by Mary Reitano
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment.” Henry David Thoreau
New Year’s messages are often about goals, looking ahead to the future. Other times, we look to the past with nostalgia, wishing things could return to the way they were. But let’s consider a different focus—savoring the present. The last two years during the pandemic reminded us not to take anything for granted–everything changed. While the constant changes we experienced were stressful, they also provide an opportunity for a life-enriching change of focus.
What if we learn to actively appreciate the present? Benjamin Franklin wrote that “one today is worth two tomorrows.” What if we start to savor each moment, especially positive ones? Could we extract greater joy from each day? A Cherokee Indian proverb says, “Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.” We do need to do some planning and reflecting. But if we overdo it, we miss our life today. Walt Whitman reflected wisely that “Happiness, not in another place but this place… not for another hour, but this hour.”
Dale Carnegie wrote “Today is life—the only life you are sure of. Make the most of today…. Live today with gusto.” Most of us have heard the expression “Carpe Diem!” According to Britannica.com, it is a Latin expression from the Roman poet Horace from 23 B.C., which exhorts us to enjoy life while we still can. In English, it is loosely translated “Seize the day!” I also recall the warning in the song Big Yellow Taxi by Joni Mitchell from the 1960’s: “Don’t it always seem to go; you don’t know what you got ‘til it’s gone.”
Professional mental health experts agree. According to Jay Dixit, Psychology Today website, “We need to live more in the moment. Living in the moment—also called mindfulness–is a state of active, open, intentional attention on the present.” As well, Gestalt therapy is “based on the experiential ideal of here and now….” which emphasizes that “excessive concentration on the past (memories) or on the future (plans) is a form of escapism with respect to the present…. But nothing exists outside the present moment.“ (Mentalhelp.net) Psychologist Abraham Maslow concluded that “the ability to be in the present moment is a major component of mental wellness.”
Jay Dixit elaborates that “often, we’re so trapped in thoughts of the future or the past that we forget to experience, let alone enjoy, what’s happening right now…. Instead, relish or luxuriate in whatever you’re doing at the present moment—what psychologists call savoring.” Dixit quotes psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky, University of California at Riverside: “This could be while you’re eating a pastry, taking a shower, or basking in the sun. You could be savoring a success or savoring music…. Usually it involves your senses.” I often take time to savor our beautiful Lake Lure sunsets. Other times one can savor playtime with children or pets.
Dixit also observed that “perhaps the most complete way of living in the moment is the state of total absorption psychologists call flow. Flow occurs when you’re so engrossed in a task that you lose track of everything else around you. The depth of engagement absorbs you powerfully, keeping attention so focused that distractions cannot penetrate.” This can happen while engaging in a hobby such as quilting or woodworking; when playing a sport; or while immersed in a meaningful conversation.
In closing, let us remember the words of Alice Morse Earle: “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That is why it is called the present.”