There is a place where 99% of human suffering does not exist—and this place is always available for you. This place is the present moment.
There’s a lot of talk about living in the moment, living in the present, and the “power of now”. Today I’m going to share my perspective about it, as there’s a lot of value in this teaching… but there’s a lot missing in it as well.
Hi there, meditator! Welcome to episode 20 of Master Your Mind Daily, your show on all things pertaining to meditation, anxiety and personal growth. My name is Giovanni Dienstmann. I am the author of Practical Meditation and the creator of LiveAndDare.com, one of the top five most visited meditation blogs on the planet.
Today I am here to talk about living in the moment, and why that’s only half of the story. Stick with me and you will understand why.
But first I have a question for you: Are you usually more in the future or in the past? Some people are more in the past, and some people are more in the future. For you, where does your mind usually do a lot more? Please write it in the comments.
So living in the moment is not a panacea. It is not.
It doesn’t fix everything. It’s not the solution to all evils, but it is a great help because a lot of our psychological distress, a lot of our mental and emotional suffering, does not really exist. If we are a 100% in the moment, a lot of this suffering is past; related things like resentment, regret, grief, shame, guilt—all of that is connected to the past. These feelings can only be lingering for you if you’re living in the past; otherwise they come, they teach you a lesson, they stay for a while and then they go.
You make a mistake, you regret it, you learn a lesson, you let go and move on. You do something that you’re not proud of. You feel a moment of shame or guilt and you learn from it. It causes an impression in your consciousness. You forget about it and move on; but if these feelings are lingering, then it’s because you are dwelling in the past.
Instead, dwelling in the present is a way to get out of that mess, to move on from it; and likewise for the future, suffering that is future-related can be things like anxiety, worry, self-doubt. Again, bring your mind back to the present. Back to living your life wisely, consciously, in the present moment and focusing on your next step. That is a solution to a lot of this suffering that is either in the past or in the future.
At the same time, a lot of the New Age teachings out there, a lot of the spiritual teachings out there, may give the impression that living in the moment is enlightenment, that living in the moment is the solution to all human suffering.
Should we never be thinking about the past or the future? Is it sin?
That’s not the case; that’s a very one-sided and unbalanced approach. Plants and rocks are always in the present moment. A lizard is always in the present moment. If we make our brain as primitive as that of a lizard or a snake, we’re always going to be in the present moment, effortlessly. There would be no anxiety, no regret, no shame, nothing.
But is this the next step in human evolution what we’re working toward?
No. We need the ability to look at the past, to learn from it, otherwise we’ll keep repeating it. We need the ability to look to the future and see what’s the likely outcome if I continue doing the things that I’m doing.
Ask yourself what you are walking toward. Have a goal, have a vision for yourself. Simply having a meaningful vision for our lives and for ourselves already helps us to live more purposefully, more meaningfully, to have less suffering.
So the ability to think about the past and to think about the future help us to learn from the past and to plan for the future.
These are essential abilities that we need to have, cultivate, and become better at. They are part of our mind. They are part of the abilities of our mind. The problem is not that we sometimes think of the past and the future. The problem is that we can’t stop thinking about the past and the future even if it’s not useful, even if it’s causing pain for no good reason, even if we want to—that’s the problem.
The teaching of living in the present moment is so valuable—but it’s only half the story.
Now, how do we stay present? There are many ways.
The body is always present; it’s the mind that can be in the past or in the future. So one way to be in the present is to make the body and the mind unite. If body and mind are one, then the mind is in the present because the body is in the present.
What does it mean to unite body and mind? It means that if you’re walking, you are walking; your body is walking, your mind is walking. It’s not that your body’s walking and your mind is thinking something else. If you’re eating, your body is eating and your mind is eating—it is engaged in the process so body and mind are one.
This is one of the ways to become present: focus on your body.
Another way is focusing on your breath. The breath is always here; it’s not the past breath or the future breath. It is this breath right now, that you have the chance to pay attention to and to use as a door to the present moment.
THIS moment is the moment where 99% of human suffering does not exist. As for the 1% that does exist in the present moment… if there’s an action you need to take to fix something in your life, to set boundaries in a relationship, to stop going to certain places, to change your habits—then you can do that.
If that is the case you should do that in the present moment, not thinking about the times you failed in the past, not worrying about the failures in the future and the things that the future holds because it’s uncertain.
There is no solution to the uncertainty of the future.
