The Present Moment
There is this feeling you get when you’re driving a friend’s car or staying in a hotel. It is less stressful, easier. All the things and baggage you’ve allowed to accumulate in your actual life don’t seem to be there. You don’t look at the gas gauge and care. The things that bother you about your car don’t bother you in this one. You sleep better in the hotel. It feels nicer than your house.
If it could always be like this, you think, that would be the life. Which is funny because nothing is actually different. Unless you’re an asshole, you’re still paying for gas. Hotel rooms are actually filthy and you could buy all the stuff in them for your own house if you wanted. Yet it doesn’t feel the same.
This is because you’ve given yourself, as Marcus Aurelius would say, “the gift of the present moment.” It feels fresh because you are looking at it fresh. You appreciate your feelings because you’re aware of them, you’re alert for a change. Like you’ve taken a big deep breath and opened your eyes.
These glimpses are helpful because they remind us what we could have if we just got out of our own way. If we stopped minding the gas tank and caring whether it cost $3.59 or $4 a gallon to fill up. If we remember that we can move or, more realistically, rearrange the inside of our own house whenever we get tired of it. If a certain kind of blanket feels better, get it and be done with the issue. They remind us that all the things we say weigh us down are ours by choice.
Sometimes a quick shift in our environment forces us to focus entirely on the present–it doesn’t allow us to muddle up the situation with our thoughts and pessimism and worry. And the instant of lightness we feel when it happens, well, that’s what we could have all the time if we wanted to and worked at it.
A refreshing post! Thanks. What would be a couple practical examples of a “quick shift in our environment”?
It’s what I am saying with car–you hop into someone else’s and you’re only focused on figuring out how to drive it, you’re not worried about miles or maintenance or anything but that present moment. Same goes for when you meet or start dating someone new.
Thanks Ryan, I see what you are saying. I was practicing yesterday, trying to make a few context changes here and there to experience a heightened sense of being “in the present”.. it helped.
My mom taught me about living in the moment and asserting myself to make that feeling of living in the present moment happen. I sent your post to her. I’m sure she’ll appreciate it. Thank you.
My very existence is in a constant flux. Back pain and lack of sleep have me awake right now. A few minutes ago I got to the low point where apathy takes over action, so I wrote something for my dead blog.
Really, who cares?
And now, even though the pain of personal depression still stings me, I see the shift and feel just a bit better about it.
Agree. We easily get comfortable/complacent with our standard of living. Increases to our current standards quickly lose their luster and become the same old same. That’s why chasing the newest thing or keeping up with the Jones’s is futile.
Have little, need little, want litte. Value new experience over new “things.”
Yes! Mindfulness and being present is so important in everyday life to be more happy. It’s easy to let good, small things just fly by without every noticing them because you have more “important” things to think about or do. I like to think of it as being a tourist in your own life, not just when on vacation.
What specific things do you do to try and achieve that state in everyday life (outside of those quick shifts in your enviroment)?
Completely agree. Among the other things you mention, travel is great in this regards of seeing things from a fresh perspective.
When I was travelling through Southeast Asia, I was staying in basic hotel rooms with minimal possessions. I knew where all of my things were at all times and it was refreshing and enlightening to not have to worry about where something is. When I got home I threw out a ton of shit I was “saving” even though I didn’t use it, and now I’m more organized. Less possessions = Less mental clutter = More time to focus on the present
Do you regularly practice some form of meditation? I’ve been researching it recently, and while I’m not a fan of the spiritualism that some schools seem to advocate, a lot of them do focus on the ideas you’re talking about here: removal of distraction, increased awareness of the present, and altering perception of your surroundings.
I like walking rather than meditation for evolutionary reasons.
Evolutionary reasons? What reasons are those?
We’re designed to walk long distances during the course of the day, not sit at desks or in offices. Meditation, not so much.
So, you don’t think sitting meditation can be a useful exercise?
Matt, I’ve found that riding my bike in the morning or walking to class has done more for me than buddhist-style meditation. It has something to do with the motion, i don’t really know. I think it also has something to do with the physiological effect of low-intensity exercise such as biking or walking. Also, in my case, morning sunlight might have something to do with it (ie. circadian rhythms – light wakes you up via the suprachiasmatic nuclei and gives you some vitamin D, etc.).
That said, I think meditation has some benefits, such as complete immersion in a thought. I’ve used meditation to work through a problem that req’d some creativity, but I’ve only successfully done that once.
Experiment and see what works for yourself.
‘Here we are, trapped in the amber of the moment. There is no why.’ Kurt Vonnegut
Excellent post Ryan
I definitely see your point, but the examples you’ve given don’t really work for me.
