What Does It Mean and How Do We Do It?
Being in the moment, “present,” and “in the now” are solutions streamed across the pages of countless books in the fields of self-help, Eastern spirituality and psychology. With 3 million copies sold, The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle has been translated into 33 languages and hung strong on The New York Times Bestseller list throughout its publication year and beyond. Other top-selling authors who promote the moment as the salve for one’s mental irritations are Deepak Chopra, Thich Nhat Hanh, Marianne Williamson and Pema Chodron.
When charged with the task, Google will churn up thousands upon thousands of websites dedicated to staying in the moment, cultivating mindfulness and experiencing present-moment awareness. Yoga studios, meditation classes, even courses in the creative arts like the creative writing books written by Natalie Goldberg, all promise to submerge you in the calm, reassuring waters of this moment.
Let’s assume that this is, in fact, the antidote to our anxieties, the method for restraining the monkey of our minds, at least for a little while. The question still remains: what exactly does it mean to be in the moment?
As it turns out, there are actually almost as many approaches for arriving in the moment, it seems, as there are books, practices and methods for achieving it.
According to the Buddhist website Wildmind.com, being in the moment does not necessarily mean forgetting the stream of minutes, hours and days stretched behind us. Instead, it means being aware, conscious, attentive to the experiences both around and within us at any given instant. Our feelings about the past: whether these are positive or negative are, they say, part of this mindful awareness, so that being “present” is not necessarily synonymous with forgetting the moments that came before.
However, according to this method, being “mindful” is not about dwelling either. To wallow and sink in the dreary waters of some past pain is not the idea. Instead, the idea is to observe whatever is going on, both in the environment and within oneself, including any past hurt or joy, without running from or towards it.
Then there is, of course, the more widely prescribed method of literally connecting to one’s environment through the senses—fully experiencing each and every sound, taste and physical sensation of temperature and texture. Through this practice one may become less bogged-down by worries related to the past and future and, ideally, learn how to simply be.
And how exactly does one do any of this? Deepak Chopra, whose widely praised and published works apply the tenets of Eastern spirituality to a contemporary Western context, is one of many to offer the breath as the solution. Being aware of one’s breath and how it moves in and out of one’s body, and forms a connection between one’s internal landscape and one’s environment, can snap one back into this moment. Only then, according not only to Chopra but to innumerable spiritual, yogic, meditation and even psychological methods can one experience true contentment for it is only this moment which is completely charged with life. It is this moment, too, which is free from worry—that is, as long as we don’t grasp and hold on to it, but instead allow it to flow out of us and into the next moment and the next one and the next…