There are three dimensions of time—past, present, and future—but we can only live in the present. We have lived in the past and we hope to live in the future, but life is only experienced in the now.
Though our thoughts about the past can be troubling (hurts, misunderstandings) or healthy (pleasant memories), and our thoughts about the future can be troubling (fears, worries) or healthy (goals, plans, aspirations), when we’re thinking about the past or the future, we’re not focusing on the present.
An important life skill to develop is mindfulness. Simply put, it is the challenging art of controlling our thoughts such that we’re not thinking of the past or future but instead, we’re focused on the present. It’s more difficult than we think.
I’m not suggesting that we should never think about past or future events. I enjoy reminiscing about time spent with family, traveling, achieving goals, and funny anecdotes. And I enjoy thinking about hopes and plans for the future. But if that’s all I think about, I’m missing out on life.
Interestingly, and sadly, often our minds focus so much on unpleasantries in the past and worries about the future that even though our bodies are currently in a neutral or pleasant place, we’re not able to experience it.
That’s why we need to master mindfulness—the ability to corral and slow down our racing mind and maintain an awareness of present thoughts, bodily sensations, and environment.
Perhaps this is what the Psalmist David was thinking when he said, “This is the day the Lord has made, let’s rejoice and be glad in it” (Psalm 118:24). He didn’t say this is the year, or month, or week the Lord has made. He said this is the day…perhaps the moment…the now that God has made. Let’s be happy and rejoice in it.
To develop mindfulness, use the “5-4-3-2-1 method,” which involves using all five senses to focus your mind on the now. Several times during the day, pause and savor:
- five things you see
- four things you hear
- three sounds you can touch
- two aromas you smell
- one thing you taste
The story is told of a monk who was walking by himself in the forest. He stumbled over the side of a cliff and halfway down stopped his fall by grabbing a wild strawberry vine. But he soon realized he could neither crawl back up the hill or lower himself to safety. He was stuck. Even in this predicament, he reached out and picked a wild strawberry, ate it, and said, “Lord, thank you. That’s the sweetest strawberry I’ve ever had.”
Gloria Gaither, noted Christian lyricist, wrote these words, “We have this moment to hold in our hands and to watch as it slips through our fingers like sand. Yesterday is gone and tomorrow may never come, but we have this moment today.”
Take time to observe and delight in, the now of your existence.