What’s so great about the present moment?

“I really shouldn’t have eaten so much blue green algae. It’s just so morish”

I just read a blog in which a mother wrote that her children pose like models while having their photos taken and then rush to look over her shoulder to see their images displayed on the tiny camera screen. The mother wrote:

I don’t want them obsessed with their perceived image.  I don’t want them so invested in the perfect snapshot that they don’t live in the present moment.

I was less interested in the children’s obsession with their own image, which seemed perfectly natural to me, than with their mother’s wish that they should ‘live in the present moment’. She said it as though it were obvious and needed no further elucidation or justification. It is better to live in the present moment than to plan, reminisce or just drift off into day dreams. End of story.

I have heard this many times before rarely have I heard why we should live in the present. Personally I find living in the present moment hard work. Some people even go to Mindfulness classes and sit cross-legged on their living room floors for hours on end in an attempt to acquire the habit of living in the here and now. This suggests it doesn’t come easily or naturally to us. Left to our own devices our thoughts naturally escape to some time and place.

Perhaps some people would claim that modern life is unnatural and we need to unlearn our bad thinking habits. They would probably also claim that there is some Amazonian tribe whose language has no way of referring to what is not actually present. Firstly, I don’t believe this. Secondly, even if it were true, I don’t live in the Amazon rainforest but in the modern world where planning is necessary. Thirdly, there may be very good reasons why those native Amazons are still wearing loin cloths while I am wearing M&S shirt and trousers and am sitting at a computer. Maybe technological progress requires some abstract thought.

Still others might claim that people are happier when living in the here and now. Okay, so let’s test that idea right now. I will spend the next two minutes in the here and now…

Okay, those two minutes were spent looking at my keyboard, my tea mug and the speakers on my desk, as well as noticing the silence in the room. I have to say that I didn’t really feel any happier than I normally do. In fact, if I had to do that for long I might really start to get a bit bored.

Others say that we only have one life to live and to dream it away is a waste. Well yes, I know we only have one life but whether time spent in the here and now is better than time spent in La-La Land is precisely what I am trying to ascertain. The argument is circular. You see, it could be the case that the only life we have to live is best lived absorbed in abstract thinking. I am still to be convinced that time spent staring at my tea mug is better than time spent thinking about a goal I once scored or about where I am going this evening.

Anyone who thinks that Albert Einstein was wasting his time when he was imagining what it would be like to travel on a beam of light must be a bit if a fool. I am not claiming to be another Einstein and if the Mindfulness advocates wish to qualify their claim to, ‘Living in the here and now is best – unless you are Albert Einstein’ that’s fine with me. But I don’t think they do.

Look, I am willing to admit that I might be missing something here but I just want someone, perhaps the mother of the photo-obsessed children, to tell me what it is.


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