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Being “in the moment”

Three single ranunculus flowers on vintage backgroundMindfulness can be seen as the practice of “being in the moment” – but what does this actually mean? Does it mean that if we’re mindful we should never think about the past or the future, never try to plan or to reflect on our past experience?

Actually, being in the moment means being mindfully aware of what is going on right here and now, in our experience, and this includes any thinking we do about the past or future. Much of the time our experience does not have this quality of awareness or mindfulness. A lot of the time we are like robots, automatically living out habitual patterns of self-pity, anger, wish fulfillment, fear, etc. These habitual tendencies take us over and run our lives for us – without our being able to stand back and decide whether this is what we actually want to be doing. It can be a real shock when we start to realize just how habitual and automatic our lives are, and when we realize how much runaway thinking leads to states of suffering.

When we’re in this robotic state, we’re not mindfully aware of what’s going on. We may know on some level that we’re angry but we probably don’t realize most of the time that we have an option not to be angry. We fantasize without any discernment of whether what we’re thinking about is making us happy or unhappy. And in fact, a lot of the time when we are letting our habits dominate us we are not making ourselves or others happy – often quite the opposite.

Being in the moment is just another way of saying that we are aware of what is going on in our experience, that we are not just being angry (or whatever) but are aware that we are angry and are aware that we can choose to be otherwise. Of course a lot of the time when we are not being in the moment, we are literally thinking about the past or present. We might be dwelling on the past – brooding about some past hurt. Or we may be fantasizing about a future in which we have won the lottery and are living out our lives in some imagined paradise, or daydreaming about being with the perfect partner.

Often these fantasized pasts and futures are not even real possibilities, but simply fantasies of how things might be or of how we would have liked them to have been. And as with all unmindful activity, we have no awareness that this fantasizing is pointless. All that it does is reinforce unhelpful emotional tendencies that can never truly enrich our lives.

Reflecting with mindfulness

There are, of course, ways of mindfully thinking about the past or future. Being in the moment does not mean that we are stuck in the moment. We can mindfully and creatively call to mind past events, or imagine what might happen in the future. We can think about the past and think about how we might have acted differently, or wonder why something happened the way it did. We can think about possible futures, and of how the actions that we commit now will make those futures more or less likely. When we are thinking about the past or future while being in the moment, we are conscious that we are reflecting and we’re not lost in thought. We don’t confuse fantasy with reality. We don’t stray from thinking about the past in order to construct imaginary pasts in which we said or did the right thing – or if we do so then it’s part of a conscious thought experiment to see what we might learn from the experience. We think about the future, but rather than it being idle daydreaming we’re thinking about the consequences of our actions or otherwise reflecting on where we want to go in life.

Sometimes daydreaming can be creative. It can be wonderful to relax the reins of consciousness and allow our creative unconscious mind the opportunity to express itself. But it’s generally far more useful to have a part of our conscious mind standing by, observing, watching for any sign that the creative expression of the unconscious is turning gray – turning into the repetitive and reactive expression of old and unhelpful emotional patterns. The conscious mind can intervene at such moments with a light touch, a gentle redirection of our mental energies so that we stay in the present; aware, mindful, and creative.

Comments

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Comment from Zintra
Time: June 21, 2008, 5:56 am

Meditation helps me to release my tension and anger.
I have been able to forgive and forget about the bad moment and manage to concerntrate on inner quiet and peace.

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Pingback from Living Yoga » This Moment
Time: July 9, 2008, 9:15 am

[...] According to Wildmind.org, being in the moment means – [...]

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Comment from mildred
Time: April 18, 2010, 7:23 pm

hi
en un momento de mi vida. la meditacion llego hacer lo mas importante y lo mas valioso
cambio mi vida y dio a mundo un rumbo diferente y importante., es lo mas grande.,

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Pingback from Wipin’ out the traces of the people and the places that I’ve been. « stuff maker, pen taker, art breaker, math faker
Time: May 31, 2010, 11:29 am

[...] completely (god, I hate this corny phrase) in the moment. mindful of nothing but the present (whew, that‘s [...]

