The challenge with living in the present

Has anyone ever advised you to live in the present? To be focused on the here and now and not worry so much about past or future?

Sometimes, this is easier said than done, but I have noticed one thing:

When we shut out all the external and internal noise, it’s amazing what we can accomplish.

I discussed this with a friend this morning. I told her how I sometimes struggle with living in the present since I do so much reflecting on the past. She said:

Neither the past nor the future matter as much as the present.

I’m not convinced, nor do I agree completely. I countered with this:

The past shapes us.

Her response:

Only if you choose.

I didn’t really agree with this statement either. The past is present in our present, isn’t it? Even if we dismiss a past event by ignoring it, or suppressing it, it still happened and affected us, or our reactions to it, later. I’m thinking of fight or flight responses, triggers, or anticipating current or future expected behaviours based on past events.

Later in our conversation, she reflected on her statement (“only if you choose”) and said this:

It is less the actual experiences and more how you choose to react to them that impacts your life today.

This, of course, is truth. No matter what the experience may have been, how we reacted to it shaped and influenced us into the person we are today.

Meanwhile, I’ve written a book’s worth of stories steeped in hindsight (which sent me back to the past). I took personal experiences and crafted fictitious stories about them (partly to protect the identities of the people involved in these stories, and partly because I was more comfortable writing in the third person narrative than the first person).

Writing these stories helped me process and comprehend my past. It also encouraged me to lower (with trepidation) my protective walls, to allow my voice to express my discomforts, and to invite outside views and perspectives as a way to enrich my own processing.

One story is called Doomed from the Start, which talks about a crappy relationship I had with a man when I was in my mid-20s. I knew from the moment we started dating that he wasn’t into it. Today I realize he was probably pining for some other girl. Likewise I recognized my own discomfort with him right from the start but accepted this as a necessary evil when it came to dating men at that time.

He didn’t treat me badly in a tangible way per se; rather it was a passive-aggressive ‘passing time’ with someone. Basically, he needed a pretty girl on his arm in social situations, and I ‘would do’. Also, for him it was mostly about getting laid. For me, it was more about having companionship, friendship evolving into more, learning how to have relationships with men. I convinced myself that having a mediocre relationship was better than having no relationship (I was young and stupid) so I went along with it.

Another story is called Missed Opportunity. I changed a few key background items such as work environment and names of people involved. Gist of the story is about a man who fell head over heels in love with me, but I didn’t feel the same way about him. In fact, I was infatuated with another man who ended up two-timing and use me.

The so-called missed opportunity with the nice man who loved me preoccupied me for many years to come. Did I miss out on an opportunity to experience a slowly evolving, loving relationship? Even though deep down, I knew it wasn’t going to end well? I didn’t feel that elusive spark initially and question to this day if this is really important. (I believe it is because I have had other spark-less relationships and they remained unfulfilling right through the end.)

I wanted/desired to feel what he felt (spark, chemistry, love) but I didn’t with him. What’s more, I didn’t want to ‘fake it’ or use a kind and generous man who deserved more than I could give. So I hesitatingly went on a few casual dates with him and then hurt him by rejecting him. It preoccupied me for a long time afterwards.

A third story has to do with a specialist who molested me sexually. I churned out that story in one afternoon when a close friend of mine shared a few chapters of a childhood trauma; he mused me to write my own story which in turn helped me process what happened. Until that moment, I had simply repressed the entire incident, not realizing it affected me sexually later in life. I dismissed my own discomforts as unimportant. I told myself what happened is over now and convinced myself to forget about it and move on. (The worst part is that he, of course, got away with it. Asshole.)

These three stories shaped me into the person I am today. As a result of writing them down (and posting parts of them on various online platforms at one time or another), I began to acquire a deeper understanding of what is wrong with me. ๐Ÿ™„ Also, what is right with me. ๐Ÿ˜› Truth be told, I am a wiser person today because of some of these experiences.

Which brings me back to the subject of this post:

How does one live in the present?

I can, and do, live in the present for parts of my day. I shut down noise, unplug, focus on the here and now.

However, I cannot simply ignore the past, or be choosy in terms of what parts I pick to allow to shape me into who I am today. It all mattered; the messy and convoluted struggles, but also the happy, blissful circumstances.

