This present moment is going to pass away forever. It is your only opportunity to meet it property. But how do you meet the present moment properly? In this article you will find an approach with the potential to transform your life. Hang in there.
Looking for the video on the article? Here it is:
Hi I’m Nick Redmark, I’m a coach-in-training and a psychology nerd, and in this publication I go deep into how to find more meaning in life. If you want more meaning in your life, subscribe to my newsletter to keep updated.
How To Meet The Present Moment
So, how do you meet the moment? It bears highlighting that this is a crucial question when it comes to the art of living, possibly the crucial question. Life is made of moments. The present moment is the only thing you have control over. And, as we said in the intro, this is your only chance to meet the present moment properly, before it passes away forever.
The proper answer to this question follows from a series of key truths.
Truth 1: The present moment is there for you to experience
The present moment comes at you with a certain content. In a moment that content will be gone forever. If you don’t experience it, no one else will, not even your future self. From this follows:
Principle 1: Become fully aware of the present moment
Truth 2: You can’t avoid it and you can’t keep it
The present moment comes at you with a certain quality: any complex mixture of pleasant, neutral and unpleasant aspects. This brings with it a certain amount of unavoidable suffering. It is only natural to react, to grow attached to moments we like and become aversive towards moments we don’t like. Yet these reactions generate suffering on top of the suffering that already is embedded in the moment.
Whenever you generate attachment towards the present moment, you generate:
- Needless suffering — because you could just enjoy the moment as it is without the fear of losing it.
- Useless suffering — because no matter how attached to it you get it will leave anyway.
Whenever you generate aversion towards the present moment, you generate:
- Useless suffering — because you can’t skip the present moment no matter how much you resist it.
- Needless suffering — because the moment will pass away anyway without your resistance to it.
What to do then? Your reaction always appears on this spectrum:
In the middle between aversion and attachment is equanimity, the state in which you accept that the moment is here now and will leave on its own, the state in which you don’t generate more suffering for yourself than is absolutely necessary.
Principle 2: Meet the present moment with equanimity
Principle 1 and 2, awareness and equanimity encapsulate the wisdom of the East, in particular of Buddhism. They represent the core of the Buddhist meditation technique Vipassana (articles about the benefits and limits of Vipassana are upcoming, subscribe to be updated). But this is not the whole story, at least for a Western sensitivity. Without the next principle this approach would feel incomplete to us. In the West, we too believe in accepting the burden of reality (take up your cross), but then there is more emphasis is on action (take a step up the hill towards the kingdom of heaven).
Truth 3: The present moment wants an action from you
Whether you like it or not, every waking moment you make a choice. You have to respond to every situation with one action or another (and “not doing anything” counts as action, too). Existentialist philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said, “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.”
What is the right action then? Luckily, the present moment has a suggestion for us. Reality doesn’t present itself as a neutral field. Every moment has a certain shape, a certain orientation, a direction. That is, every moment has a certain meaning. A messy room tells you to clean it. A path tells you to follow it. A door tells you to open it.
A first complication: the meaning that manifests in the present moment can be distorted, on one side through an inaccurate perception and on the other side by the distortions and defilements that are part of your personality. The good news: if you followed principle 1 (awareness) and 2 (equanimity), you already did the best you could do in this moment to minimize that risk.
The second complication is: the meaning that the moment manifests depends on what you are aiming at, what your goal is. A path tells you to follow it only if you want to reach the village at the bottom of the valley. If you are escaping the Nazguls the path is telling you to leave it. The true meaning of the current moment will only manifest if you are properly oriented.
So, what is a proper goal, what should we aim at? The answer (a very Petersonian answer) is: the best possible good. Duh. We just postponed the problem: Who knows what the best possible good is? Certainly not me. But stating it explicitly allows us to make two observations:
- You need to decide that you want the best possible good. Nobody can force that upon you. That’s the fundamental stance you take towards life, the choice between good and evil that makes life a moral playground.
- You need to assume that you know “the good” just well enough to be able to decide your next action. Nothing more. That’s the leap of faith: living as if the world is benevolent/well structured enough so that if you aim at the good, what you do next will be for the good (or at least that that is your best bet). Without this assumption you are stuck.
Because think about it, if you aren’t wise enough to decide how to deal with the present moment, when are you going to be? Who is going to be? You can’t come back and deal with it later. Your current level of experience, knowledge and wisdom are part of what makes up the present moment. An ideal you in the same situation, that would be another moment entirely. No, how is your current, flawed you going to make the best out the current situation? That’s the important question.
The easiest way to aim at the good is to ask yourself this question:
Principle 3: Ask yourself “What can I do that I am willing to do right now that would be for the good?”
The words in this question have been chosen very carefully:
- Can: It’s not about what you would do in a better situation where you can do whatever you want. It’s about this situation with its circumstances.
- I: Yes, I, not my ideal self, my wiser uncle, this or that inspiring figure. Imperfect me.
- Willing: This is very important. It’s not about what you would do if you had infinite willpower and an incredibly strong self discipline. Oftentimes as an answer you might get something that you aren’t actually willing to do. Don’t give up and ask yourself the question again: “Ok, that’s too hard, but what am I willing to do?” Getting this right can make the difference between you taking an ever so small action towards the good and just letting yourself slide.
- Right now: Not tonight. Not tomorrow morning. Not even in 5 minutes. That will be a completely different person and a different moment altogether. What can I do right now? The present moment is the only moment you have a true choice about. And, of course, as you train to meet the moment properly now you increase the likelihood that you will remember to meet the moment properly in 5 minutes, tonight, tomorrow morning.
This question, if asked correctly, can be a life changing tool. Every moment you ask yourself this question is a moment where you don’t let yourself slide completely, where you do things slightly better than you would have, and where you strengthen your resolve to keep asking yourself that question. Equally, on the flipside, every moment you ask yourself this question is a moment where you don’t overwhelm yourself into inaction. The compound benefit of this approach is hard to estimate.
The only thing remaining is to take that action, thus actualizing the true potential, fulfilling its true meaning of the moment.
This is how you meet the present moment
Let this be your mantra:
The present moment is going to pass away forever. It is your only opportunity to meet it properly.
1. It is yours to experience, become fully aware of it.
2. It is here and it will pass, react equanimously.
3. It has a true meaning, find it and actualize it. Ask yourself: “What can I do that I am willing to do right now that would be for the good?” Then do it.
When you rise to meet the moment in this manner, that moment will have been perfect. Perfect because there will have been no better way you (the you that you were in that moment) could have met that moment. Your action will then seal this moment and out of the conjunction will arise the seed of the next moment. In this manner it will be truly possible to build an ever-growing sequence of perfect moments. That’s enough meaning for a lifetime.
What is it that makes you feel that you faced a moment well? Let me know in the comments!