Part of being human is being stuck in the past or stuck anticipating the future.
It’s normal to look back at a life full of “shoulda, coulda, woulda’s” when we’re not satisfied with our lives. Being crippled by the fear of the unknown future as we contemplate an infinite amount of “what ifs” is also normal.
If you’re like me, you’re done with that shit. You’re done being a slave to the cruelty of time passing you by or not having enough time. You’re overlooking back at what was and over the anxiety of trying to get to an ideal future. Fuck. That. Noise.
Here’s a remedy to being stuck in the past and/or the future: live in this present moment.
What does it mean to live in the present? You might ask.
Living in the present means to stop and smell the roses. Every single one of them. The refreshing new roses, the roses that smell like shit, and the roses that don’t smell like anything. Experience them. Don’t think about the roses from last spring and how they were more beautiful. Don’t wonder if you can find better roses to smell than the ones that are currently in front of you. Just smell.
Experience whatever is here with you right this second. When you’re living in the present, you’re unstuck. This moment is alive and tangible, your memories and your daydreams aren’t.
If you’re down to start being in the present more, you might be thinking things like: How do I live in the present? How can I stop thinking about the past when I have so much regret? How can I stop thinking about the future when I have an endless list of goals before I die? I always have shit to do. My job is so demanding. I’m responsible for a whole team of people. I’ve got kids to nurture. I’ve got a deadline. I don’t even have the energy to work out or cook the groceries rotting in my fridge. I’m just so damn busy!
To experience the present and what’s here right now, practice mindfulness. Be willing to sit with what’s here now and open up your self-awareness. This means letting go of the past and the future. Whatever it is you’re doing, focus on that and only the experience of that.
Here are some examples:
If you’re chatting with your lover, notice when you start zoning out and thinking about random things. Do you go to the past or the future? Were you thinking about how work went today or what your calendar looks like tomorrow? Did you start looking at your phone? Pause and refocus on talking and listening to the person in front of you.
If you’re exercising and start running through your to-do list as you’re doing squats, you’re not in the workout. You’re actually in your future busyness. Breathe and start noticing all the sensations your body is experiencing. How is it transforming each moment you complete a set?
If you’re heartbroken, it’s typical to only think about the past or the future. You might be beating yourself up over everything you could have done to avoid this pain. You wonder if you’ll ever stop hurting, if you’ll ever be happy again. You rush into being stronger and getting over it quick, so you don’t feel or appear weak. Instead, try to be with that heartache as it is. What does it mean to experience this right now? What is your mind doing? What is your body doing? What is your soul doing? Who are you right now?
If you have time to dwell on the past or be anxious about the future, you have a second to get present with the now. It only takes a second.
Here’s a quick exercise to get present. Take a moment to answer these questions below:
Where were you a year ago?
Where will you be a year from now?
What were you doing a month ago?
What will you be doing a month from now?
Where were you a week ago?
Where will you be a week from now?
What were you doing a minute ago?
What will you be doing a minute from now?
Who were you a second ago?
Who will you be a second from now?
Now, who are you right now? And now? And now?
It’s incredible how much changes in a year and how much can shift in a single second. So many amazing peaks and dreadful valleys I experienced. So many problems I thought would crush me and didn’t. So many deep regrets and sadness I already forgot about. So much joy and laughter that I let die too fast, instead of celebrating in it more. Despite it all, I’m here right now.
We are a different person every second of our lives.
I still feel stuck on regrets when my present doesn’t feel as great as I want it to be. I still feel hopeless and defeated when I think of how successful and beautiful I want my future to be. Yet, I find comfort in the thought that I am ever changing, even if it doesn’t always feel that way.
In practicing a little awareness and smelling the roses of the present, we are never stuck.