I’m not saying I’m a finished product. I’m saying my (baby) steps forward (and out of the inhibiting comfort zones) have given me a sense of freedom I didn’t know existed. I feel lighter. The memory of these experiences no longer cause me discomfort, nor do they occupy any space in my head anymore. They happened, I accept them as my past, and I learned something about myself.

What are your thoughts about living in the present? Do you spend time analyzing your past? How does that influence your present?

I’m interesting in how people deal with these things, so please feel free to drop a comment below.

Newcomers to my blog: Many regular readers who comment here often also read other people’s comments. This is a space for open dialogue and an exchange of views and perspectives.

See you in the comments!

82 thoughts on “The challenge with living in the present

  1. Brooding over those gone days or reflecting on those yet to come days, which we are not even sure of is actually meaningless..but it’s not simply easy to live in the present also..all these phases are interconnected in one way or the other. The only thing I have learnt is to invest my energy in the present, as only it really matters and let the past or future not drain it. I try hard to not loose my head in this regard,as I feel the hinges are loose somewhere ๐Ÿ˜‚. Nice writing dear friend.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thank you very much. I like the way you worded this – draining… it feels that way, when you dwell too long on things that have happened already or will still happen.

      To be present in the moment isn’t easy but with practice we should hopefully get better, is what I’m thinking.

      Thank you for reading and commenting, I appreciate your contribution! ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  2. I used to spend a lot of time dwelling on the past until I began my self-love journey, which allowed me to analyze more about my past experiences (I even wrote an unfinished book about my childhood, which also helped) as opposed to just holding onto those feelings. I realized why some of those events were traumatic and contributed to the low self-esteem I suffered from for most of my life. Analyzing those events from a perspective of learning as opposed to pain, allowed me to work towards acceptance of what happened, and to shape the woman I’m becoming. I also realized how abused my inner child had been; that kid from the past who never felt wanted and looked for love in the wrong places. Thankfully, revisiting my past helped me break down the trauma and finally let go. I have forgiven but not forgotten, because that would be a waste of all the healing practices; learning is pointless if not put into practice.

    Wondering about the future is what I’ve recently struggled with, though I’m currently still doing my best to lean into the uncertainty. It is difficult to stay in the present, especially now, when the present is feeling shaky.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I too have an unfinished book about my childhood illness…

      And I get it. This self-love journey seems to be something many of us have realized to a more balanced, centered life.

      Thank you for contributing to this post! Seems it resonated with many people.

      Liked by 2 people

  3. We spend our time reflecting on the experiences of the past, the future and how to react to it, the problems and inconveniences of the day, then we try to let them go by playing a video game or listening to music, etc. And at the end of the day, we would wonder why we didnโ€™t do or achieve anything today!
    I felt that my life was a joke when I realized this.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Memories from past events donโ€™t just go away. If they did there are some which I would have disposed already. But as you said our past experiences shape our present. We either learn from them or stay rigid and Iโ€™ve been learning a lot. The goal is to live a better life, right?

    Liked by 4 people

  5. It’s a tricky concept. I only use it when I feel myself spiraling because of some issue. For example, I had an argument with my aunt. In order to not spiral into the past and what I should’ve said/shouldn’t have said, etc., I kept reminding myself to focus on the present.

    As a life practice, I’m not sure how people do this, though. I mean creative visualization even requires us to think about the future, right? You’re supposed to envision what you want…in the future. So, I don’t know.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. There are many comments that came back on this post and so many different and enlightening viewpoints. It helped to enrich my perspective on this whole topic…

      I try not to dwell on the past but I find that if I really think it through, some big event that affected me deeply, I am better equipped to let it go and not have it preoccupy me so much in the present. For me this means writing about it. It doesn’t necessarily have to be published but I do have to write it…

      Liked by 2 people

  6. They are more interwoven and indeed all now than โ€˜live in the momentโ€™ gives credit for.
    Time is a man made construct that unsurprisingly man then struggles to deconstruct.
    Just be who you need to beโ€ฆ

    Liked by 4 people

  7. I think most writers process the psychology of their pasts through their characters. Or they engage in the ‘what-ifs’ of all the variations on a theme could have resulted from a familiar fact pattern. Our pasts are ‘material’ and, if we treat it that way, they needn’t become cages that inhibit our presents.

    Liked by 4 people

      1. Mindfulness is helpful in many ways but I think we’re wired to live partly in the past and future. I know I’m guilty of looking ahead and planning too much. I do try to appreciate the present. The tactic of saying ‘now I’m doing xyz’ can be helpful to ground you, or acknowledging what you’re grateful for right now. As for the past, I can honestly say the only aspect of the past I dwell on is about my kids. Loving every stage and wishing I could relive them, or bottle them, some more than others.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. I could be wrong here, but Iโ€™m fairly certain it is physically impossible to exist in any other time but the present, unless of course, youโ€™ve mastered time travel.

    Hereโ€™s a big, fat cliche:

    Live only in the moment – precisely this very moment – as neither the past nor the future exist.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The past exists. For me, and for you too.

      You are writing about your past. It affected/affects you in ways you are aware of and in ways you do not seem to be aware of yet.

      I will explain to you another time in another format. I keep notes, as I mentioned.

      But thank you for reading and commenting, Michael.

      Liked by 2 people

      1. Nope, the past doesnโ€™t exist anymore (not for me). It had its day – once upon a time – its time to shine or shit and then itโ€™s over. Yes, the past had its moments of wonderful glory and emotion gore, and personally, Iโ€™ve given it far too much respect. Time to move into and be only in the present. Respectfully. I like today.

        Liked by 3 people

  9. We all live in the present. When we reminisce about the past, we are doing it in the present. The same goes for when we dwell, regret, plan, look forward to.
    You have to prepare for the future by learning from what has already been done. So when someone tells you to “live in the present” just tell them, “Already there.”

    Liked by 4 people

  10. IMO, the past does play an important part in shaping our lives into what they are now. However dwelling upon, or attempting to recreate those “glory days” can be detrimental to forward movement and personal growth in our futures, and our day to day present. The past starts 2 seconds ago and there is nothing one can do to alter it. Other than memories, good, bad, or indifferent, the knowledge we bring into the unforeseeable is the take away. To change just one minute of the past would forever alter hundreds of minutes in lives all around our own life. What would you be willing to give up now, for a chance to go back and do (fill in the blank) differently. I dare say it would be hard to choose and answer honestly. Learn from the past, embrace the present, and move forward into the future.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You’re right about trying to recreate the past… I went through that in my second year University, thinking that the good stuff in first year would repeat or be better the second year. It was an eyeopening experience that none of that happened… quite the opposite.

      Great advice, my friend. I am working on following it. ๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  11. I overthink the past and worry about what I project onto the future. All the time. But I am getting better at redirecting and getting back to the present. It’s not easy. The best I can do many days is just remind myself to accept how I am and not beat myself up for being me.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. I am a product of my past. I am also a product of how I responded to certain events in my past. There are some things that you just canโ€™t easily and blindly walk away from. Some things can eat you forever.

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Right? Even if I choose to react appropriately to some issue and not so appropriately on another, it feels like it all turns into baggage I carry with me. But now I’m better equipped to let go of the baggage, even if it contributed to shaping me.

      Anyway, that’s why I write about it.

      Some stuff is still eating me too… ๐Ÿ˜

      Liked by 2 people

      1. There are a lot of written rants on my computer that have made me a calmer and better person. Writing is my way of working through things. The past three years of my life has allowed me to work through a lot. I am not the same person I was three years ago.

        Liked by 3 people

  13. Every once in a while the question “would you change something in your past?” comes up on someone’s blog. My answer is a resounding NO! I wouldn’t change any of the traumas I’ve endured. I wouldn’t change any of the bad decisions I’ve made… nothing. Every single piece of my past has formed who I am today. I know my strengths, I know what I need to improve on (for myself, not someone else) and I am content with who I am. I say “content” because I feel like happiness, like sadness are not sustainable emotions… we have moments or days/weeks/months of feeling them but not a “general state of being”. My opinion only.

    I have practiced and learned (mostly) how to live in the now. I acknowledge the past, but rarely spend time in the future. I am excited to see what each day will bring, and eager to learn new things… even small things.

    One of the mottos I use to live my life is “the only thing we have any control over is our own actions” we really can’t even control our emotions, only what we DO with them, and we most definitely do not have any control over anyone else.
    That was a very freeing realization for me.

    I’ve said before, and I’ll say again… you are a wise woman and from what I’ve seen, you are firmly on YOUR path. Enjoy the scenery of the journey!๐Ÿ’•โœจ๐ŸŒˆ๐Ÿ’Œ๐ŸŒป

    Liked by 3 people

  14. Oh, I obsess over the past. I am currently in the midst of reading a blog from 2006. The year I divorced. I have no doubt the events of that time shaped me into becoming who I am today, regardless of how I choose to look at them.

    Liked by 3 people

  15. You are right, people do visit their past but his often and how long they stay there is what matters. Out present is built on what we did in the past, the successes and lessons from the failures.
    Past cannot be totally ignored but one should not go back and start living there.
    Stay blessed always.

    Liked by 4 people

  16. Hi Claudette,
    I try to live in the present, but I struggle with it. Unlike you, my issue is with being in the future. I normally just look at the past, if it comes up, as a lesson, or just to see how far I have come.
    I agree, in part, with your friend. One can let the past affect them, or not, positively or negatively. Of course, I am not talking about serious trauma, and people that have been victimized. I imagine, in those situations, it takes a lot of working through those issues with a professional.
    Your writing about your past will help you make sense of it, and help it not affect your present.
    Also, you may help countless number of people with their own issues.
    Lastly, if a thought comes to mind that I find it to be negative, perhaps something form the past, I tell myself: not helpful. That is my signal to shift my thinking.
    Blessings! โ™ฅโ™ฅ

    Liked by 5 people

  17. Hereโ€™s my motto. Remember the past, plan for the future, live in the present. While our pasts shape us, they donโ€™t define us. Writing about a past situation isnโ€™t necessarily living in the past, because youโ€™re probably writing it from the perspective of today, and how you have handled it. To live in the present means accepting what you need to do today, how you can help the people 8n your life today. My friend dwells on her ex husband. Theyโ€™ve been divorced over 25 years, yet when we went to lunch the other day sh3 brought him up. Itโ€™s not healthy to dwell on the past

    Liked by 8 people

  18. I think you have powerfully illustrated the power of owning our own stories.! As you point out, hindsight is powerful, informative and wise and helps us close those doors we may have regretted leaving open or closing. I think about something I heard from Virginia Tech professor poet Nikki Giovanni that in her grandmother’s kitchen, nothing was ever wasted and she’s found that to be the same about her life. Experiences we’ve had become part of who we are and how we relate with and empathize with others.

    And I also I spend a lot of time thinking about how to live in the present. But it’s my past that led me to want to do that. I think the exercise is how to integrate my past so that I bring all of me to this moment. And not to worry (at least not too much) about the future. So IMHO living in the present is all about being wholly present and that includes our past selves.

    Liked by 5 people

    1. I have a part 2 to this thing in my head which I hope to write about at some point. It’s about the learned behaviours from the past that affect our thinking to expect similar outcomes. But yes, you said it well. I want to own those experiences (and the person I was then) and enter my present and future equipped into making wiser choices.

      Liked by 2 people

  19. I think intentional introspection can be very useful in gaining self-awareness and understanding whatโ€™s going on in those heads of ours. To me, being mindful in the present is about not getting hijacked by the past or possible future when they donโ€™t apply here and now. That kind of hijacking is probably less likely to produce usable insights anyway compared to intentional introspection. I donโ€™t think being present in the moment should have to mean throwing your knowledge and experience out the window entirely; rather, itโ€™s pulling the clothes youโ€™re going to wear out of the closet and leaving the rest in there.

    Liked by 8 people

    1. So well said, my brilliant friend. Certainly the self-awareness and growing is ongoing, but for me, if I hadn’t written out some of those past experiences I would still be the scared, inhibited, convoluted hot mess I was 2 years ago. I’m still some of that now, but at least I’m more open to recognizing some signs that might trigger me into other bonehead moves which might impact my future.

      Liked by 3 people

  20. I try to live in the present as much as possible. My life is inevitably shorter than a human so it would be a waste of time and energy on my part to live in the past. I agree that re-visiting the past to shape the here and now is important and, that the way one acts upon previous encounters, must shape the way anyone lives today. My mantra (if you will) is to live life now, see things, do stuff, arooo at pigeons and chase grey squirrels.

    Liked by 7 people

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