Control is a cruel illusion
“Our minds aren’t passive observers, simply perceiving reality as it is. Our minds actually change reality,” says Alia Crum, an assistant professor of psychology and director of the Stanford Mind and Body Lab. Therefore, we must recognize that our attitudes toward our environment and our resulting behaviors are central to health and are not peripheral. Our attitudes and mindsets are everything; these guide what we think and surround ourselves with, our internal monologues, and future-tripping. We are in control of our reality, yet we don’t fully comprehend this crucial fact.
Living in the present moment is a solution to problems you may not yet know how to solve. Living in the present moment is not just a popular phrase but a “recognized and evidence-based lifestyle that psychologists are quick to recommend”, says Thum, for those struggling with mental illnesses in their daily life. Being in the present moment involves the awareness and mindfulness of what is happening in the current moment, i.e. not being distracted or ruminating on past or future anxieties. As author Myrko Thum says, the present moment is all there truly is: “The present moment is the only thing where there is no time. It is the point between past and future. It is always there and it is the only point we can access in time. Everything that happens, happens in the present moment. Everything that ever happened and will ever happen can only happen in the present moment. It is impossible for anything to exist outside of it.”
It is understandable to fear living in the now; letting go of control of the future and the ruminations on our past burdens. After all, it is difficult to alter a mind that has a tendency to worry too much or has a mental illness that may serve as a barrier.
Accepting the thoughts and behaviors of our life influences our ability to live presently. People commonly alter the bad parts of lived experiences, creating alternatives to their seemingly unbearable past. When living in the present we face uncertainty and anxiety, yet it is manageable. With the principle that pain is a part of life but suffering from pain is a choice, we can cope with life more efficiently.
We are not slaves to our brain's tendencies — our destructive and harmful urges can be overcome. It is helpful to think about the past and future in small doses and focus consciously. Focusing on those points in time can assist us in becoming superior people and setting goals. However, staying in the present moment and in reality is possible during reflection of the past or preparation for the future. Prospection helps us act; this is its most fundamental goal; we think about what the future holds with our current path and weigh alternatives to act here and now. It can also be useful to trust others to bring you back into reality in extreme circumstances of panic or anxiety. Little practices such as full body scans or the five senses countdown can be included alongside any situation. Generally “we can be present when consciously reflecting on events from the past (as opposed to being caught up, distracted and overwhelmed by the past”.
A foundational component of many contemplative practices and traditions is the quality of daily consciousness for psychological well-being. Mindfulness is commonly defined, by Bron & Ryan, “the state of being acutely attentive to and aware of what is taking place in the current moment, and experiencing clarity and vividness in that moment”. Wanting things to be other than the way they are is the source of suffering in life, according to Buddhist philosophy. Accoridng to Hayes, Wilson, & Gifford, rejecting the present moment is interchangeable with the clinical construct of experiential avoidance. Experiential avoidance is “the tendency to withdraw from uncomfortable inner experiences (e.g. thoughts, memories, bodily sensations) and takes steps to alter those experiences, regardless of whether those steps lead to better or worse outcomes.” Experiential avoidance is related to a lower quality of life (Hayes et al., 2004) while rejecting the present moment is the opposite of accepting and engaging with the present moment without judgment.
Ruminating about the past, rehearsing conversation in your head, and regretting past decisions robs you of your experience of the present moment. Using past mistakes to improve oneself is essential; being stuck in contemplations of time other than now is not. Becoming emotionally overwhelmed is common in future tripping.
Thinking about the past or the future is not always a form of resisting reality or self-harm. Often in the work of therapy and psychiatry, there is grieving of loss, acknowledging anxious feelings, and unpacking past traumas. Mindless, repetitive thinking about the past or future, the kind of thinking that never offers any resolution, hurts us. The gift and the curse of now: playing with the idea that now isn’t always in the present moment.