Now is your user interface with reality

by Jack on February 2010

This moment is your only user interface with reality.

Take one deep breath, pause, and think about that for a little while.

Really: this moment is your only user interface with reality.

You can’t interact with the future. You can think and plan – right now – about something that you might do in the future, and then do it. But when you execute your plan, when are you actually taking those actions? Now of course.

You can’t interact with the past. You can learn from your picture of the past, through your memory, or through others’ memories, perhaps with the help of conversation, books, and audio or video recordings. But you never interact with the past directly, even when you recall your own memories. Every apparent interaction with the past takes place as a replay in the present moment, right now.

The past and future are useful illusions, concepts that we believe in, because the world around us – and especially our own mind – tells us a more-or-less consistent story about how things ended up the way they did (‘past’), and how they might change (‘future’).

If we lost our memory, would the past or future have any meaning at all to us?

Now is the only thing that’s real. A moment has no meaning to a story. A story needs a trajectory, a change over time, motion from place to place. A moment needs only itself, and consciousness. Are you conscious, in this moment, now?

Now is your only means of changing the world around you. Do you have a goal? Do you want to rescue orphans, create a billion dollar company, inspire others, or learn a new profession? The actions you are taking now, at this moment, are either taking you there or moving you away.

Spending your time in endless mental ‘planning’ as so many people do – neurotically projecting yourself into hypothetical futures, and recalling and replaying the apparent reality of the past – is futile and counterproductive. There is a time and place for planning, of course, but when you correctly perform the task of planning, you are still living in the Now – perhaps focused on creating a schedule, or designing a project plan, or brainstorming ideas with a friend. The inescapable reality of life is that you are always Now, never anywhere else. Any planning, goal setting or forecasting must always reflect this fundamental truth.

All of these facts are independent of the specific content of the future or past. Spending time in a fantasy world of memory, recalling great experiences from your past, takes you out of the present just as surely as ruminating over the memories of the worst day of your life. Hope and nostalgia are just as much illusions as worry and regret.

How can you do your best at staying present, and anchored in the Now?

Remind. Develop the intention to stay anchored within the present moment. Use an external physical reminder – such as a bracelet that you switch from one wrist to the other when you find your thoughts drifting to the future or the past. Other options include using a jar of dried beans to physically count the times that your mind wanders, or keeping an elastic band on your wrist to snap lightly when you catch your mind drifting.

Breathe. Many meditative traditions use the breath as a foundation for various training exercises because the breath is always with you. You can practice focusing on the breath in line at the DMV, in an endless business meeting, or even at yoga class (imagine that!).

Focus. Ensure that your average day is full of activities that challenge you enough to put you ‘in the zone’, which the distinguished psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi [1] describes as ‘flow‘. Ideally, these would also be activities that help bring you closer to your goals – while playing a challenging video game can bring you into the moment, it usually doesn’t lead to a tangible outcome of any value.

Release. Attachment – whether to hope (‘good future’), nostalgia (‘good past’), worry (‘bad future’), or regret (‘bad past’) – is a key obstacle to entering and remaining within the present moment. By training yourself in methodologies such as The Work or The Sedona Method, it is possible for you to release attachment to the habitual thought patterns that knock you out of the present moment.

Meditate. Enough said.

The more of your life you spend anchored in the Now, the happier your life will be. The more life you spend tangled in the illusions of past and future, the more stressed, anxious and neurotic you will be. All the power’s in your hands, and if you wish you can choose to live in the Now, right now. What do you choose?

[1] Say that name ten times fast.


If you enjoyed reading this article...

1. Please get my premium personal development tips here, featuring special content not published on the blog.

2. Please follow the thirtytwothousanddays RSS feed here for up-to-date, practical, and inspiring resources that will put you on the fast track to personal growth and happiness.

3. Please follow me on Twitter here.

4. Please share this article with a friend, or anyone else you think could use a little extra peace and happiness today! 🙂 Share/Bookmark

Thank you!

Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: