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.
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. 🙄 Also, what is right with me. 😛 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!