It has been said that the human mind is the most complex structure in the universe. It is comprised of a network of unfathomably complex connections that’s incredibly good at many things, but perhaps best at making associations and predictions.
You know this to be true in your own experience. Take any mundane word or phrase that comes across your consciousness, and then observe the dozens of nearly-instantaneous spinoff thoughts that result – song lyrics, movie lines, academic classes, conversations with people in your distant past. It’s precisely this phenomenon that has allowed a hairless, clawless, wimpy-toothed creature to survive in the big bad world.
It’s also what drives us crazy. Our minds won’t shut up. They won’t turn off. We torture ourselves with an incredible amount of mental noise on a minute-by-minute basis.
The effect of this is that we are pathologically incapable of living in the moment. Our brilliant minds are so incredibly good at free-association that we free-associate our way out of the mindfulness and peace that we desperately need.
On first blush, it may sound like we need to battle our minds in order to successfully live in the moment, but battle isn’t quite what’s needed. Actually, quite the opposite. Surrender. Living in the moment requires surrendering to the moment.
Here’s what I mean. So much of our lives are spent revisiting the past, often in order to re-experience some joy, but generally just to re-suffer previous pain. Living in the moment means that we surrender our past as past. Living moment by moment means that we give ourselves permission to let our past be as it is, without need for our attempts at revisionist history. There is an infinite amount of discomfort available in the past. The only way to free ourselves from it is to surrender the past as over, done, and complete. That gives us our first “pardon” from the sentence of living in endless mind-noise.
The second key to living in the moment is to surrender our future. For most of us, if we’re not busy feeling sad, guilty, or unworthy as a result of our past, we’re ruminating on how the future might look. Usually, we attempt to predict how the future could potentially look, and then compare that to how we think we want the future to be instead. The difference between how we think the future is going to look, and the way we want the future to look instead, causes significant mental anguish that robs us of the ability to live in the moment.
The insanity is fairly hard to miss: we sacrifice the only thing in life we have — the precious NOW — in order to churn over the things that used to be, or the things that might be. And we miss the simple, amazing, gorgeous beauty of the things that ARE. Right now.
The happiness and relaxation meditation (below) addresses this issue. It takes you through a series of guided meditation exercises to help you honor the perfection of both the joy and pain of your past, and then let it go. It also takes you through an exercise that lets you embrace the perfection of an imperfect and uncertain future. At the end of the meditation, you’ll become intensely present, yet completely calm. It’s an important metaphor to enable you to embrace living fully in the moment.