I lunched with a colleague recently to catch up and, while I was hoping for a pleasant conversation, it was an earful of anxiety and stress. My colleague was frazzled about her endless task list: bring the dog to the vet, pick up the kids from school, do marketing brochures for her side business, plan a trip for a family wedding, etc. The list went on and on and on… I felt invisible, and our lunch was really more of a therapy session for her to unload. While I am happy to be a complaining board to someone else if it makes them feel better, I felt a frenetic energy all around. If my colleague could have just pressed the pause button in her life for 30 seconds and just enjoyed her sandwich, it would at least have been 30 seconds of time well spent.
We waste so much time thinking about the future, but never being in the present, which is the only moment we ever have. Every time we expend energy focusing on the future, we lose the opportunity to live in the present. Our all-consuming thoughts about our future is our biggest stress in life. Why do we spend so much time thinking about the future when we have no control over it? It is precisely this that Buddha believed that we must focus on the journey and not in the destination. We plan and plan and plan, fixating ourselves on what ought to be, should be, or might be. We plan to make more money, have a better career, marry the one, have children, etc. But do we ever think about and live in the present? Probably almost never. Because we become obsessed with the future, we sacrifice our present, thereby losing the opportunity for happiness each and every moment. Instead of being happy now, we project that we will be happy one day, and that day may never come. Our speculation of what will be or will do becomes attached to our identity and the importance of it. Due to the uncertainty and unknown of the future, we cause a lot of stress onto ourselves.
In order for genuine happiness to occur, it is important to relish in the present moment. It can be as simple as enjoying a walk and recognizing that each step you take brings so much comfort and peace. Or it may be in the smallest tasks, like eating breakfast or taking a shower. Instead of enjoying the tea we sip or the warm water in the shower, we are thinking about what we have to do next in these “insignificant” moments (I place quotations around “insignificant” because while these small events seem unimportant, they are in fact very significant). Or if the goals are much bigger, like reaching the pinnacle of your career or buying the dream home, then those goals do not come by your obsessive thoughts about them. These goals are reached because of steps you take each and every moment. The more you are present in these steps, the better chance of your future outcome and results.
Being in the moment has tremendous challenges for all of us because we are so conditioned in the future thought process; it’s like second nature to us. In order to start being in the present, take baby steps in appreciating the small things in life, like being aware of each step you take in your walk or of how enjoyable it is to sip the tea and feel the warmth in your throat. The most easiest and fundamental way to be in the present is to just be aware of your breath, which is the essence of life. If you are in a stressful situation and your mind is running amok, retreat, close your eyes and just focus on your breath. Pay attention to the air entering your nose, traveling down to your lungs, reaching every part of your body, and exhaling out of your nose and mouth. If you just do this simple exercise, your mind will enter into calmness and your present state of being will naturally occur. When you are present, this is the ultimate state of freedom and happiness. Once you practice small steps such as these, your whole energy will start to shift in positive ways. Just step back, be aware of what you are doing in the moment, appreciating it for what it is, and happiness will naturally occur in your life.
It is in our journey, not in our destination, that makes us who we are, so seize the present moment, which is where real magic happens. If we take care of today, tomorrow will take care of itself, so enjoy and focus on the journey of now. Travel well.
By Moon Cho, Creator of Ying & Yang Living