Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more. —Mother Teresa
First of all, I’m a big believer in mindfulness. It is generally defined as a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment. I was first introduced to the concept in 1989 by Robin Williams in the movie Dead Poets Society. In it, Williams’ character introduces the term “carpe diem,” a Latin expression meaning “seize the day.” About 10 years later, a friend shared the phrase “living in the moment” with me and I’ve been a fan ever since.
To fully grasp the notion of living in the moment, it is helpful to consider the alternatives. If one is not living in the moment, she might be living in the past. Of course, she isn’t literally living in the past but she may be tied emotionally or intellectually to moments lost. And that is the rub. Living in the past suggests an inability to let go and move on. Lost youth. Lost love. Lost opportunity. Lost moments. To live in the past is to focus on something you no longer have; often at the expense of that which is sitting right in front of you.
To live in the past is to focus on something you no longer have; often at the expense of that which is sitting right in front of you.
Another contrast to living in the moment, is living for tomorrow. To live for tomorrow is to sacrifice the present for what is to come. Often, it is tied to dissatisfaction with current circumstances but it can also be tied to ambition and aspiration. Living for tomorrow is the pragmatic virtue of delayed gratification in the hope of some future gain. Traditionally, much of our society’s tie to living for tomorrow stemmed from the Puritan ethic of self-discipline and thrift. In recent years, it could be argued that the concept has morphed into something different as consumerism has created a culture of “more” – more money, more stuff, more food, more likes – always more tomorrow than today.
Finally, and most insidiously, not living in the moment is to live amid distraction. Or more precisely: to exist amid distraction. We are not living fully if we are allowing distractions to disrupt our moments. These distractions are so pervasive as to not require any narrative – you know exactly what I mean.
So what is it to “live in the moment,” “be mindful,” or “be present?” Simply put, it is making the most of the moment that you are in. To “seize the day” is to not miss what is in front of you as you worry about yesterday, tomorrow, or the cacophony of distractions assaulting your senses. Living in the moment isn’t about a blindly idealistic vision of living for today to allay the loss of yesterday or the fear of tomorrow; it is having the faith to be fully present in this moment trusting that you will find a way through the obstacles that will undoubtedly come.
Living in the moment isn’t about a blindly idealistic vision of living for today to allay the loss of yesterday or the fear of tomorrow; it is having the faith to be fully present in this moment trusting that you will find a way through the obstacles that will undoubtedly come.
Our role as parents is particularly conflicted as it relates to living in the moment. We struggle with the perpetual battle between our career life and our family life. This intersection is a recipe for guilt, and frequently, a sense of loss down the road as we recall experiences and moments lost. The sad thing is that, though our inner video recorder always replays the big moments lost: a child’s missed performance, award ceremony, or sporting event, the bigger losses are in the moments that we are physically there but not fully present.
Professionally, we struggle as well: multi-tasking during meetings, half listening to conversations, checking our phones constantly (100-150 times per day). This is a recipe for regret, a sense of loss, and missed opportunities. Mindfulness calls us to intentionally focus on the current moment in a more singular way. Living in the moment is experiencing fully that person, painting, sunset, thought, vision, music, message, word, or silence in front of you in spite of the myriad interruptions seeking to pull you away.
Buzzword or not, the concept is real. Living in the moment isn’t centered on self-gratification, avoidance of responsibility, or numbness to difficulties or loss. Being present is maximizing this moment and living it fully. What are you doing to live in the moment, be mindful, and seize the day? Are you holding-on to something that is limiting your ability to be present? Are you looking toward something that is lessening what you are giving to today? Are you allowing noise to be an obstacle to fully experiencing the gifts standing before you? If so, stop it. Now. Be intentional. Be mindful. Be present. Live fully in this moment. It is the ultimate gift to your future self.