We see it as this linear concept, flowing forward from the past to the present and into the future. But time is not linear. It is, in fact, a human construct.
We’ve designed our lives by the hours of the clock, imposing order on our world in one of the only ways we can. And still, we cannot stop the flow of time or pause the moments of our lives that we cherish.
We cannot rewind the clock to before or revisit the past in anything but photographs and memories. We cannot make the future come quicker or progress to happen faster than it will. We can only be here, in this present moment.
The past is the place that shaped us into who we are now. It’s where things happened to us, we made choices and were made different by it. I’ve been thinking about the past because a year ago I met a stranger for coffee, and it changed me. I didn’t know that it would. In fact, I expected nothing more from the encounter than coffee and a conversation. I didn’t know that it was the start of anything at all. Or that it would be over all too soon. It was just coffee.
A year ago I was creating my life over again, learning the shape of it after divorce and while raising two young children on my own. I was figuring out who I wanted to be and how I wanted to live. But this year—a year to the day that I had that cup of coffee—I woke up on a cruise ship with my children. I woke up to room service and a beautiful, perfect day at sea. I woke up living out my dreams—of writing, of travel, of building a life of joy and adventure for my children. I’ve created a life that I love.
We can choose to live in the past, to long for a return of what once was. We can live suspended in that fantasy or try to recreate those moments. But the past is what brought us here. It’s not where we’re going. We can recognize that the past is a teacher and learn everything that we can from it—about life, about ourselves. But all we truly have is the present. This moment. This breath. This spectacular life where even our struggles allow opportunities for growth and beauty—even the ones that feel like pain and heartache and despair. So much of the suffering comes from reliving the past or worrying about the future. But our lives are here now—in this second and no other.
Perhaps it seems easy for me to dismiss suffering from my view of the sea in this moment I’m living now. Perhaps the moment you’re living is a dark one, one that is made of darkness and nightmares. But I do not dismiss suffering at all. Instead, I am embracing the concept of leaning in to everything that I feel, and for anyone who knows me, I sometimes feel all too much.
I feel everything. And I woke up on a morning where the date is significant only to me and thought about the past. I thought about a year of falling in love and falling apart. I thought about who I was then and who I am now, and I decided to choose the present. Not an imagined future or a fantasy of the past. This moment, now. I chose to lean into the present, embracing every moment of the day I’m living.
So how can we do it? How do we choose the present when the past tugs at us from behind and the future beckons us onward? Here are a few ways that help me. May it be of benefit:
1. We can ground ourselves. Wherever we are, we can find a way to ground ourselves in the now. Feel our feet on the floor. If we can, we can remove our shoes and stand on the ground outside. In moments of great turmoil, I’ve even found myself stretched, full-length on the floor, grounding myself with my whole body. We can reach out and touch a tree or feel a wall. We are here, now.
2. We can open ourselves up to all of our senses. What do we see, smell, touch, taste? We can feel it all, being mindful of our bodies and our environment in this moment.
3. We can open ourselves up to all of our feelings without judgment. What are we feeling? Not why. Only identify the feeling. If we can, we can trace it back to where it’s coming from. What was the trigger? But first we must acknowledge how we feel. Today, I woke up a little nostalgic but mostly feeling free. I felt hopeful and content in that moment.
4. We can breathe. So often we take shallow breaths, particularly in a state of stress. We need to deepen our breaths to deepen our awareness of our senses and the world around us.
5. We can ask ourselves, “What is happening now?” What’s going on in the present moment? Are we reliving a past moment or worrying about a future one? We need to root ourselves in what is happening right now and live that moment.
6. I will always advocate the practice of gratitude on any list. Being in the present moment often means connecting with our gratitude for our lives right now. For the people who support us. For the blessings that surround us. For the gift that is this breath and this moment. We can take this moment to be thankful.
7. We can put down our phones. Turn off the TV. Turn off the radio. We can get rid of all of the distractions and connect with ourselves and the people around us, or with nature, and the moment we’re living. In this digital age, it is so difficult to simply engage in the now without social media or texts taking too much of our attention. But when we find ourselves deeply needing to connect with the present, we need to disengage from distractions.
The present moment isn’t going to come back to us after it’s gone. We only have now. Later, this moment will be a memory.
How many moments of our lives have we wasted?
It doesn’t matter. All that matters is how we will choose to live the one we’re in now.
Author: Crystal Jackson
Editor: Travis May