"There are only two days in the year that nothing can be done. One is called yesterday and the other is called tomorrow, so today is the right day to love, believe, do and mostly live." ~ Dalai Lama
Almost every day, I make a to-do list, and almost every day I accomplish all the things on the list. Sometimes, I make lists of projects that take longer than one day, and almost every day I try to make some progress on those things, too. I even put activities like meditation and walks on the beach on my lists. This makes me feel organized and in control, like I am doing what I need to do, not forgetting anything, shirking any responsibilities, or neglecting things that make me feel and be better. Occasionally, I get thrown off by an unexpected issue, but I’m pretty good at rewriting my lists to adapt to new events and circumstances. I’m not obsessive about this, I don’t panic or get emotional if I don’t get everything done or face a surprise or two. I just like the clean, organized feeling of knowing what today will probably bring and what I expect of myself.
Does all this planning and list making prevent me from living in the present moment, or help me do it? I think it’s a good way to avoid the useless agony of thinking too much about the past or the future. It helps keep me focused on the present day, the present hour, the present task at hand. I think of it like breath meditation. When you meditate, your mind invariably wanders off, doing what it mostly does, which is thinking. In meditation, you repeatedly bring your mind back to your focus, which is often your breath, or perhaps a mantra — in other words, to the present moment. My lists bring me back to actions I will take immediately. We live by schedules in our earliest school experiences — time for math, time for reading, time for lunch, etc. — which sets us up for a lifetime of organized days, weeks, months, and years. This can help keep us focused on the present, but it may also bring too much attention to making plans, setting goals, and living immersed in thoughts about the future or regret about past mistakes. For some people, it even causes a rebellious aversion to being organized and free of energy blockages. It’s all in how we use it.
Present moment living is a lot about what we do not do — rehash the past over and over again, or worry about imagined futures. “One Day at a Time” is a basic tenet of Alcoholics Anonymous because it focuses the mind on the present, not the past or the future. We can think about the past and the future all we want, but the present is the only time we can actually do anything, whether it’s meditating or abstaining from alcohol consumption. When I put a seed in soil, I know it will grow into a plant, but I am focused on doing what the seed needs right now in order to sprout. When I speak to my four-year-old grandson, I speak to him as he is right now, not as I will speak to him when he is 12 or 18. When I take a bite of food, I am either sticking to my healthy diet or not, right here and right now. We are always living in the present moment, we just don’t always do it consciously. So the difference between present moment living and the way we usually live is simply awareness.
We often think of being present as being free of distractions, doing only one thing at a time, or as not doing anything and relaxing for once. But we can actually be present anytime, anywhere, because the present moment is always with us. We are never anywhere else. It’s just a matter of our awareness or lack of it. So when you are aware of the present moment, what exactly are you aware of? The simple answer is everything. But not in the way you may usually think of being aware. When you are truly in the moment, you are not thinking, judging, calculating, formulating a response, or observing and labeling things, people, emotions, or anything else. You are just there. Right there. Right then. You are not looking backwards or forwards, or looking away from what is here and now. You really see the person in front of you. You really hear what they are saying. You really feel the air and your own living body. You really know where you are. Right now, in this very moment.
I was in a car accident once, when I had that experience people always talk about, where everything goes into slow motion. You are intensely aware of everything around and inside you. But there are no emotions, no thoughts, and no words. I was not afraid, or panicked, or fearful. I made no sounds. There was no past and no future, just this eternal moment, stretching all around me. It felt like floating, like flying, like I was nothing more than a mind, a consciousness. I was not outside myself. I was fully present in that moment. When it was over, my mind very slowly resumed thinking, “Am I okay? Does anything hurt?” And I came back to the past and future: This is what happened. What happens next? But for that moment, I knew what it was to just be aware, to just simply be. That is not an experience I can easily replicate in every moment of my life, nor would I want to. But having had that experience may make it easier for me to let go in meditation, to bring my mind back to the here and now, any time, anywhere.
Sometimes, something catches our awareness and we stop to give it our full attention. It may be a beautiful sunrise or an awesome mountain or a child laughing with pure joy. We may even choose a vacation spot because we expect such scenes to take us out of our thoughts and into the present moment. A majestic waterfall, a singing bird, happiness on a loved one's face, a peaceful lake, or a massive ocean wave may capture us long enough to stop time and bring us to the present moment. But we don't have to wait for vacations, spectacular vistas, or special encounters with other people. The present moment is right here, right now, always. We just have to be here.
“When we really delve into the reasons for why we can’t let something go, there are always only two: an attachment to the past or a fear of the future.” ~ Marie Kondo
What does this have to do with Feng Shui? Well, for one thing, it’s difficult to live in the present moment when your home is filled with stuff you don’t use, need, or love. You are surrounded by old, lifeless items tied to the past, so energy is blocked and stagnant. On the other hand, when each energetic area of your home is decluttered and activated, the present moment is more available to you, because you are surrounded only by things that reflect who you are right now, and they are arranged in a way that allows energy to freely inflow and outflow. Living in the present moment can become normal for you when you are free of the past and its accoutrements, and allow yourself to believe in the goodness of the future. I’ve been told that yoga prepares the body for meditation, and that’s how I think of Feng Shui preparing your home for your present moment living.
When we live in the present moment, that doesn’t mean we don’t consider the consequences of our choices. It’s not an excuse for being reckless or self-centered, and it is not hedonism. In fact, it means that we take more responsibility for our choices and actions, becoming consciously aware of what we are doing instead of mindlessly stumbling through activities, encounters, and conversations. We are always totally responsible for doing the right thing in the present moment. We open up space in our mind to really see and truly hear other people. We take time to quiet our thoughts, to feel the energy, to fully understand where we are and what is happening right here, right now. Then, when we do act, it's with a clearer understanding of how and why.
You can train yourself to live in the present moment. Begin slowly, and you may be surprised at the results. Then, work your way up to being present in more and more situations, for longer and longer periods of time.
• Once a day, take a few moments to stop and focus on just your breath. Breathing in and breathing out. Your mind will wander, but just keep bringing your awareness back to your breath. Over time, increase the frequency and length of time you do this.
• When you are alone, stop and look around you. Really look, seeing everything — colors, textures, shapes, objects, light and shadow. Listen to everything you can hear. Feel your body, your breath, your heartbeat, your stomach, your aches and pains, if you have them, and your comfort or discomfort. Feel the air on your skin. Feel your muscles. Just sit with this for a few moments, immersing yourself in your body and your senses.
• When you are with someone else, stop your thoughts and just look, just listen, just be with them. Really hear what they are trying to convey to you. Really see them — their eyes, their facial expressions, their movements. Let go of all other thoughts and just absorb their presence.
• Find the present moment often. You can do it anywhere, any time, eyes open or closed, alone, with others, or in a crowd. Take opportunities here and there to practice — in an elevator, in the shower, when you are eating, walking, listening to music, or doing chores. Give 100% of your attention to this very moment, here and now.