This is the second in a 10-part series of posts on some simple actions that always lead to happiness! Read the original post that frames this discussion HERE.
People have three choices as to what state of time they can be focused on at any given moment: Past, Present, and Future. Each has its appropriate place for thought and contemplation. I contend that most of our time should be focused on the Present. Let’s examine each state of mind and I will offer my thoughts on what I feel is a healthy mix in each.
The Past: Obviously if you are stuck in the past how can you appreciate what is going on right in front of you at this very moment? I am not saying that contemplating one’s life experiences is a bad thing. All these things give our present a unique perspective. We will always see things through the lens of our experiences. They say those who fail to study history are doomed to repeat it. This can be the consideration of good experiences and victories as well as the GLORIOUS FAILURES! There is a time and place for this as we seek to grow as individuals. Do not allow yourself to get stuck in a pattern of looking back and saying “What if…” or holding onto regret from past mistakes or situations where you wished you would have made different choices. Generally what is done is done. Take the nugget of wisdom gleaned and get back to what you can affect here and now in the Present!
The Future: We become what we think about. Our thoughts become actions and those in turn become results and outcomes that create our future state. I firmly believe in having a healthy, positive expectation for all my future endeavors, wants, and desires. One should expect to get the result they want when putting effort and energy into something. What would be the point if someone had an expectation of failure? Odds are in their mind they would have already given up before they even started and will subconsciously sabotage your own best effort. It is very useful to dream and plan for what one wants out of life. Build your sand castles up in the air! Dream big, but act now.
The Present: This is the here and now. As you read these words are you truly present or are you trying to do three different things at one time? One of my favorite expressions is: “None of us are promised tomorrow.” This is not a doom and gloom the world will end tomorrow mentality. For me this is a simple reminder that each day in this life is a gift that should not be taken for granted. Your whole world can change in 5 seconds. How long does it take for a car crash to take place for a driver who is texting while driving? Do not take the gift of a single day in your life for granted.
How not to be present: Our world is filled with conveniences that are designed to save us time and to keep us connected to people and make the world a smaller place. I was in a restaurant on Saturday night and I saw a table of 10 ladies all having dinner together. This was a great place in a historic, downtown area. The room had great ambiance and energy in this eating establishment. How great those 10 friends had come together and had this moment in time to share with each other. What I saw though at one point as I stood at the front door waiting to leave was not such great fellowship. No less than 6 of them were holding their cell phones in their hands, with their heads bowed down, and fixated on the screen as they texted, checked email, or some other social media outlet.
This is obviously not being present and being distracted by a cell phone is an easy and obvious target for this conversation. I am guilty of this as well. I am trying to be more cognizant of this transgression. Do not let technology that connects you to people thousands of miles away keep you from connecting and appreciating the person standing right in front of you NOW. This could be the clerk at the store. Do not be the obliviot who yammers away on the phone without making eye contact or saying a word to the person who just rang up your groceries. Smile and engage. Some of the best conversations of my day have come at the most unexpected moments.
How to Be Present: For me the essence of being present is this: Slow down, smile, breathe deeply, and soak it all in. Nature seems to offer us the most poignant reminders and rewards for slowing down and taking it all in and fully appreciating the wonder before our eyes in that moment. Funny how when we are in our everyday world of modern conveniences and time savers our schedule takes over and we find ourselves always in a time crunch hustling off to check the next item off the to-do list.
Have you ever felt that way on a camping trip? Maybe at first as you hustle to separate yourself from the frenetic pace of your life, but once you have left all that behind time magically slows down. Even when you have to gather wood and make a fire to prepare a meal out in the wilderness, it seems you have so much time to enjoy it all. Gathering wood and making the fire in this scenario is not a task you quickly hurry through to quickly get to the next event. Maybe while you are wandering the surround woods for deadfall you stop to admire the way the late afternoon light shines across the forest floor and illuminates a long-fallen tree covered with soft, spongy, green moss. Looking closer you notice a clan of ants feverishly shuttling leaf-litter along their path. Since you have now been standing still for a moment you realize how quiet and still things are all around you. Out of the corner of your eye you see flit of a curious chip monk’s tail as he scampers from one point of cover to another. All this and more happens in just a few short moments as you pause on a casual stick-gathering trip 20 feet from your camp site.
There are wonderful moments like this to appreciate in our everyday lives as well. Make sure to give the people you come in contact with the kind of undivided attention you hope to receive. You never know what conversation you might be missing otherwise. Some of the most interesting and amazing people I have met have come at the most unexpected moments. Slow down. Look around. Breathe deeply. Smile. The world around you is a beautiful place and today is a precious gift if you will just take the time to notice.
HERE is another post I wrote back in 2010 on being present as it relates to running and headphones.