This article I wrote for a newsletter at the beginning of 2009 still seems applicable.

2009…

Just the thought…

When Stanley Kubrick’s film 2001: A Space Odyssey came out in 1968, I don’t suppose anyone thought that the new millennium could be very close. I mean, 32 years is supposed to be a long time, but here we are, 41 years later and shaking our heads at the speed with which time has flown. Not only did 2000 come and go fairly quickly, but already the World Trade Center attack is more than seven years ago!  Unfortunately for us, our perspective on how long a year is continually gets shorter as our lives get longer. A day, a week, or a month goes by, and before you know it, a year has zipped past.

For that very reason, the way in which we choose to spend our days is even more important. Many of us wish our lives away. “I wish it weren’t Monday.? “I wish it were Friday.? “I can’t wait for the weekend.? “I can’t wait till [the next event or holiday].? Living in the moment is a concept that has not been terribly popular, but making the minutes count does matter when our “long? view of life is such a short experience.

Here is the paradox, though. “Making the minutes count? does NOT mean we need to fill up our days with more and more tasks and “stuff.? Busyness of itself is not a worthy goal. Things which help us better ourselves, our families, and our communities should become a priority. Sure… earning a living is important. We all have bills to pay and things we would like to acquire whether material or aesthetic; however, the ultimate goal of life is to LIVE. Philosophers have been discussing it for thousands of years. We are “human beings? not “human doings,? but a large percentage of the population has wrapped (or warped, in another sense) its identity in positions and accomplishments and lost all awareness of self.

Probably the easiest trap to fall into is the habit of looking ahead: What is coming up in the next hour? What is happening tomorrow? What do I need to DO to prepare for [fill in the blank]? The second biggest deception we run into is looking behind: Missing someone who has left, regretting an action taken or decision made, or dwelling on something good from the past until the present is completely obscured.

Ponder this for a moment. Now is now, and it will never be “now? again. In another minute, it will be “then?—the past,gone and unrecoverable.

Given the magnitude of what we want to get done in our brief lives, the question becomes, “How do I live in the now?? If people are more important than things—and most would agree with that statement—then making people more a priority than things would be most logical. This means that we should divide our time accordingly, even if only one person lives in the home.

For example, taking care of our physical well-being (exercise, eating right, and regular visits to a physician) is more important than entertainment. Taking the time to prepare a balanced meal should take priority over our favorite television show, book, or electronic media focus. Taking care of our mental and emotional well-being also ties in with this idea. Rest and recreation must have a proper place in our schedules so that work is less stressful and easier to focus on.

One way in which we can have an awareness of “now? is to be conscious of how our body feels (all the little twinges, aches and pains or lack thereof), what our emotional state is (anxious, angry, tired, bored, pleased, content, happy,etc…), and controlling our thoughts so that our mind is still. Focusing on a single element of our environment, like the softness of the chair one is sitting in, or the sound of the ventilation system, can help corral an out-of-control spiral of thoughts. For those whose faith is an integral part of their lives, perhaps something faith-related, like focusing on God or mentally quoting a verse or phrase that has meaning, can meet the need. Whatever the choice, the importance is focus. Pick ONE thing and exclude all others until the mind is as still as a glass of water in an empty room. Then, BE there—in the now, conscious of the surroundings and quiet on the inside for just a few minutes.

Another way in which we can focus on “now? will benefit not only ourselves, but also others. When people are speaking to us, it is extremely important to listen with our whole person. Look them in the eye. Respond to what they say with body language and verbalizations that tell them they are being HEARD, that what they are saying has value and is important. Such listening skills boost self-esteem in every one of us, both the communicator and the listener, because in focusing (again, very important) on the present conversation or circumstance, we are able to retain better, to experience more profoundly, and to come away from the encounter with a confidence that mental distraction does not permit us to have.

Live in the now as much as possible. It is more fulfilling than dwelling on the past or trying to figure out a future we cannot control. Focus on the positives. We should enjoy who we ARE, rather than what we DO. Since I was a small child, I have liked my name, but over the years, I have heard many people complain that they don’t like their names. That one factor—liking my name—has helped me to enjoy who I am sometimes when everything feels a little overwhelming. A healthy practice is to find at least one thing we like about ourselves. Make a choice to overcome habitual self-deprecation because that implies that we are not good enough (a future focus) or that we have messed up and can’t be fixed (a past focus). Living now means our lives will be richer and fuller and our memories will be worth sharing with the next generation as well as helping us teach the younger generations how to live fulfilling lives.

Here are some practical suggestions:

  • If you don’t like your name, find out what it means and then choose to put the meaning into a positive context.
    • For example, “Mary? comes from Hebrew and means “bitter.? A bitter taste is often a warning sign of danger. A bitter sting brings attention to an area of the body that needs help. Bitterness is a signal that says, “Hey, this problem needs to be dealt with,? so we can recognize it as a positive thing that keeps us from avoiding a more dangerous situation… as long as we don’t ignore it.
  • Make a deliberate effort to do nothing so that, even if just for a few minutes, we can be aware of “being,?instead of “doing.?
  • Find someone you care about and make an extra effort to listen to what he or she has to say without advice or judgment. Just love on them in the moment and wait till later to try to figure things out.
  • Step apart from all the busy things going on in your life and just “breathe!?

You will find, as you practice these things, that you feel more positive about yourself, your family, and your community. Circumstances come and go. So, think about it and then act on it: can we live “now?”