The only solution to the uncertainty of the future is to live in the present and to accept in your heart that the future is uncertain. To have that confidence in yourself that no matter what, you’ll be able to accept it and make something good out of it. That even if the most horrible things happen in your life, you will be able to make something good out of it.
If you have that confidence, or if you have the faith that “whatever happens in my life happens for my greater good”, then there is no place for anxiety for you anymore. You know that whatever comes, even if it’s painful for a while, even if it’s uncomfortable, even if it’s not what you expected, whatever comes is for your greater good.
No one can prove that to you. It cannot be scientifically proved and it cannot be disproved. It’s something that you can choose to adopt as a way of living, or not, and both of these choices have consequences.
If you adopt this as a way of living, as a way of seeing things, then there is no anxiety. There’s no fear; there is gratitude, there is meaning, there is a sense of connecting the dots and moving forward. Also, if you believe that whatever happens is going to be for the greater good, then suddenly all the future kind of disappears. It loses significance because it’s uncertain but you’re not afraid of it, so you can remain present.
You can believe the same thing about your past—that whatever happened in your past must have been for a greater good, that it was a needed lesson in your life, and a needed phase in your life. Now you have the opportunity to rebuild yourself, to decide who you want to be. If you have that attitude toward the past, then you can forget about the past and be in the present.
As you can see, one way to live in the present moment is mindfulness; to pay attention to your body, to the activities that you’re doing, and the sensory input. The other way is changing your mindset.
Changing your mindset as I just described will allow you to not worry about the past or the future, and all of that energy will be freed up for you to live life here and now. Of these two ways—mind and body being one (a), and changing your mindset (b)—which one do you feel is more useful? Please write it in the comments.
Another thing that comes with our ability to stay present is that we are cultivating fearless presence to whatever shows up in our life.
It is said that the limits of our world are the limits of the emotions we are unwilling to feel. We are unwilling to feel the feeling of rejection, the feeling of failure, and therefore we fear rejection and failure. We don’t do the things that we want to do or we know we need to do because we don’t want to experience those feelings.
We don’t want the risk of experiencing those feelings, but how different would it be if you could say something like, “I open my heart to experience whatever feelings come, good or bad, pleasant or unpleasant; I open my heart to experience the feeling of rejection without running away, without avoiding—to just be here and feel the rejection, feel the failure.”
If you have that attitude, then you’re not going to fear any emotion. You’re not going to be a slave to any feeling; you’re going to be able to live life more freely, and that is the value of meditation. It frees up your mind, your heart, your life; it allows you to be more of who you want to be, who you were meant to be. In all of that, living in the present moment is key, and it comes naturally once you build a daily meditation practice.
If you have any questions, please write them in the comments now, or you can write later and I will answer in the comments.
Why living in the present?
99% of human suffering, of psychological distress, exists only when we’re living in the past or we’re living in the future
- When we’re living in the past, we experience things like resentment, regret, shame, guilt, and grief.
- When we’re living in the future, we experience things like anxiety, fear, worry, and self-doubt.
- When we’re living the present moment, there’s no such thing
The two ways to live in the present
One way is to connect body and mind. The body is always in the present, and if your mind is connected with your body, then your mind will be in the present as well.
So when your body is walking your mind is also walking, it’s not thinking, and when your body is eating your mind is also eating. It’s not re-suffering from the past or worrying about the future, and when you’re talking with someone, your mind is also talking with someone, and hearing, and it’s present.
Another way is to change your mindset. We think about the future because we worry about uncertainty. If we can learn to accept uncertainty and to have the worldview/mindset, that, “I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I believe that whatever happens is going to be for my greater good”—then you can let go of the future and be in the present.
And if you think that, “Whatever happened in the past, I needed to go through it to be who I am now and to learn a certain lesson, and I couldn’t escape it but now I have learned my lesson and I can be different right now,” then you can let go of your past and be present.
These are the two ways.
If you want my help in leading a more conscious life—in having meditation be a greater part of your life, in focusing more in the present moment and living more consciously, more purposefully, more creatively—then I invite you to join this community of meditators called Limitless Life.
It will give you access to a lot of tools, courses and guided meditations, and I believe that this can help you.
If this video was inspiring for you, if it was informative, please consider sharing it with a friend, family member, colleague, or anyone who needs to be more in the present moment, and I’m sure they’ll be grateful for your thinking of them.
Thank you for watching, and happy growing!