than enough and I still do," he said.

"Why is it," he asked," that we spend so much of our energy worrying about fears that may never materialize?"

Why, indeed?

Why do we let the past hold our emotions captive?

Why do we let our anxiety about the future blot out our awareness and appreciation of the present moment?

The past is a foreign country we never again can live in while the future is a place we may never visit.

But our daily gift is the present. It's up to us to give it the attention it deserves.

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