Life is a present

I think we will all agree that life is a present. But how many of us understand that life is THE PRESENT? That is, life is the present moment. It is what is unfolding NOW. It is not the past because that it dead. Nor is it the future, for how do I know that I will be there to greet it? No, life is the present; it is all we have. Here’s how Nigerian master drummer Babatunde Olatunji explains the same idea, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. And today? Today is a gift. That’s why we call it the present.”

Imagine being unfortunate enough to live in a country engulfed by war. Imagine a powerful enemy dropping huge bombs that destroy buildings and life. Imagine building fragments, shards of glass, and shrapnel flying everywhere. Would you voluntarily place yourself in such a hellhole? Yet, look at what we do. We blow the PRESENT MOMENT to smithereens, leaving nothing behind but rubble. And what are the weapons we use to destroy it? Some of our favorite weapons are anger, shame, and regrets. Whenever we experience them we are dwelling in the past. On such occasions, we have abandoned the present, which is life, for the past, which is nonexistence. Other major weapons we use to annihilate the present are fear, anxiety, and worry. When we experience such emotions, we desert the present moment to take up residence in the imaginary future.

Suppose I stop for lunch and as I eat, my mind focuses on how I believe I have been betrayed, embarrassed, or hurt. Where am I at such a time? I am no longer in the restaurant, no longer seated before a delicious meal, no longer surrounded by interesting people. Where am I? I am in the past. I am among the dead. I have destroyed the present moment. The aroma of roast beef and potatoes has been eradicated by resentment. The clatter of dishes, the background music, and the laughter of the people at the table behind me goes unheard because of past hurts that occupy my mind. The texture and beautiful pattern of the tablecloth goes unnoticed as I leave the present and shift my attention to things I am afraid may happen in the future.

The ideas I am now sharing are hardly new. For in addition to introducing the concept of monotheism, the Egyptian pharaoh Akhenaton (1352 ~ 1336 BC, the predecessor of Tutankamen, and husband of Nefertiti) had this to say, “Labor not after riches first, and think thou afterwards wilt enjoy them. He who neglecteth the present moment, throweth away all that he hath.”

Don’t run from the present and hide in the past or future, for neither is a refuge. No, they are not havens, but prisons. Instead of running, face the present. Become a surfer. Whether you surf or not, pretend for a moment that you are at the ocean. You run into the water, leap on your board, and paddle out to a ground swell. What awaits you? Will it be a bumpy ride or smooth sailing? Will you be able to climb the face of the approaching wave? Will you have the exhilarating experience of riding inside the ‘tube’? Or will you have an ‘acid drop’ (have the bottom fall out as you free fall down the face of a wave)? Imagine facing wave after wave. Each one unique. Each one promising a new challenge. Each one offering a new adventure. Surfers live in the present and their hearts are full of joy. Become a surfer. Welcome each moment (wave) that comes your way. Delight in the waves of challenges that sweep toward you and ride their crests, for they will carry you to the shore of joy.

Here are a few more points to consider:

1. Remember, no matter what the future has in store, it cannot take away what we have in the present moment. The only thing that can steal it is our own inattention. Neither can past pains and regrets rob us of the joy of the present moment, unless we allow them to do so. Henry Ward Beecher (1813 ~ 1887) adds, “No matter what looms ahead, if you can eat today, enjoy the sunlight today, mix good cheer with friends today, enjoy it and bless God for it. Do not look back on happiness – or dream of it in the future. You are only sure of today; do not let yourself be cheated out of it.”

2. The magic of NOW is that it is the moment of power. Do I wish to change for the better? I can only do that NOW. Do I want to drop a bad habit or start a good one? I can only do that NOW. Do I wish to achieve a goal? I can only do that now. We cannot change our lives in the past. Nor can we change them in the future, for it isn’t until the future becomes the present that we can change. So, to live in the past or future is to deny ourselves of great power.

3. When you worry about the future, you are building a house of anxiety. When you regret the past, you erect a house of depression. Return to the present. Wouldn’t you rather be enjoying yourself (IN JOY IN YOURSELF)? Let this Sanskrit verse be your guide, “Each today, well-lived, makes yesterday a dream of happiness and each tomorrow a vision of hope. Look, therefore, to this one day, for it and it alone is life.”

4. True, the new day may bring a challenge. But as Robert Louis Stevenson (1850 ~ 1895) reminds us, “Anyone can carry his burden, however hard, until nightfall. Anyone can do his work, however hard, for one day. Anyone can live sweetly, patiently, lovingly, purely, until the sun goes down. And this is all that life really means.” Every day is just one day, isn’t it?

5. If you find yourself in a moment of stress, pressure, or tension, immediately stop what you’re doing, take a deep breath, and say to yourself, “I am okay NOW. I am fine NOW. I am in control NOW.” Take a ten second break to tune in to the beauty, magic, and wonder of the moment. When you imagination tries to convince you that you are overwhelmed by too much work, just remind it you are a surfer, up to the task. So, leap back into the ocean and ride that wave!

6. Do you want to greet God? You can only do so in the present moment. Author Helen Mellincost explains, “I was regretting the past and fearing the future. Suddenly God was speaking: “My name is I am.” I waited and God continued: “When you live in the past, with its mistakes and regrets, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I was. When you live in the future, with its problems and fears, it is hard. I am not there. My name is not I will be. When you live in this moment, it is not hard. I am here. My name is I am.” What we are is God’s gift to us. What we make of ourselves is our gift to Him. Life is a present; let’s give it to Him.