Mindfulness 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.
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.
[…] According to Wildmind.org, being in the moment means – […]
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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[…] 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“: […]
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.
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.
[…] 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’. […]
Being “in the moment” is selfish. It is just an excuse to be self-indulgent and can be hurtful to others.
And your evidence for this statement is…?
being fully in the moment, is being aware of the situation, your feelings as well as the other persons, having clear comprehension.
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.
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.
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”.
This is very true, but what to do about it? How to get out of robotic state, or state when pointless fantasies going on? That i didnt get it….
Im too often in those states and fantasies.
Meditate. Keep withdrawing your attention from pointless fantasies and place it in your body. Over time this gets easier to do…
Being in the moment is a by-product of meditation not something you try to do. One meditates and innocently gets on with life and then one is spontaneously and naturally in the moment without any effort.
Meditation certainly helps us to be more “in the moment” because it trains us to notice when we’re caught up in distracted thinking and thus we’re able to let go of it and be more mindful. But we can also make a gentle effort to come back to our present-moment awareness in everyday life. There is effort needed at first, but in time mindfulness becomes more spontaneous.
If your happy to think into your past or future is that ok to dwell in those thoughts … If your not needed to be totally present with people .. When I’m totally present in breathing exercises on the incoming and outgoing breath I don’t feel any better for doing it .. It’s just a discipline I try to do to see if any benefit as I read that there is many .. I felt something only once while sitting in a 10 day vipasana .. I had the free flow experience , energy flowing up and down my body for minutes .. So there is something in it but I’m wondering do I have to sit that long to experience that again .. I guess I’m not convinced to meditate daily as I don’t see any real benefits .
It’s not uncommon for people not to notice the benefits of meditation. Often other people will notice that they’re easier to be with, but they themselves aren’t aware of any change taking place. One of the drawbacks of being human is that we have blind spots.
As I’m sure you’re aware, there’s also a ton of research showing the benefits of regular meditation. It’s up to you whether you want to experience those benefits.
The first thing I noticed about meditating for 5 mins a day for the first few weeks is I could be in my car in silence. Sometimes I didn’t even turn the radio on and didn’t notice it until well into the drive. I can’t remember that happening before! Then I noticed being less reactive to things that bother me. Then I increased it to 10 mins a day. I smile more. My body feels calmer. And I often feel like the meditation I did yesterday helps me in a situation today. Hard to describe but it feels cumulative, and I love that it’s being talked about everywhere. I partly credit Pete Carroll and the Seahawks :) and everybody who shares their experiences. If everybody would meditate 5-10 mins a day, I know the world would be a noticeably better place. And more people are.
It’s nice that 10 mins a day makes a big difference and if that’s all you do, it’s a lot.
Very nice to find this site. mandy
I have never been one to meditate, but ‘mindfulness’ is something that I have practiced all of my life. Not as a deliberate act, but as a celebration of being alive, and not wanting to get all wide-eyed about it, I am grateful for every minute of being a part of this most amazing evolutionary experiment … ‘life’.
I wonder how we can reconcile these words with seeing today that, yet again men are going to war, and that the usual dribble of stabbings shootings and other violent acts of aggression are on the news. My solution, thought this is not really a solution, is to stop watching the news. Are there two different breeds of mankind? I could never kill anyone (and I am aware of the science which would say otherwise), or for that matter take anything from someone else, the whole idea repulses me.
Bring on more evolution, lets get past this stage of our animal history and start to live a great life – life without conflict.
I so agree with you about not watching the news. Why do the news readers feel a need to report all the violence in this world in the minutest detail, over and over again. I have become aware of mindfulness and ‘being in the moment’ over the last six months. It takes practice, but it is very refresing for the soul to take time to use all your senses to experience moments in time. It almost reminds me of a time before being an adult. As a child you are not a prisoner of that bombardment of pressured thoughts about work, bills, relationships, etc. As a child you live in the moment, each experience is a wonder. Or is it those rose coloured specs again?
Good analogy with being childlike. Children have it right on so many things IMHO. It is a shame that most of us grow up and loose that sense of wonder in order to survive in this world. I think the trick is to ‘pretend’ to be an adult in the places and at the times it is required, but go home to that simpler child as often as possible.
No Diane, I don’t think it is rose coloured specs at all. The world truly is an amazing place from the way life works to the way the universe works, all is out there to fascinate and amaze us. I love life so much and am always learning new secrets that were out there all along. Not by deadly serious (adult type) study, but mainly by piecing together from documentaries and other educational videos – and by using my brain.
Being childlike does not mean we have to be silly like children, rather it sometimes means we have to be frighteningly honest. This can sometimes bring with it the loss of comforting beliefs that we were taught to protect us as children. So this probably explains one of the reasons why it is not common to find other adults who have mastered this balancing act. I hope that you have Diane, and I wish you well for the new year. (if you like you can write me on cygnusx15.bigpond.com)
write cygnusx15 (at) bigpond.com
[…] is a natural side effect when practicing meditation. By being grateful for your current situation, you will stay in the present, and stop thinking about the past and the […]