As a kid, time always seemed to go slower. Or faster, if having fun. But remember those long stretches of summer holidays that seemed to go on joyously forever? As children, relating to the past and future is a different ball game. The now was more immediate, more understandable. With little concept of clock-time, telling a kid to wait ten minutes for something is pure torture.
I guess it comes with learning to tell the time, you start to conceptualize the past and future better. As we grow, we are taught to project through dreams, goals, or set time limits. School, work, you know the drill. Reflecting on my child self recently that started me on this train. It is something I feel we all need to return to, that childlike act of being in the now.
I am not ignoring the fact that planning, vision and documenting histories has done a lot for our progression as a species. But so has imagination and ideas, and they happen in the right now.
Yet when we think of the past or future, we often struggle to remain present in what is happening right now. All we are ever really trying to do is arm ourselves for new happenings. This is normal, and it is also very primal in a way. Learned behaviour and muscle memory in animals keeps them alive.
However, we differ from animals in the way we attach emotion. It is the projection of feelings on the actual events that haunt us.
In some ways, there is a pervasive fear that if we just live in the present we will learn nothing from our past. Then the future will suffer.
But—living in the now is just the opposite of that. No longer will we perform in the moment with one eye on the clock. Our action, the anything that imbues this one moment, is all there is. So do it well, and with all your heart. It is no longer just a step on the path to where you are going. It is the path.
Our cognition separates us from animals. If we remove our bond with memories, will we debase ourselves? No! In choosing to accept what is, and not let the past and collected emotion harm us, we emancipate.
Acceptance has been a buzzword for me since 2014. Attending a weeklong Ayahuasca retreat, that word was spoken countless times in a day. It was imbued with peace. Through acceptance in each ceremony, I saw people who were stuck holding on to past emotions move through it and heal.
Acceptance isn’t about dealing your lot and not fighting for what you want. The essence of acceptance is knowing what is, and not battling against it. Raging against the current or past state of things wastes energy that could be better spent. When we accept, we seek out the path to change, allowing ourselves to gracefully walk toward what we desire.
Acceptance is living in the now. It is part of meditation and mindfulness. When meditating, the goal is to observe. Just sit with thoughts and surrounding sounds. To notice then let go. Do not judge or wish anything away. Just breathe and observe, until eventually, the mind becomes quiet.
This is such a tricky thing and (full disclosure) I am awful at it. But—this is a lifelong school that I will dutifully attend. Even when I slack off, forget my breathing in yoga, or don’t meditate for weeks on end. I know that this is something I will have forever. It will all come eventually. I just continue the practice.
Also, do you want to know the secret best part of forgetting or being lazy? It is ridiculous…
When you get back into it, the breathing slows and you have a moment, it feels amazing. Just one singular frame where you feel quiet and immersed in your own body. Honestly—and this is going to sound cheesy—it feels like returning home.
Fuck it, I said it. It really does. And if you do this, you’ll already be nodding your head and smiling. Not a hint of cringe in you.
And if you’re cringing, that is so okay too.
The point is this: You don’t need to live like an amnesiac. Acceptance and living in the present doesn’t require cutting away your history. It is just knowing that the past can no longer touch you, and the future is yet unwritten. And it will come, unbidden or not, so deal with it when it is present. Worrying is the wasted energy that could be better spent.
By all means, utilise the past. Know that all prior experiences are preparation for present situations. Memory isn’t what attacks us. It is the attached emotion. We always have the power to deal with things better, or worse. Practising presence leaves behind the baggage of the past. So when faced with a situation, we can address it free of stale emotion.
This moment is all we have, so show up for it. Treat it honourably. Engage. Then you will never waste a moment, chance or opportunity. Meet that moment and give it all you have.
We did this as children. Every moment was felt. Even the painful minutes waiting to get ice cream that felt like an eternity. A grievance, a joy, a picture you drew. The focus was there.
When we grow older, we marry lessons from the past to our future. Important lessons like avoiding cars or not touching hot things. Our mental gaze shifts to the horizon. It is not our fault, we are taught this throughout our education and within society as a whole. It is always “what next?”
We need to practice and teach the joy in the moment. Be present for it ourselves. It serves us far more than most would imagine.