We were both silent for close to a minute. It was the best end to a book I’ve read in a long time and the final words hung in the air. I could taste them. The wisdom they quietly espoused. And I’ve been chewing on them ever since.
Being present is very popular these days. The phrase has almost become a cliche – something we modern day humans have latched onto as the thing that will solve our problems. Just be present, living in the moment instead of thinking about the past or looking to the future, and all will be well. We will be centered. We will find rest. We can move forward in peace.
I agree with all of this.
Being present is one of the archive categories on this blog, and that category holds the most posts of any other.
I also find value in considering the past and in contemplating the future. Since they are both part of our experience, they both matter. I learn from my past mistakes and successes by pondering them from time to time. I enjoy the promise of hope by wondering at the future. If I don’t dwell in either place only, looking both back and ahead helps balance things. It cannot be all about now all the time. If so, we would learn nothing and would make choices despite the consequences. This is why we develop a prefrontal cortex. Let’s embrace it.
Now is now, and that’s good, too.
Sometimes, sitting still in the moment and paying attention is just what’s needed. For me, it’s needed quite often since life is so hectic and busy. Enjoying the now is an art-form I’m trying to refine.
But, contrary to popular belief, being present is not a new concept. Here are several quotes from decades and centuries past, addressing this exact idea…
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” -Henry David Thoreau, Walden
I do not want to foresee the future. I am concerned with taking care of the present. God has given me no control over the moment following. -Mahatma Gandhi
Be happy in the moment, that’s enough. Each moment is all we need, not more. – Mother Teresa
This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it. – Psalm 118:24, ESV
True happiness is… to enjoy the present, without anxious dependence upon the future. – Lucius Annaeus Seneca
Yes, we should make the most of what God gives, both the bounty and the capacity to enjoy it, accepting what’s given and delighting in the work. It’s God’s gift! God deals out joy in the present, the now. It’s useless to brood over how long we might live. – Ecclesiastes 5:19-20 from The Message
But here’s my new favorite – the last bit of the book Lily and I finished, Little House in the Big Woods, from 1939 …
When the fiddle had stopped singing Laura called out softly, “What are days of auld lang syne, Pa?” “They are the days of a long time ago, Laura,” Pa said. “Go to sleep, now.” But Laura lay awake a little while, listening to Pa’s fiddle softly playing and to the lonely sound of the wind in the Big Woods. She looked at Pa sitting on the bench by the hearth, the fire-light gleaming on his brown hair and beard and glistening on the honey-brown fiddle. She looked at Ma, gently rocking and knitting. She thought to herself, “This is now.” She was glad that the cosy house, and Pa and Ma and the fire-light and the music, were now. They could not be forgotten, she thought, because now is now. It can never be a long time ago.
Now is now and I should try to pay attention. Or I might miss a moment like this. Or like hearing my youngest child breathe her sweet, little-girl breath on my cheek when we’re playing doctor. Or the moment of all my children, and their friends, yelling and singing and running and screaming through the house because they are happy. Or the soft pattering of rain on our skylight when Marc and I have finally fallen in bed after a long, hard day – the house is quiet, no one is asking a question I must field – there’s only my soft bed, my husband’s chest rising and falling beside me, and rain.
There’s a time for everything, including thinking about the past and the future. But now is now. It isn’t before, isn’t later; it’s happening. And I should try to be where life is happening as much as I can. No pressure. No this-is-the-answer-to-everything. Just Here we are. On the top bunk, amongst 27 stuffed animals and my middle child who doesn’t know better than to be totally present, listening to every word.