If there is something that has always confused me, it is when people have told me to “live in the moment”. This advice is so oft repeated everywhere that I struggle to comprehend its full meaning. There are a set of people who say, “Life is short. Live fully in the moment. Enjoy”. Somehow this philosophy has never augured with me – who is known to be a demure, solemn person. I have always felt that something is missing in this approach; that this is a shallow approach to life. Shallow because this is the approach of hedonists – pleasure seekers – who live with what they have in the moment. They don’t seem to be worried about the future and therefore largely do not plan. They appear happy. However, beneath the surface I suspect they are fragile. The true test of a person’s character is when they are put in adverse situations. How do they react? Or do they respond? Several, if not all people who espouse this philosophy, completely lose their sense of balance. They avoid life. They avoid problems. Their solution to all problems is to laugh it off – often with drugs and alcohol and socializing. Is this the way to life?
There is another way. I think Eckhart Tolle’s teaching comes close to giving “living in the moment” great meaning. He says “Live in the now, but with awareness, with presence”. And that makes all the difference. Living in the now means being totally alive to what ‘is’ in this moment. The ‘live fully in the moment’ mantra of the hedonists or the escapists is ‘enjoy life’ by escaping the moment. The search for pleasure makes you an eternal escapist. You are always escaping the pain in life. And suffering is inescapable in this world. In a world full of suffering, all you can really do is to surrender to what ‘is’ in this moment. This is living in the moment. The escapists fear sadness and do all they can to run far away from it. But like death, misery eventually catches up with you.
J.K.Rowling captures it beautifully in the Tales of Beedle the Bard – the story about the three brothers. The brother who accepted death with both hands, became immortal. Similarly, when we can accept our fears, we transcend them. We can only transcend the misery of life by accepting it fully. This is life’s greatest paradox. You never escape from things – you only transcend them by accepting them.
So the next time we want to “live in the moment” let’s make sure we live it with awareness.