Living the moment. Being “now.”
Is awareness opposed to focus?
Many books and teachers urge us to live in the now. There is much to be said for focusing on what we are doing at any particular moment, especially when attempting a complex task. But it is not so easy, especially when we are not having to concentrate on achieving anything in particular. To literally live in “now” means at any given moment you are absorbed by and focused on, this moment, the last few seconds, or even the next few seconds should not enter your mind. Obviously taken to this extreme it is as dangerous as it is foolish. Try driving a car or typing at a computer, without any thought or intention about the next second in time. As in all things, we have to to apply pragmatism and rationality to our efforts to live in the now. Being aware of every moment that your life is occupying is a good start. Take off the head phones while walking to work, look around as you walk, be aware of other people, smile, say hello, actually be you walking to work, not some electronically separated and cocooned product of electronic input.
Many people, especially working in large open plan offices know the frustration of trying to solve some multifaceted task while fending off colleagues' attempts at “togetherness,” or even worse the boss demanding to know when you will complete the task. How many succumb to the temptation, of yelling out loud, it would be done if you left me alone to do it. How many people working or studying at home get annoyed at family members asking if we would like a cup of coffee or telling us the cat wants to go out? But how often do we become our own intrusions, which dilute the ability to focus on the task in hand? Living in the now is not necessarily the same as concentrating on any single issue or task, but it is often almost the same. Concentration tends to block out awareness of surroundings, while being in “now” embraces this awareness at the same time as attending to the efforts you are making to achieve something. Living now does not mean being a recluse, but it does mean letting go of the past, and accepting the future.
In many ways, all this living in the now is like empty mind meditation, it becomes easier as we get older, yet as we age we tend to do less of it. We seek distractions from the boredom of life with less and less change or challenge. Very serious neurology professors have shown that while most of the brain growth occurs in the first two years of a human life and is 95 percent finished by the age of 10; the connections between nerve cell endings in the brain are not fully wired until the mid to late 20s. This means that while teenagers and young adults, and even those in their mid 20s have the intellectual capacity, they are not yet fully wired to automatically consider and reflect on the things the brain is receiving as inputs. They also have less experience for comparison to that input. There is also scientific evidence that the chemistry of the brain, usually simplified as the dopamine balance; changes as we get older, and so a younger adult may feel sensations more intensely than an older person does. The same sensation has less effect the older we get. All this suggests that practicing living with awareness, while letting past emotive blocks go, is easier as we get older, but as we get more experienced, we generally also get more responsibilities; domestic, social, and working ones. These tend to make us wish to shut out distractions, and this separates us from awareness of now.
The modern world encourages specialisation, it may be that this is inevitable, as the total store of human knowledge grows, it is harder for any one person to embrace and utilise widespread aspects of it. De Vinci, in that part of history he lived through, could be an authority on many differing endeavours, from engineering to painting, but I guess even he would struggle to be a top modern scientist in biochemistry and in civil engineering, let alone also be a successful movie director. The elite of professional sports competitions also now tend to focus on just one sport, being fit enough to run 100 meters in world record time, and also compete at top level in say horse racing, is not practical these days, due to the achievements of specialists in those fields. Such specialisation tends to filter down to ordinary life, and we shut out awareness of alternatives to what we do and what we know about. Shutting out awareness of the things we are not good at, becomes a habit. We then shut out everything not concerned with what we perceive as our life. Shutting out awareness shuts down the ability to be “now.”
Letting go of the past does not mean forgetting all you have learnt from it. Letting go of the past does not mean forgetting all the good, the love, the kindness, or all the help you have received in the past. Letting go of the past does not mean ignoring all the lessons you have been part of. Letting go of the past involves dropping all the negative constraints you put upon yourself because of the past. In a way letting go is a way of saying, stop caring about the past. Learn from it, be grateful for it, but do not care about any effect it had on you.
Living in the now does not mean shutting your mind and senses, from the future, attempting to convince yourself that the future does not exist. Be aware of the future, but be even more aware of what and where you are at this moment. Return to the analogy of driving a car, or riding a cycle, If all you are concerned about is your arrival at your destination, you will not enjoy the views while getting there, and you may well take a wrong turn causing delays, or have a crash that stops the arrival. Be aware of the surroundings, be aware of your own senses, feel the textures of things in contact with your skin, but keep anticipation awake, while attempting any task or activity.
Live in the moment by being both aware of everything; while intellectually focused on one task.