Something I love about children is their unrivalled ability to live totally in the present. Their past is so fresh it’s something barely worth thinking about, and their future so vast they haven’t had time to tap the surface. Other than counting down the days to an imminently approaching birthday, children seem to exist in each moment with nothing on their mind except the immediate pocket of time right in front of them. I do envy them for that.
I’ve tried all sorts in attempt to get my mind to stay within the moment – practiced mindfulness techniques; read The Power Of Now by Eckhart Tolle. I couldn’t get into it. I am frustratingly, chronically, seemingly incurably addicted to living in the future. I plan; I predict; I project. And whilst I’m sure that having dreams and striving towards a better future can of course be a positive thing, sometimes I feel that I can be so fixated on where I want to be next, I become totally absent from my current self. I struggle to connect, I can’t plug in, because I’m trying to plug in to the wrong socket. I’m trying to connect with a moment that isn’t even here yet.
This habit of mine is definitely worse during times when I am unhappy. I think mentally projecting myself to imaginary better days and then withdrawing into that bubble is my default coping mechanism. And sometimes, when you’re in this state, the illusion of a brighter future can make that difference that enables you to get out of bed in the morning. But it can also be the thief that steals your ability to remember all of the good things you already have now. After all, living mindfully of the present is essentially just simple gratitude.
We hear these words so often, they have almost lost their value, but time really is a gift. Every brand new day, every breath we take, every beat of our heart is a gift, designed and delivered by Allah. To live so fixated upon your future is like eating breakfast in such a way that you don’t even have time to taste it, while already telling the cook what you’d like to have for dinner. There is an arrogance in the expectation of time, and we are only robbing ourselves.
“No amount of guilt can change the past, and no amount of worrying can change the future. Go easy on yourself for the outcome of all affairs is determined by Allah’s decree. If something is meant to go elsewhere, it will never come your way, but if it is yours by destiny, from it you cannot flee.” – Umar ibn al-Khattab (RA)
I have realised that when I project to my future and imagine myself with the better job, better home, better lifestyle, it’s not necessarily the environment or situation that I am yearning for, but actually the happiness and expected contentment. But as I am so fixated on looking ahead instead of just around me, who’s to say I will know when I’ve arrived at the place of contentment I’ve been looking for? Who’s to say I won’t miss it completely, because I’ll still be distracted, still looking ahead, still dreaming of what’s yet to come?
Contentment will never be achieved if you’re always yearning for more, and contentment, therefore, can only be achieved with a grateful, present mind.
Nobody knows when our cut-off point will be. Nobody knows when our present will come to its full stop. In the Qur’an, Allah tells us that on the Day of Judgement, when our worldly lives will dwindle into such minute insignificance, He will say, “‘How many years were you on earth?’ and they will reply, ‘We stayed a day or part of a day, but ask those who keep count.’ He will say, ‘You stayed but a little, if you had only known.'” (Qur’an 23: 112-114).
A day or part of a day. Life is truly short. What are our problems if they make up just a fraction of this ‘day’? How significant is the future we obsess over if it’s all still part of the same ‘day’? It’s such a brief and fleeting moment, and such an easy moment to waste.
By living consciously in the present, we are able to take ownership of our existence. We are fully aware, and even during times of sadness or hardship, our presence and attentiveness enables us to grow through our trials with focus and intention, rather than simply drifting through just waiting for days to pass, yearning for the tomorrows that never come. Still think about tomorrow, still plan for tomorrow, but actively figure out what is best for you to do today, right now. Because this, right now, is where you exist. This is where you are breathing, this is where your heart is beating. This is your gift; the only moment you own, so take full ownership of it and greet it with your whole, present, grateful self.