Ford column: Living in the present
With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.
ó Ralph Waldo Emerson
I’m trying to become friends with the present.
With the right now. With this very moment. And I’m not very good at it yet.
Author Eckhart Tolle asks a simple question in his book “A New Earth.” Do you want the present moment to be your friend or your enemy?
When I heard this question posed at the end of a yoga class, I realized that I fight with the present like a couple of middle school girls going after the same boy, when I should be inviting it over for a slumber party. With cookie dough.
Or I just ignore it, too busy or distracted to pay attention to my neglected friend. But friendships take work.
I worry about the past. Regret nags me. Did I say too much, did I do too little? That article could’ve been better, that dinner could’ve been healthier, that task could’ve been completed.
And the future. Oh the future! I love to obsess about what hasn’t happened yet.
These two companions, regret and anxiety, crowd out the present, and life goes by on autopilot.
I was better friends with the present in the past.
A few years ago when I had a newborn and two older kids and life was out of control, I found a way to force myself to be in the now. I called it “checking in.”
Surely I’m not the first person to think of this exercise, and it probably has some mystical official title. It could be in Tolle’s book, which I don’t own. I just have six pages, copied and stuck in my planner.
When I needed to refocus, I made myself check in with all five of my senses, one by one.
What did I taste, see, hear, feel and smell at that very moment? This exercise compelled me to live in the now, or it was impossible to complete.
I have a terrible memory, and I started using this trick when I wanted to sear a particular moment, happy or sad, into my brain.
The squeak of the rocking chair, the taste of mint, the tug at my breast, the glow of the nightlight, the smell of diaper ointment.
The distant bagpipe, the smell of fresh-cut grass, the weight of a child on my lap, the taste of a tear, the etched stone.
During both of these moments, a late-night nursing and a funeral, I was truly present.
While I certainly want to learn from the past and I definitely need to prepare for the future, I think something important exists in between. I think it might be peace.
Yesterday’s burden is so heavy. Add to it the weight of tomorrow, and the load can become crushing, numbing.
Like any skill, I guess learning to live in the moment takes practice. When I’ve managed to do it, I feel calm but acutely aware, with a sense of security and contentedness.
Kind of like being with a good friend.
Emily Ford covers the N.C. Research Campus.