living in the now
© Seiya Kawamoto/Thinkstock
We all know living in the moment is a key aspect of happiness. We know we need to learn to pay attention to what's actually happening around us, the people we are with, and all the little things we have to be grateful for. I always get an image from the movie Wayne's World in my head when I think about this: Wayne is pining for a beautiful guitar he could never afford, and Garth admonishes, "LIVE IN THE NOW!"

So why don't we do it? Why do we keep skipping over things that happened in the past and fantasies about the future we could never fulfill? Why is it so hard to live in the now?

It's hard because the present moment is incredibly complicated. The now is a collection of sensations that exist in our bodies, and if we let ourselves feel them, we might find pain, regret, or possibly indigestion. Our bodies are not always easy places to be.

The past and the future may be figments of our imaginations, but they can also have a very real physical effect on our bodies. Old traumas and unprocessed pain can leave an imprint, sometimes for years, and change the way we respond to what's happening in the moment. Anxieties about the future can literally keep us up at night. Sometimes the body keens in a deep place that something is wrong about our lives that, if we acknowledged it, would change everything. Recognizing our own unhappiness may mean we have a responsibility to change. For many of us, that's a terrifying thought.

If we are on a spiritual journey of any kind, however, whether that's as a yoga practitioner, Buddhist, or someone simply trying to live a mindful life, we learn to be incredibly courageous. We practice living in the complicated and sometimes painful now. We tune into the feelings we have that are influenced by the past and the future, and we let those sensations sit side by side with the feeling of the grass under our feet, the sweetness of a breeze on a hot day, or the bubbling joy of being with a friend who makes us laugh. When we are brave enough to truly show up to the moment, we discover that the moment is so much more than just indigestion. There is so much happening in an instant and it's not all just one thing - there isn't only grief or only fear or only joy. The moment is never just one thing. As we continue to practice this, further, we discover that all the strange complexities of our bodies are constantly, absolutely, always changing. No pain or joy can last.

So we discover, when we are courageous enough to truly feel our feelings, that even the deepest pain in our lives has no chance of lasting, at least not in the exact same way continuously. We learn that when we can give ourselves the compassion to genuinely feel the sadness that inevitably arises, there's something precious about it, almost sweet—grief can't exist without love, and if we miss someone or something, it's because they gave us joy before they gave us grief. That's worth feeling and worth honoring.

Living in the now isn't all about being positive and happy and grateful all the time. It's actually about being brave. Being present means living in the body that we live in, and confronting all those things about life that we don't have any control over, at all. And what a delightful, strange, complicated present moment it is, after all.

About the author

Join yoga teacher Julie Peters on an exploration into the real life of yoga—how the philosophies and experiences of the practice can help us learn from our bodies, enrich our relationships, face our deepest shadows, and laugh at ourselves along the way. Julie is the author of the forthcoming book Secrets of the Eternal Moon Phase Goddesses: Meditations on Desire, Relationships, and the Art of Being Broken (Skylight Paths).