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Pingback from What is mindfulness and how does it relate to my situation? | So you need to make some changes?
Time: September 2, 2010, 12:52 pm

[...] http://www.wildmind.org/background/moment This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. ← Mindfulness Quotes [...]

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Pingback from A Sunday Afternoon in the Moment « CHANGE-CAN
Time: April 2, 2012, 5:27 pm

[...] For example, Existentialists Soren Kierkegaard and Frederich Nietzsche both penned influential and timeless evaluations of who we are and how we become. Each approached a reaction to some historical event. For the former it was Hegelian thought, the latter Christianity. Yet their reaction to these subjects required an awareness of the now and what the present impact was. From the Buddhist blog “Wildmind“: [...]

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Comment from Nader
Time: August 12, 2012, 1:40 pm

Being in the moment means BEING OK with whatever is going on around you without a sense of judgement or resistance only acceptance and love.

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Comment from Rosie
Time: December 14, 2012, 4:05 pm

Thank you for writing such a refreshingly concise article. That’s actually how I felt after reading it: refreshed! I have been trying to live “in the moment” more but often find myself feeling confused and anxious as though I am not letting go of the past “properly”, that I not in the moment “enough”. Sometimes it feels like standing on the platform at a train station, watching a never-ending train (time) rush by and trying desperately to take in every aspect of each carriage (“the moment”) as it hurtles by. Your article helped me to understand that being in the moment is not about the elusive “time”, but rather it is about being aware of my experience, which is always shifting and changing. Thinking of it in this way makes me feel more relaxed because I can see now that life is like a flowing river, not a never-ending train.

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Pingback from Provide me with questions not answers: St George’s Church, Paddington, NSW, 14 July 2013 | Key SensitivityKey Sensitivity
Time: July 15, 2013, 9:40 pm

[...] Today I commence a short series of studies on the Epistle to the Colossians.  I want to take a journey with you into a spirituality that can stand back from rules for living and treasure the moment.  Much of every day at home and at work is bound by timetables and other people’s expectations.  But take a moment for self-awareness; hold your sense of being in the present, not locked into some past anxiety; allow the rhythm of your breath to focus you.  Simply recall what each of us does when other people and things around seem to control us.  We pause and take stock of ourselves and for that moment ‘let the heart speak’. [...]

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Comment from Nancy
Time: January 17, 2014, 12:31 pm

Being “in the moment” is selfish. It is just an excuse to be self-indulgent and can be hurtful to others.

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Comment from Bodhipaksa
Time: January 17, 2014, 11:14 pm

And your evidence for this statement is…?

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Comment from linda
Time: February 12, 2014, 9:16 pm

being fully in the moment, is being aware of the situation, your feelings as well as the other persons, having clear comprehension.

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Comment from BarryD
Time: March 3, 2014, 5:56 am

Can completely disagree with Nancy! From experience being in the moment is the complete opposite of what Nancy states. Being in the moment allows for there to be complete synchronicity with what and who is around you allowing a full and true response to the need of what is in the moment.

Not being in the moment usually means that the mind is either in the past or the future and therefore the response to need is a stilted response based on what has gone before or shaded by what is wanted by ‘me’ as an outcome.

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Comment from Nancy
Time: March 5, 2014, 8:14 pm

Thank you so much Barry. I’m so sorry for my jaded comments. Thank you for so eloquently explaining what being “in the moment” really means.

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Comment from BarryD
Time: March 6, 2014, 8:17 am

Nancy, glad to be of help. I am trying not to get “bogged down” in conceptual thought. (Not at all easy as the world is all about concepts.) Being in the moment is of course a concept, just an idea, as any wise man will tell you.

At the weekend I attended a talk (on Socrates and Plato)and the speaker said in his summing up something like “all these words are just that and should not get in the way of the practice of stilling the mind and allowing (the Universe in effect)all to take place without comment”.

Powerful stuff!

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