I have huge problems with the living in the moment understanding of mindfulness as a philosophy, so when James Nichol posted this blog about John Heron and abundant time, I was really interested. I’ll try to make my post make sense if you haven’t read the other, but, read the other anyway.
To me, living in the moment does not seem like engagement with life, but removal from it. Being in the moment sounds like pure immersion, but what does it do? It takes away the context for the experience. Humans have fairly linear lives, out of which we fashion narratives and understanding. Beyond a certain point, the more present you are, the more you have to let go of certain other things.
The focal point of living in the moment is (as I understand it) to free us from all those uncomfy emotions. Fear (of the future) and regret (about the past) are the big reasons why we don’t want to bother ourselves with any of that past and future malarkey. I simply don’t like the implications. Our discomfort with past actions is part of how we learn and our anxiety about the future is part of how we avoid disaster. We need, for example, to be really worried about climate change.
Nostalgia and a sense of loss teach us about what we love and value. Hope for the future uplifts us, creating purpose and direction. Do we really want to be free from the judgemental thoughts that are part of not being in the moment? Or do we need to make value judgements in order to function? What space is there, in only being in the moment, for love, or duty, forward planning to take care of self and others, or backward glancing to learn and understand? I can see some utility in it as a short burst activity to clear an over busy mind, but if you are living in the world as a responsible, creative entity, you cannot divorce yourself from past or future for very long at all. What you lose, for being entirely in the moment, are the emotional connections that flow naturally from your humanity.
Coming at this as a Druid, is seems to me that balance is the critical issue. We live now, and we have to be present enough to do that living, to act well in the moment and to appreciate life from one breath to the next. To do that, we have to set the present moment in its proper context, evolving as it does out of the past, and reaching as it must towards the future. We need to be consciously engaged in that process if we want any control over our lives, choices and experiences. If dwelling on the past or worrying about the future takes over such that we don’t really experience ‘now’ that needs rebalancing.
The human mind is gloriously complex, and capable of doing more than one thing at any time. Living in the moment is associated with a tradition that says we should only do one thing at a time and do it with total awareness. I admit that would drive me mad. My mind is not like a single track, it’s like a rainforest, and at any given time a whole array of thoughts – some more consciously held than others – tend to be in process. Letting that roll, letting things surface, I can still be very present to my environment and to the people around me. Shutting that down is awful, unnatural for me and distressing. Not all minds are the same, and you have to start with the one you’ve got.
Abundant time as an idea has us showing up to the present and experiencing it while being able to hold the narrative context of our lives. It gives us room to make important emotional connections with past and future to enrich the present. We are now, but we do not cut ourselves off from awareness of before and after. Without the threads of past and future we cannot be fully functioning human beings. Working with abundant time has the additional advantage that you can live here. You can aim to do this full time, and be richer and better for it, more functional, more engaged with the world, more alive, more present. It’s nothing but win, really. Again, coming at this as a Druid what I’m looking for above all else are ways of living that I can live.