What Does It Mean To Be Present?

There is a natural tendency to see your life as an ongoing narrative. You are the protagonist in your life story. Other people are extras and supporting characters as you fulfill your heroic role in discovering and then achieving your life’s purpose.

The more you accept this idea of your life as a narrative–that life is an unbroken line constantly moving either up or down through time–the more you feel invested in controlling that line’s trajectory. Taken to the extreme, random disappointments can be interpreted as evil forces conspiring against you, chance opportunities are high-stake auditions for the future, simple mistakes are failed trials. How exhausting!

If you were able to zoom in close enough to that “narrative line of life”, like zooming in on a printed piece of paper, you would realize that the line isn’t solid at all; it’s made of tiny dots. Those tiny dots are like life–not a narrative at all; but millions of events unfolding one after the other.

After a trying day made up of frustrations, disappointments and mistakes it feels good to say, “Tomorrow is another day.” The idea being that in the morning you get to push the reset button and let the obnoxious memory of the previous day go and start fresh. But what makes a time-span of twenty-four hours so special? Why does it take twenty-four hours to let things go so a fresh start can begin? If we have a rough morning why can’t we cut that twenty-four hours in half and say, “This afternoon is another day?” And if twelve hours seems just as arbitrary as twenty-four hours, then what is the necessary span of time needed to hit the restart button? There isn’t one. If we had the ability, every single moment “is another day.” Letting the negative emotions of one moment bleed into the next is not inevitable or impossible to avoid. It is a failure of our ability to be present.

It’s not the present moment’s fault you’re anxious. You brought that anxious mood with you. Often the first step of letting a bad mood go is acknowledging your complicity in bringing that mood with you to the present, and if you’re capable of bringing it with you, you’re capable of letting it go.

To be more present try to zoom in on that line that you call your life narrative, see all the little dots that it’s comprised of and then choose to live in the microsecond of time that is right now without letting the uncomfortable previous dot or the lust for the future dot get in the way. Much relief can be found by breaking the novel of your life into novellas. Break the novellas into short stories. Break the short stories into scenes. Break the scenes into beats until you zoom in close enough to get to the peaceful moment by moment experience of the present.

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