You can’t live in the moment. Trying to doesn’t help. Instead, acknowledge the moment.
“Live in the moment!” is a mantra repeated by many schools of self-help and good living. There is, I believe, wisdom in that sentiment, but not when taken at face-value.
To live in the moment, as it is written, can easily be taken to mean we should ignore the past and future in a kind of radical version of taking it easy. That we should just totally not care about, like, the future, man. This is impossible. We have to recall the past, and we have to plan for the future. There is no way to live in the moment.
A true believer might correct me, saying I’m misunderstanding the deeper meaning, that living in the moment properly is not only possible but entirely benign. Perhaps this is so, but my concern is that the phrase as written, if interpreted normally, maps to an idea that isn’t true and isn’t helpful.
It may be that some people truly do not need to take the future into account. Perhaps they’re single and financially stable with no dependents and can just do whatever they please. It may make them enjoy their freedom even more to literally live in the moment without fussing over the details of the future.
Most people, however, have bills to pay and kids to feed and missions to accomplish. There’s no benefit to ignoring the future for folks like us. There future may not have arrived yet, but it will, and it may bring disaster if we don’t prepare for it.
It is more sensible to instead acknowledge the moment we’re in, the full reality of it, while still living — as a human being must — in between a dimly-remembered past and a poorly-predicted future. We should be honest about our current situation. See it. If we’re stuck in a very deep well, then we should accept that fact. Our instinct is to turn away and deny what is painful and embarrassing, but there is no sense in this. It doesn’t help us escape the current pain to pretend we’re fine if, in this moment, we aren’t.
However, there’s no sense in trying to keep ourselves locked in that moment. It doesn’t help to just sit in the deep well and be mindful of it. We want to get out of the well, which means considering the future and incorporating lessons from the past. This isn’t living in the moment, it’s living in full recognition of the moment.
It’s wise, furthermore, to acknowledge that the past is done and that the future isn’t here yet. Both the past and future are imagined things, so though we must send our mind there we don’t need to react to our imagination as if it were something real. This is part of the wisdom in what is often meant by “live in the moment”, though it can be lost in translation.
Trying to live in the moment just makes us feel like idiotic failures who can’t control our own brains. It will help us to live sensibly and calmly if we, instead, decide to recognize the moment in addition to shifting our mind’s eye back and of forth in time. This is mode of thinking lets us better manage anxiety and endure the present.