The Value of Living in the Moment

06/02/2015 10:15 am ET | Updated Jun 02, 2016
shutterstock

Time knows only one direction: forward. That much is out of our hands. But our relationship with time does not need to be all sand in fist -- there is a way to maintain some substantial grasp. When a lifetime, in the scheme of things, is immensely fleeting and fragile, and when more moments are never promised, we ought to make the most of every moment we have. If we wish to immerse in the current moment, we need some sort of mental foothold, some anchor to the here and now.

This is especially true since the past and future constantly fight for our attention -- the past perhaps bitter that its moment in the limelight has passed -- the future impatient for its chance to shine. Maybe that's why it's so easy to find our current moments filled with regrets over what has passed or anxious anticipation for what's yet to come. There is no way to count how many moments have been held hostage by minutes gone and not yet arrived, but it is likely that we all experience the pull of past and future regularly.

To some extent, this is valuable. We reflect on mistakes we've made to learn from them. We lay out our dreams for the future so we can delineate a plan to achieve them. There is also the joy in reminiscing on meaningful memories, or the excitement of planning for an upcoming milestone. But eventually, if we only ever reminisce or anticipate, we sacrifice the present, and likely, a fair amount of contentment and ability to most effectively engage in our lives as they're lived.

Think of the crippling effect of agonizing over a past mistake; the positivity you might have pulled from it and applied to the current moment is leeched away by regret. Imagine the ambitious person who devotes every moment to climbing further and faster, so they never stop to actually take in the view, or celebrate the triumphs achieved along the way, or to pause and recognize they no longer desire that which they seek. It's quite easy to have moment after moment consumed by life's current without ever consciously engaging.

It's not only heavy regrets and lofty dreams that preoccupy us. The moderately mundane are just as captivating. I often find myself on what feels like a constant mental adrenaline rush -- my mind racing in a million directions, never bypassing a tangent. Did I accidentally offend someone in that conversation? Should I go to the gym or get groceries? What would I even want to cook? I absolutely have to pick up my dry cleaning this weekend. Maybe tonight I'll get started on that blog. I still can't believe how intense that Game of Thrones episode was. You get the idea... it doesn't take much for our thoughts to roar into a crescendo that leaves little consciousness for the present, and so that moment is whisked away like a scent on a breeze.

When we never immerse in the current moment, we relinquish any control over time's pace. What's more, contentment lives in the moment -- the simple, undistracted here and now. Ultimately, the best way to maintain some sort of lucid appreciation of our time on earth -- and the best way to then make the most of that time -- is to keep stride with the rapidly passing minutes, days, and years. In engaging with life as it happens, we stand the best chance of cultivating gratitude for what we have, and of really understanding who we are. We foster the growth of instinct, and maintain a better grasp on vivid memories because we were actively engaged when we forged them.

I remember distinctly the moment when this revelation first dawned on me in a permanent way. Shortly after I moved to New York, and after months of job-hunting, I accepted a full-time position at a nonprofit. I stayed there for two years, and nearly every minute that I was there, I was absolutely miserable. I would arrive home utterly uninspired, too drained by my dissatisfaction and frustration to even muster the energy to search for another job.

Then the moment of clarity came, arriving discreetly then all at once, while I sat on the rooftop of my apartment. There, amidst the graffiti and cement and descending sun -- slightly removed from the maelstrom, the insistent haste of the day to day -- I let myself settle into the simplicity provided by that sunset-ridden rooftop. And in that moment, it struck me with the force of a tidal wave that I had to make a change.

The next day, I submitted my two-weeks notice. It was a risk, but I knew I'd find a way. I will never forget the surge of relief and reinvigoration when I made that decision; more than the specific scenario though, what most continues to resonate with me is the fact that there was inspiration hidden in a quiet moment.

If I had never immersed in that moment on the rooftop, I might never have found the subtle insight it offered me. Since that day, I have stumbled across many more nuances, inspirations, and personal revelations -- most often beautifully embedded in unembellished moments. I try consciously every day to be fully engaged in the present.

We often yearn for the ability to live every moment as if it was our last, but why should our last moment be any more significant than any other? A life is ultimately comprised of many moments -- each one as essential as the next in making something meaningful.

Engaging with each moment has helped me grow and it's helped me reconcile the occasional panic I feel when yet another year races by. It lets me keep pace with time, so that at least, I am there to ensure those racing years take me where I wish to go. We all have the power to take control of our time, to live deliberately and consciously every day, and to appreciate the value in even the most unglamorous of moments. Like all habits, it takes some practice and commitment -- but what better investment of your time, than your time?

Ultimately, time is undeniably and exceptionally transient, but as we love to say for many occasions and circumstances -- quality is more important than quantity -- and thank goodness for that. We can fill that time with meaningful relationships, with character, with introspection, growth and passion, with adventure, laughter, lessons and memories. And better a short time well spent, than an eternity living at the fringes of your own life.