For almost all of us, being present is one of life’s great challenges. Picture yourself on a balmy day at the beach when the sun is shining on your back and the sound of waves are trying to drown out the noise in your head. For most of us, we may physically be in paradise, but find our minds trying to solve problems at work, continue past arguments with a partner, or dreading about the calamities that the near future will bring. We’ve all been there, but why is it so hard to experience the present moment in it’s wholeness?
If there’s one thing our clever brains do well, it’s that they erase the boring ‘filler’ (that is everyday experience) in its mundane-ness or uncomfortableness from our memories. We are sometimes nostalgic about the past because we only remember the highlight moments in their most intense form. Similarly on the outside, our brains use that same familiar way of editing what we regard important to show others and what isn’t worthy of social judgement. We naturally show the same sort of highlight events to the world, pushing the normal bits under the carpet so that people can judge us as positively as possible. Think of how many Facebook pages and Instagram feeds are filled with all the good bits, seldom showing the ordinary, the dull, or the uncomfortable experiences that all of us humans are in fact connected by. It’s interesting to watch how our brains have a way of plucking the most consequential and meaningful parts of experience out of the hours and hours of mediocre moments that fill the everyday.
Perhaps the overwhelming idea of infinite possibility gives us anxiety when left to our own devices in the present moment? This is a theory of philosopher Alain de Botton, who explores this in his book Status Anxiety, released in 2004. He argues that this anxiety that follows us everywhere is something that we are always conscious of, and a condition of existing in this Universe. So it’s really important then, to remind ourselves that the super scary possibilities of our business falling apart if we took a holiday, or the urgency to find something interesting to post on social media, most likely won’t happen, and isn’t a reality. It’s also important to remind ourselves that the very real anxieties that haunt our past and seemingly lurk in the future, are not unique to you, but shared amongst the human race. Knowing this is a comfort.
So next time you catch yourself worrying about something that catastrophic that ‘may possibly happen’, don’t call yourself ungrateful or put yourself down for disregarding the present moment. Be aware of your thoughts and feelings, watch them as an observer. It may create just enough space in your mind to catch the sweet smell of nowness at its freshest moment.