I recently spent a week vacationing in Maine. For the most part, it was extremely restorative and relaxing. I slept as late as I wanted to. I made tremendous progress in my book of crossword puzzles. I took deep breaths on long walks and savored the scenery as well as the scent of the balsam firs. I began reading Unbroken. I sat in silence staring at the lake—or the fog that was obscuring the lake. I ate a lot of berries. I lounged in a hammock.
And yet, I still had to consistently remind myself to forget to worry about work or any of the other responsibilities that were awaiting my return. I had to prod myself to be present—to be fully involved in the moment. Why worry about work I couldn’t do anyway? Why dilute the enjoyment of my vacation?
As I tried to relax, I could sense my attention was split. I found myself counting down the days—thinking, “Only 5 days left here…Only three days left here…Only one day left here!” I was preemptively mourning the end of my trip. Even as I did it, I knew it was a waste of mental energy. Why anticipate missing or returning to a place I was in the process of experiencing? Why spend time regretting the passage of time? Why not just enjoy the present?
There are times when reflection is appropriate. Likewise, planning has its purpose. But some moments call us to be completely engaged—neither looking too far forward or back. They invite us to stretch ourselves until we fully inhabit our experiences—to expand so that we are fully in the moment. There are times when we must live from the middle to the margins of now and allow the current to carry us. At these times, the present waits to fully wrap us up in its embrace and sustain us.
When we are in the moment, we are neither counting down the days, nor hoping to relive the experience. We are simply here—experiencing. We are not noting the passage of time (whether it seems accelerated or lethargic). It is simply now, and now has our full attention. The past is not regretted. The future is not to be feared. The only reality we engage is the one we are presently living. We have trust-fallen into the arms of the moment, and only now is our mind’s companion.
Sometimes we must remind ourselves to be. We must encourage ourselves to simply sense our surroundings and experience our life without getting distracted by regrets, impatience, or worry—to release ourselves from the pressures of perpetually doing that get in the way of living at full capacity. There is value in reflection as well as preparation. However, if we never fully submerge ourselves in the present, then both our past and our future will become increasingly shallow.
When I spend too much time worrying about or replaying the past, I miss parts of the present. When I loose myself in a hypothetical future, trying to chart an unknowable path, I neglect the moment. When I remain overly focused on the passage of time, it comes at the expense of experiencing my time. These things leave me in the shallows of life—skimming the surface. I’d rather live in the deep—saturated by the current. I want to be able to live from the middle to the margins—completely filling in the moment.