I tend to feel more worried when using other people’s possessions than my own, for two main reasons; I know them well enough to know they’ve been properly maintained, that they’re set up how I like them. The familiarity offers a lot of comfort. it’s an extension of the way I’ve set up my pockets – if I’m wearing pants at all, I will have my keys, phone and wallet (with a minimum amount of money &c &c) so I can feel confident that I can walk out the door at a second’s notice and be prepared for anything. I don’t have a lot of clutter, but everything I’ve accumulated is a comfort to me.
Maybe I’m weird but I feel a lot more at ease knowing that things probably won’t go wrong because I’ve prepared so well, as opposed to knowing that if and when something goes wrong, it isn’t my obligation to fix it (run out of petrol, car maintenance, etc)
The second main reason is that with my own possessions, if I fuck up and break something I have only myself to answer to, and I know I’ll be forgiving; but when it’s someone else’s possession, I’d feel much worse and would be more worried I’d sullied their opinion of me. I do see the paranoia and need for validation in that attitude, though.
It sounds like you’ve got bigger problems then.
Mindfulness, or Insight meditation has helped me recognize the value in the ability to hear the silence in the noise of life. It surprises me sometimes how much your thought and philosophy connects up with what I’ve seen in my own life, even in light of some significant differences.
I like hotel rooms because I’m usually on a vacation and know I don’t have to give a shit about it in the long term. I can count the times I’ve driven the cars of others on one hand…so I’ll let that be. You say a shift in the environment can bring us out of a “malaise.” But I say your pessimism, thoughts, and worries are also by choice.
Also, if someone is minding the price at the gas tank, I think it’s because money, commute, and budget issues force people to think about it. It’s something to plan for, that’s all.
I guess this is a weird post for me, because I just don’t get why someone wouldn’t be aware and appreciate their own feelings in any given moment. I guess I think people get carried away with their own feelings in the moment more than they should. And really, I don’t know if what I just wrote made any damn sense.
Ask yourself what it is exactly you think you said here.
“I guess this is a weird post for me, because I just don’t get why someone wouldn’t be aware and appreciate their own feelings in any given moment. I guess I think people get carried away with their own feelings in the moment more than they should.”
Are you talking about people letting their thoughts and emotions take control without actually being aware of what they’re feeling? Sort of like moving through the present on autopilot, reflexively, instead of with awareness and intention?
“And the instant of lightness we feel when it happens, well, that’s what we could have all the time if we wanted to and worked at it.”
I want this lightness, but I am not sure of what work needs to be done. Any ideas?
I mean, dude, the post was clearly my first crack at this. I don’t know the answer yet or I would have gladly shared it. I do know that metaphors and analogies help and that’s why I talked about the hotel and the car. I’m staying and driving both this week, and I am trying to thinking about how I can carry my behavior in them over to those same situations in my normal life. How would I act if this wasn’t my actual car but a rental? How would I feel if this was a hotel bed? How would I feel if I didn’t live in this city but was just visiting?
It’s an attitude you can apply to all situations in your life where you feel you do not currently experience in the present. Find a circumstance that FORCES you to, and then compare yourself to it regularly. Am I doing it how I would if…?
I agree with you about the importance of being in the present moment and shifting perspectives, but the reason you give for that feeling mentioned in your first paragraph (“less stressful, easier”) is wrong. It has much more to do with having responsibility vs. being free of it.
When you’re in a hotel, you don’t have to do anything. You don’t have to cook, you don’t have to clean, you don’t have to drive to get to a gym. You don’t even have to do your laundry in really good hotels. Similarly, when you’re driving a friend’s car, you don’t have to think about maintenance, you don’t have to compare car insurance plans, you don’t have to think about upgrading the car/buying a new one. So you have a lot less responsibility and thus it feels “less stressful” and “easier”. Having no responsibilities is always easier.
Except you’re wrong. You’re paying (often through the nose) for those things in the hotel. Your bills are still piling up at your house. Like I said, unless your an asshole, you’d still have to pay for it if you crashed your friends car. Your life is exactly the same–if anything traveling or deviating from the routine is ADDITIONAL responsibility. The only change is that your mind processes it differently. In your case, it’s such a profound difference that you actually got it backwards. In my opinion, that’s a better way.
You are absolutely correct with your examples. For me it is like that when I return home and stay with my parents. I haven’t a care in the world! I have been dealing with some depression and anxiety recently and have come to find how important it is for me to stay in the present moment. When I do that the depression and anxiety vanish!
the post is really good and i really like it but i wanted to ask a question. it is true that when we are focusing on the present moment than we have no worry about future and regret about the past but internally we know that we are having the problem.
for example if someone is not earning money and looking for job or trying hard to earn money in his business and he is living in the present moment but he is subconsciously know that he has major problem in life because he is not earning money than how can he live worry free. can you put some light on this problem.