“Wait? Is it that time already? 9 p.m. already. I haven’t done anything today. To be honest I don’t even know anymore what I did today. It’s one big blank in my head.” “Relax, calm down. It’s alright. Just close your eyes“ “I don’t know what I did today. The day passed by like one big blur.” These are the thoughts that ran through my head yesterday. Wild. Uncontrolled. Daunting. Scary. I felt overwhelmed. Out of the moment. The thing is if I only felt like this for a day I wouldn’t have reacted this way. But as I try to live more and more present the day seems to pass me by. I seem to miss the ‘be here now’ boat. I want to be here, but every time I try to do it life just passes by. I feel this sense of regret and anxiety over another day passing by just like that. What did I do today? Did I write? Or was my day filled with unproductive social media scrolling, YouTube watching, binging, and live streaming. I don’t know. I don’t think I wasted my time on things like social media, but I feel stressed. I feel overwhelmed as if the entire day has been filled with worry. Anxiety. Stress. Why?
“Okay let’s focus on the here and now then.” My mind says. And I try to focus on the present moment. I scan the room. My head frowned, eyes pierced. Trying to find something to be grateful for. I try so desperately to be present that I don’t even notice that still, the world is passing me by. My frowned forehead and piercing eyes seem to block out any sense of relaxed and loving awareness over what is in front of me. Although I think I am present, all I am doing is… Well, what am I doing? I guess I am forcing myself into some sort of meditation, present living, be here now mode. But despite, or maybe because, of the effort I don’t seem to be present. I still don’t feel my body ringing all the alarm bells. I don’t hear the plane flying outside my window or the clock ticking. I don’t see the chair, my bed, the plants, the carpet. Like everything in life, I try to put my everything into it. But maybe that’s the problem here. My relentless push to achieve some distant goal. That’s it. I realize. I finally see. That I have been struggling with living present, with being here and now, because of my relentless push and dedication to everything remotely close to a goal. Everything I do is in some way linked to a goal. A constant rat race.
Like I am running in some sort of marathon seeing everyone pass me by and finishing, but for me, the finish line only seems to be going further away as I try harder.
That finish line is the goal, both being present, achieving my long-desired dreams, and enjoying life. But in what way? I strive for my goals, with such dedication that it is overwhelming. That push, that constant strive to reach some desired goal is carried over to being present, to my spiritual practices. But also my enjoyment of life. I don’t see life through a lens of continuation but through the lens of goal after goal that should be achieved. That I should work for and that doesn’t come easy. Now even my spiritual practice, my meditations, and journaling sessions have been delegated to the goal of being happy.
So what is living in the here and now? What does it mean? How does it feel then? And why am I creating some kind of goal out of it? Seeing it as some end boss that can be slain or defeated. I should start at the beginning then and that is figuring out what being in the present moment isn’t. Why you and I become so distracted with some sort of illusion of the here and now. And yes that is an assumption, I don’t know if you are living present or not. All I know is that you are reading this article, and that means that you are probably interested in something I just shared. That’s great actually. So let’s start with why living here and now isn’t what I think it is.
Living here and now isn’t…
Living here and now is a philosophy or a way of living that I came by when I read the book ‘be here now’ by Ram Dass. One of the many inspirations for starting my spiritual and personal mastery journey. He shared a simple quote in his book.
“Be here now” ~ Ram Dass
That’s it. Nothing more, nothing special. The essence of living is to be here now. I thought I understood that. I thought I got the memo that living can only be done right here and now. I thought that by living here and now all my problems would disappear. Vanish is the bright light of presence and awareness. Which is what many people describe as spiritual enlightenment. Seeing things as they are, not judging them to be anything, or trying to desperately change them. But living here and now isn’t some kind of magical potion you swallow and all your problems disappear. Actually, I’ve come to understand that it will only make you more aware of problems. They arise out of thin air and just when you think you found the solution to one, the next arises. So being here now isn’t working for me. I think to myself. Why is that? If being here and now doesn’t get rid of the problems why is it any good? Then I remembered another quote by Ram Dass.
