In the shade of society’s towering expectations, it seems there is little to be gained by committing our whole selves to the present moment. Success in education and study requires that we motivate ourselves towards an end goal. Reaching mastery at a sport, a musical instrument, a craft, a language, a project; requires that we strive to continually improve ourselves. Maintaining healthy relationships requires hope and curiosity in our own capacity to improve. As Sam Harris points out in his book Waking Up our “simply accepting our many faults does not lead to happiness.”
So what do we gain by connecting, completely, with right now, with this very moment?
Mounting research has found that people are consistently less happy when their minds are wandering. We create anxiety by negatively introspecting about the past and the future. About what happened, what didn’t happen, what might happen, what might not happen. Every waking moment, this endless stream of thought runs into a reservoir of anxiety that, as it fills, starts to impact our functioning. We lose patience, concentration, energy, and productivity. We slip into unconscious behaviours like compulsive eating, drinking, gaming, working. Our bodies chime in with tension headaches, nausea, stomach cramps, and other aches and pains.
Embracing the present moment can give us temporary relief from the relentless gathering of thought. We stop the flow of introspection. We step out of the chaos and allow our minds space to breathe. In the quiet, we have a chance to reconnect with our authentic selves. We gain perspective. We gain clarity.
The poet Mary Oliver captures with spine shivering intensity, the hope that waits for us in the present moment, in her poem The Summer Day.