As readers will know I contribute to the #1000 voices speak for compassion which this month has focused on connections.
Reading and discussing others posts on the subject of connections has made me think about the concept of living in the moment. It’s something that is often said by those trying to encourage others not to focus too much on the pitfalls of concentrating on the past where shadows lurk or where we might believe the future is brighter. It might also apply to the dreamers who want the future to come because of what is happening right now. Or those who fear that things are sure to deteriorate.
When I worked as a full time lawyer, I heard of many people who found sleep difficult. I didn’t have that problem, however stressful my day might have been. At the start, no doubt, my relative youth helped but, as I grew older, gained experience I found that, while I would fall asleep with the same facility as I had always had, I would wake early – four, five am. And in that grey, almost awakefulness, I would be convinced, as only someone still inside a dream can be convinced, that I had done something so bad, so awful that resignation was the least of my worries. Despite that conviction, some part of me knew it was rubbish – a distortion of the truth – but I could not think my way out of it. I was trapped by the fears of what I had done and chained by panic of what I was about to do. That was my moment and it was endless.
In a very real way we all live in the moment. Consciousness is just about the now. We can recall the past but cannot go back there and we can speculate on the future but cannot know exactly what awaits us there.
The past informs us, gives us a way of generating perspective on what is happening now and what might be to come. If we have overcome hurdles before, we can do it again. If we fail to take an opportunity before, we can take it now. If we say or do the wrong thing we can learn from it. Wisdom doesn’t come as a necessary condition of experience but it sure helps.
The future gives us the chance to correct those wrongs, take those opportunities to allow us to dream and speculate on how we might do better next time. But it can seem full of traps and tripwires that we just know we cannot avoid.
Both positions have their benefits, both can involve us, as with my dreams, in an enervating and enfeebling narrative.
What we need to do is to realise these positions are all connected. The past has led us to this very moment and this very moment is already the past. Even as we focus on the smell, the view, the taste, the feeling of the now it is changing, fading, strengthening reappearing. And in the moment that such smell fades it is already replaced by the next phase of the scent, each new hope, that unexpected opportunity.
Standing in the moment we are already living the future and discarding the past. And it is, nearly every time, no worse than the moment just gone. That new moment will happen without us doing anything. The future cannot be stopped until we completely stop. It is inexorable and it always has been and always will be.
The past, as it slips future away crystallizes into our own history; time gives it a solidity as it embeds into our memory. Images are seared into our brain. The extraordinary tool that is the brain distorts our reality, our experience of the moment by giving a weight and importance to the concrete memories we store. But in truth the path we are on, the immediately preceding moment, the current moment and the next moment are all of the same weight, all have the same importance when viewed from the immediacy of the now.
They are all connected, and at best all need to be in balance.
If we allow one aspect, the past, to have a greater gravity in our decision-making we will be unbalanced in what we do, in how we view what we have done and how we prepare for what is to come. Our past should be our self-help manual de jour, something we refer to, to help inform what is to come; but it should not be something that dictates how we see ourselves and how we behave in the next moment.
For me, stuck in a record groove that just went on and on, I found I had to get out of bed – my choice was to go for a pee – and sit on the toilet. I had to physically break the spell. There, in that deepest pre-dawn dark I was able to order my troubled thoughts and, in a very real way, piss away my nightmares. I could be in the moment and see the past with a proper perspective and thus balance what I had to do on the morrow, what steps I needed to undertake. And never – not once – was the reality of my fears anything like as I had imagined them to be.
I needed to grant myself some self-compassion, to allow myself to see what I had done and what I would do as part of a continuum, as living, working, thinking to the best of my abilities. It is the essence of self compassion that we give ourselves the benefit of the doubt, we allow ourselves to make those mistakes, to express self-doubt, to challenge ourselves to be better than we have been. But that knowing angel, that weight of experience sitting on our shoulder shouldn’t have the deciding vote in how we see ourselves or we can slip into debilitating dreams that have no happy ending.
As with the right and left hemispheres of our brain, we need them to work in harmony, each contributing equally, to function properly. We need to let ourselves believe in ourselves in every moment and not give in to the temptation of the past over the expectation of the future.
Stay connected to the moment, people. It really is the only place to live.