“It’s only when ‘caterpillarness’ is done that one becomes a butterfly. That again is part of this paradox. You cannot rip away ‘caterpillarness’. The whole trip occurs in an unfolding process of which we have no control.” ~ Ram Dass, Be Here Now
That was it. Living here and now isn’t the magic solution that gets rid of my problems. Nor is it some goal that can be obtained. We can’t force our ways into being here and now. Living present. In truth being here and now will at first make loads of problems arise. Problems you never were aware of. Being here and now, makes you present with the problems you are holding onto. Both coming from the past and the future. You become aware of your caterpillar form as Ram Dass put it. Only to transform into a butterfly, but that isn’t the goal. The goal is to be a caterpillar, to experience that. If you want to be present for the goal to become the butterfly you aren’t living present. You are still living with some idea, some wish for the future.
That’s what happened to me. That was in my way of living present. I saw living in the here and now as some goal of becoming enlightened. Of quickly becoming happy and peaceful. Seeing it as a goal meant I wasn’t present, I was still worried about some goal in the future. Which was feeling happy and peaceful. Instead of sitting with whatever was right here right now. My way of doing that was forcing my attention to the here and now so that I could quickly conquer the pain I was feeling. “I feel fearful about the future.” I road in my journal. Quickly followed by the reason why I felt fearful. With that, I hoped to solve the problem within an instant. Never did it though. I was aware of my present state, but it didn’t make it disappear. That’s because being present wasn’t the goal for me. Being present was only a way to obtain my goal, which was being in control of my happiness.
That’s not what living in the here and now is. It’s not a means to an end. It isn’t something we do to obtain anything. Living here and now is in itself goalless. It’s a state we are in, where both problems and solutions arise. Where pain and joy arise. Where we can be delighted and frustrated. Fearful and loving. Being here and now has never been about obtaining anything, achieving anything. It was just for the sake of being here now. Not to be happy, or worry-free, or stress-free. So why do we want to be here and now? Where does it begin? What can you expect when I am here and now?
Stress from the past, worries for the future
In my mind, everything I did had to have some kind of purpose, some kind of goal. I enjoy writing, but even when writing I created the goal for myself to be valuable for others, or to write more than 1000 words in one single sitting. Playing a video game with friends wasn’t just to enjoy it. No to me, I had to become better at it. Win games more, enjoy it more. The goal was always more, it never was to just do it and see what came up. To see what would happen. In fact, I live and lived my life constantly validating the things I did to some sort of goal. Where did this come from?
It came from both stress from the past and worry about the future. This is why we want to be present in the first place. To be aware of the things that bother us, that came from the past. As well as the worries our future image creates. I constantly validate myself against goals. It’s my way of feeling worthy, valuable, loved. If I can achieve some goal, or at least contribute towards it I am satisfied. If not, if there is no real purpose to doing it I won’t be bothered. Which leaves me out on a lot of life adventures and beauties. These struggles came from the way I was raised. Which most of our problems come from actually. In no shape or form can we blame anyone for these problems. They are simply there, that’s the whole point of living in the here and now. My parents didn’t do anything wrong, it’s something I created for myself in the process, and it is my responsibility to change. So is your problem yours to fix, never is it someone else’s responsibility. It’s our responsibility to become aware of those fears, pains, sufferings, and problems we create for ourselves. My obstacle in my way to living present was my achievement-oriented way of living.
In the past, I would always want to prove to my parents that I was doing okay in school. So I always pushed myself, created goals for myself to feel validated or loved. If I pushed myself and worked hard I would probably get a C on my test which made my parents proud. In return, I felt loved. That constant goal-oriented way of living became my metric for life. If I can show or prove that I am working towards some greater goal I am loved, I am valuable. Which created stress that I might not have done everything I could. I was worried about my past. If I worked on an assignment for two hours and then closed down my computer to play some video games I would often feel regret. “Had I done enough? Will I make the assignment?” Those thoughts quickly arose and playing video games became less exciting. I was stressed about my past and worried if the past was enough to obtain my future goal.
Living present made me realize this. It made me aware of both the stress from the past and the worries about the future. Which for you might be different. But we both have something in common. If you are aware of the here and now, it means that you become aware of stuck emotions from the past, which causes stress. Or you become aware of the worries about your future. Both creating anxiety, stress, and tension within you. Being present doesn’t mean these struggles will dissolve in thin air. Being present is your way into these struggles and be able to release what is stuck.
