Do we live in the present moment?
Updated: Aug 14, 2019
We live in an extremely fast - paced, fix - it - all and feel - good society. Something is wrong or not going according to plan? We strive to fix it. Say we can't fix it? We strive to avoid it. We escape on a shopping spree, we consume alcohol to numb our pain or we login to Facebook and wander our mind off with other people's lives. The list of short-term solutions or "quick fixes" goes on and on.
We don't want to feel bad, so naturally, we have developed an arsenal of quick and short-term solutions to NOT experience pain (mental or physical).
And the result? The result is that it all piles up and it will eventually erupt like a volcano, and be expressed in some unhealthy form or another (yelling to our kids or spouse, drive dangerously, say something nasty to a colleague etc.) But that's not all. We also pursue happiness, with the wrong means, and I'll get there in a minute.
Consider this: How often do we find ourselves thinking about the past or the future? How many times do you notice yourself during the day, reminiscing about the past: "What could have I done better?" or "I should have applied for that job" or maybe "I should have spoken up to my in-laws". How many times do you notice yourself during the day projecting future thoughts: "What are we having for dinner tonight?" or "What should we plan for the next weekend?" or even "Where should we go for our next holiday?" How many times do you simply notice?
Don't get me wrong; self-reflecting, planning and organizing oneself is good and healthy. It becomes unhealthy when "not doing it" starts to feel awkward, odd and wrong. It becomes unhealthy when the majority of our time evolves around thoughts about the future or past.
In a study using a smartphone app dating back to 2010, around 2250 subjects ranging from 18 to 88 years of age, self-reported on several measures such as their level of happiness, thoughts going through their mind on specific moments, or even what was actually on their mind when doing an activity - in other words how engaged they really were when completing that activity?
The results shed light in a very interesting direction: The more people's mind wanders the less happy they are. Specifically, the participants responded that their mind was wandering 46.9% of the time. What's more is that their mind was also wondering at least 30% of the time during each activity, in other words they were to say the most only 70% engaging in each activity. Taking it a step further, imagine driving an automobile, engaging around 60-65% in this particular activity, while the rest of the time your mind is wondering off. That is potentially hazardous to the driver as well as to other people's lives. No wonder that people involved in car accidents most commonly report: "I looked but I failed to see it coming".
Our society surrounds us with too many should's and shouldnt's, too many must's and mustn’ts and too many criticisms. As you can imagine, all these create a struggle in our mind - a struggle with thoughts and emotions. We try too hard to stop, to manage, to control, to fight and to push away thoughts and emotions. We constantly think of possible solutions and we try to fix-it-all. The result is that we find ourselves into this struggle or vicious circle that contributes
to our chronic stress and unhappiness. This struggle also leads to not attending the "here-and-now" enough, not living in the present moment.
Russ Harris explains it best in his Acceptance and Commitment (psychological approach) workshops when he describes that the majority of people nowadays are like "living-dead" or "zombies" constantly seeking for pleasures in life, or the easy way out, often reaching out to materialistic rewards in order to numb their psychic pain. People should have less zombie moments and more "Aha!" moments. "Aha!" moments are moments such as when we admire a beautiful sunset, or when we enjoy the calmness of the wave sounds, or the breeze striking our face while taking a stroll in a beautiful nature's pathway. These moments (if we are lucky) usually last for 2-3 seconds.
But the good news is that we can train our mind to make these moments more frequent and more enduring. We can also train our mind to non-judgementally experience negative feelings or physical sensations without fighting to eliminate them. And when we do manage that, the mind returns to a natural state of calmness. We can train our mind to be more present for our kids and our spouse, to pay more attention in simple beautiful moments with the family, appreciating more and avoiding less. Because at the end of the day the collection of happy moments is what really constitutes a happy life. Stay tuned on how to train your mind as well as your kid's mind on how to be more aware in the present moment.