Everyone has heard the advice “live in the now.” It is a cornerstone of mental health for such branches of psychology as Existential Psychology, Humanist Psychology and Gestalt Psychology. Philosophers and writers have also emphasized its importance. Friedrich Nietzsche attached the theory to his ponderings on Eternal Recurrence and the poet Ralph Waldo Emerson remarked: “With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.” Although it is good advice and as a concept relatively easy to comprehend, it is often so foreign to the way we perceive our world that in practice it remains hopelessly outside our conscious understanding. Therefore, consider the following exercise:
Draw a horizontal line across a blank page:
Now place a circle somewhere on that line:
This is generally the way one views their own life. The circle designates where you are now in your lifespan and the line to the left commonly represents an individual’s past; the line to the right of the circle is usually understood to signify one’s future. If the common lifespan of the average individual is 76 years of age, you may intuitively alter the position of the circle and, of course, feel more uncomfortable about its placement the farther to the right that you place it. However (and this is the important part) the line itself is a human construct meant to represent the abstract of time as linear. Therefore, the line actually doesn’t exist---so erase the line. What are you left with?
You! Sans the line, it is easier to see that physically you are in the only place you can possibly be: the present. The problem is that mentally we don’t perceive it that way and are always projecting ourselves elsewhere, into a past that no longer exists or into a future which cannot exist except as an expectation that occurs mentally in the present. Actually, there is only now.
This is the practitioner’s notion of freedom; the individual liberates himself from the non-existent past and also frees himself from his own expectations of a non-existent future. He is where he is supposed to be because this is where he is now! In this way, the significance of “now” consciously supersedes the distractions of past and future so that the practitioner can more fully attend to the present moment.
To put it simply: if life is just a series of Nows, who can afford to waste any?
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