Becoming aware is like noticing the little pebble inside your shoe, constantly poking your feet when you take a step. If we become aware of this pebble, we can take off our shoes and drop it. If we don’t the pebble will stay there, causing constant distress and annoyance, eventually making our feet hurt.
Living here and now can’t be forced
That leaves me to forcing being here and now. If we know that being here and now can release these stuck emotions that make us suffer and feel uncomfortable, we start to see it as some sort of goal. We want to be present because that means we can get rid of these feelings and worries that bother us. And that’s where I went wrong. It’s the turn most of us make. Thinking that living present will magically transform everything and therefore we try to force ourselves to live more present.
We try meditation, gratitude, affirmations, everything the world of spirituality has to offer us. But if your goal remains to become happy, living here and now will never be the solution you seek. In fact, focusing on the goal of becoming happy will never give you the result you are after. You can’t force happiness, freedom, delight, love, or meaning. Many of the things we are after. So living here and now isn’t your way to obtain that, and there is no need to force living present. There is no need to keep reminding yourself with affirmations to be present and happy. Or to over-focus on appreciation and gratitude, just because I or someone else told you that it will change your life and make you happy. That’s what I discovered. The moment I feel like I have the key and focus on it so intensely trying to hold onto it, it disappears. That’s the struggle of being present. It means that both the good and the bad disappear. At the same time that is the beauty of living here and now, and what true happiness is all about. Can living here and now give you control over these feelings then? If the goal isn’t to be happy but to just be present of everything happening, can’t it give you more control over your emotions and feelings?
Well, that’s what I hoped it would do. That by focusing on my feeling right here and now I could become some kind of wizard of my internal world. That I could if I wanted, take control over everything happening within me. Again to obtain some sort of goal to be happy. You can’t magically Gandalf your way out of feeling fear or anxiety. You can’t cast a magic gratitude spell and feel better for the rest of your life. Dissolving all the problems that arise. If you would that would be your inner Lord of the Rings movie. Luckily that’s not the case. And yes I say luckily because if that would be the case life would be dull and become a flat line. Constantly being happy, and the moment some sort of struggle arises you instantly smack it with some sort of spell that made it go away.
Why is living here and now such a hype then?
If living here and now doesn’t make you happy, or take control over your happiness. Why should you bother then? Wouldn’t it mean you’ll only have to deal with more problems when you become aware of them? Can’t you better just go on sleeping and ignoring the problems? That’s often what my ego wants me to believe because it knows that living present is extraordinarily uncomfortable. At first at least. Still, it is the most wonderful feeling there is when you fully understand and grasp living here and now. When you can love the caterpillar form and not worry about becoming a butterfly as quickly as possible.
Yes, we want to become the butterfly because that is the state of being in which we feel joyous most of the time. In which we can shine our beauty on the world. But living here and now won’t give you that if that’s the reason why you start it in the first place. It’s the reason I felt more stress and anxiety when I was trying to be present, yet also trying to get rid of that feeling of stress and anxiety at the same time. Living with a goal in mind of becoming happy, or loving life isn’t the way to get there. Living here and now has no goal, no end. If you want to be here and now, just like me, to obtain happiness you will not succeed. At least not quickly. You’ll get there I trust you will, but only the moment you realize it isn’t about the goal, but about the practice. Being here now is the core of living. It’s here. It’s now. With no goal. No looking forward. No stress about the past. No worry about the future. Be here now, is a practice, and practice involves discipline, sweat, tears, and maybe even blood. Living here now isn’t a magical pink cloud, it might seem like it, but it’s only the vision and image that is created around it in your mind.
But living here and now is beautiful. More beautiful than being happy all the time. I now start to understand this. When you see it as a practice, as doing it over and over again. Not knowing what you will find within the essence of life, it becomes one big adventure. You feel both good and bad. You smile at both of them. Not because you are necessarily happy, but because both are an experience of life. That’s the whole point of living here and now. To live your life, as it is. Without any goal. Without the need to be anything or to prove anything. To be here now, how simple could it be. And how stupid I felt for not understanding this. I now realize that even that feeling is okay. Everything was part of the process. That’s the beauty of living. To experience it all. And to reduce the judgment of whatever happens.
