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Electing to Live Now
By Gabriella Kortsch, Ph.D.
The other day I caught myself thinking about my next vacation. For several seconds I was counting the weeks - until I realized what I was doing... I was in the process of in some fashion discounting or throwing away the intervening weeks between now and then because of how much I was looking forward to that vacation time. In some way it signified that all my now moments between now and then were worth less than the actual time I would be on vacation, and so you could say that I was discarding - as though it were rubbish - a bit of my life.
Think about it: the importance you give something of this nature may mean the difference between a lackluster life sprinkled with high moments, or a life that is always as good as possible in every moment.
Then I remembered telling a friend as we drove to my supermarket, that the reason I chose to go to that particular branch as opposed to one that is in fact quite a bit closer to my house, is because of the joy I experience during the drive to the one I do go to. There's joy in my ride (rain or shine) because the scenery is so beautiful on my way there, the road curves gently, it goes up and down small hills and valleys, and makes me feel I'm out on a weekend mini road trip, when in fact I'm just going to the supermarket.
But here's what's important about this: the joy keeps me in the present. It would be impossible for me to fully appreciate that striking scenery if I were lost in thought, and it would also be impossible to feel the degree of joy I give myself by choosing that particular route and choosing to be present.
Another point to consider with respect to being present is how much time you spend every day wishing something were not as it is. How often do you do this? It might be something as simple as wishing it were sunny instead of raining, or as important as wishing you did not have a major illness. However, either way, it uses up precious moments, sets you on a train of thought that may lead you down a very murky path indeed, and more importantly, it squanders crucial energy that determines your inner well-being, not to mention, the number of minutes, hours, days, perhaps even weeks and months (over the course of a lifetime) that you waste engaging in this very fruitless activity.
This is a question of awareness. Remembering to be conscious is truly a full-time job. In this case, it is a question of catching both the feeling (which will not be optimal when you are wishing something away), and the thoughts related to that feeling, and consciously, with full awareness, choosing to focus elsewhere. This could be as simple as focusing on something of beauty and feeling gratitude for it, because such a simple process takes you to the present moment, and wishing something away cannot happen if you are in the present. Choose to be aware enough to be able to do this. It improves the quality of all the moments of your life in which you choose to be aware, and it is another way of showing yourself that you love yourself.
Finally, you can also look at giving priority to being present from another point of view. A friend recently spoke to me about driving for an hour or so. She had chosen to think of something that interests her during this period of time - in order to not waste time, and in order to avoid listening to inane radio shows or just music. And what she had been thinking about was indeed quite an appealing topic. But shortly before telling me this, she had mentioned that one of her goals was to create greater mindfulness in her life.
So of course I asked her to think back to that one-hour drive. What had she seen as she drove? What beauty had she become aware of? Obviously she had been oblivious to most of her surroundings during the drive.
We do that. We believe we should not waste our time at any time - especially if we are normally highly productive people who pride ourselves on our efficiency, intellect, multi-tasking skills, and competence. So we will carve out moments that could in fact add to time consciously spent in the present, and instead use them for another activity - generally thought-generated - and believe we have been highly effective in the use of our time.
Yet I've come to understand and believe that this use of our 'free' time (in the sense that time spent driving the car is free of other duties) is less than optimal. Years ago I would have congratulated this individual on time well spent. Now I think it is time used for purposes that - while certainly better than listening to inane radio programs - it is time that could have been spent honing mindfulness skills and benefiting from the fact that such skills improve the quality of your life.
One caveat: if you are in the midst of a problem or issue in your life, you might decide that a portion of the drive (or other free time) could be utilized to brainstorm with yourself about the subject. But the other portion of that time would be spent on perfecting and creating greater mindfulness in your life. More than most other things that you could potentially do with such time, mindfulness will bring with it greater benefits for you and the quality of your life. Choosing mindfulness is something only you can decide to do.