What living here and now means, and how you can practice it
As much as I would like to tell you that living present would change everything, how it will magically make your problems disappear, I just can’t say. I just can’t tell a lie to you. But that doesn’t mean it’s the most beautiful experience there is. Why? Because living here and now is the essence of life. It is the complete and utter core of it. The duality of living. Living here and now means that you deal with both good and bad. Living here and now means that you become the observer of this duality and in that lies the only power there is. It makes you feel alive. Exuberantly alive. That’s all I am about. To feel alive. To live fully. To experience life. All its flaws, and grace. Living in the present is the road, the practice, the task that each one of us has to do to get there.
Living here and now is acceptance. It will not change the world, nor your inner world. All it does is accept whatever is happening. It’s that feeling you have when you are fully alive and awake. When you are excited to be alive. It’s like standing on the edge of a mountain, looking out over a vast landscape. You feel both thrilled and scared and that combination that’s aliveness. Living here and now is both being scarred and calm and accepting both as they come. Loving them, smiling at them. Being there with them. Like the friend you always wished you had. That friend that’s always there, that will never leave, and will never judge. If you are feeling down that friend is there and smiles at you. Hugs you. Comforts you, but never tries to change how you feel. It accepts you for who you are. That friend is within each one of us. It’s our true self. The one that becomes aware the moment we start living in the here and now. That friend within us, that pure self. It won’t change anything, but at the same time, it does. It won’t change any of the circumstances. It will change your perspective on the circumstances. You no longer feel the need to change, to obtain anything, to do anything, but to feel alive. To live today.
You don’t try to be present, you let go of that need. You are present. Always. Only you don’t realize it. When you think and you can write out your thoughts you are aware. If you come up with ideas you are aware. If you can feel the rain you are aware. If you can feel any emotion you are aware. You are living present. What we do with that makes all the difference. If we want to push it away we become unaware. We don’t want to be here, but somewhere else. Accept and let go. Two words that are thrown around a lot in spirituality and mindfulness. But to be honest they are the only English words that can capture what it is about. ‘To not force anything’ that’s the shared meaning of these two words. To accept means feeling no need to change it. To let go means that you are open to whatever is, whatever was, and whatever will come. You just allow life to happen and you become a silent witness.
Living here and now is…
… feeling no need to change
… accepting what you are, how you feel, and your thoughts
… letting go of the need to be anything, do anything
… to not need to obtain goals, but to have them simply for the joy of playing the game that is life
And to be honest living here and now is even letting go of the need to live here and now. Now that’s confusing. You simply let go. There is no need, no push, no rush, no desire to be here now. You are, here now. You are reading this. You see the letters, and you’re mind creates words that form images in your mind. That’s being alive too. It’s being here right now. It’s the vastness of feeling alive.
That’s what I discovered. That’s what living is. To be aware. To feel and experience it all. So what’s the struggle with living here and now? I figured there is no real struggle when you are here and now. If there is a struggle with living here and now, you are not here and now. You are either fighting with some thought of the past or the future. You aren’t alive. And that is wonderful too because that means you are now aware. You now know you are struggling and that’s it. There is no need to change that anymore. There is struggle within you… no more. That is what living is. Not the struggle. But the experience. Feeling alive with everything that happens.
To live is…
Today I live. That’s it. No goal, no greater purpose that has to be accomplished. The goals you create are mere objectives in your path of life. They don’t determine anything, but how you play. They are the dance you perform, there is no must or need to achieve them. Living present will make you feel alive. That doesn’t mean you are happy all the time, nor sad all the time. That means you are. That both of them are there. That duality creates this life. Living here and now means that you are open to the experience of living. That will be a struggle to grasp because your ego will fight it. Don’t fight back. Give in. Let it happen. That’s acceptance and letting go. Just feel it. Experience it. Sit with the thought of being here now, and remind yourself that whatever comes up, you can let it go. Not out of power over your thoughts, but simply because you can notice everything without the need to do anything with it. That is being present, sitting in silence, or going through your life, always understanding that there is a part within you that is silent. Completely present, that is aware of both the thoughts and its surroundings. Strive to spend more time in that perspective. That will bring you joy, and peace within.
That will bring you the experience of being alive. It will make you say Today I Lived!