Monday, May 18, 2009


beribbonedPeople talk about wanting to live in the moment and I nod and smile, but, really, I have no idea what they're trying to say. Because, for me, most of the value and practically all of the joy of life comes not from anything that I'm experiencing in the moment, but from all those imaginary worlds spinning inside my own head, from contemplating the future or remembering the past. In other words, no matter how hard I think about it, I find it almost impossible to understand what you're supposed to get out of not thinking about it.

They say that there's no such thing as a stupid question -- only stupid people who ask them -- so let me ask you this: does the concept of "living in the moment" resonate for you? And, if it does, what does it, you know, mean?

Also, another not-too-bright question: Is there anyone else out there who was unpleasantly surprised to discover that, no, actually, the word is not pronounced BERRY-boned?


Tash said...

(This rather reminds me of a 5th grade writing assignment, results of which were read out loud, where a student (NOT ME) proclaimed "And then Santa raped the presents.")

Well, you know me. I would kill for some fantasy, some day-dreaming of the future, some sweet reminiscing of the past. I am permanently stuck in two week increments. I can't get out of the moment, I'm stuck in it, and it sucks big time. Don't believe the grass is greener. Lies, all lies.

Julia said...

I guess for me, frequently suffering from crippling anxiety, the concept of living in the moment is helpful because it allows me to remind myself that I am not actually in immediate danger. In this case, I suppose the difference is that what's going on in my head is *worse* than what's actually happening.

angie said...

After Lucy died, living in the moment, when I could get it, was the only moments I felt even an iota of peace, because it meant I wasn't focused on the what could have been/what was/what happened. My "present" moments were fleeting, though, and they would only happen when I was playing with my two year old daughter. Boy, would I play. I would just try my damnedest not to think about anything, and pretend to be the wacky polar bear baby who falls everything he gets to that particular place in the couch. Some moments, I was the polar bear, and I was giggling with the girl, and I felt like a whole person. Living in the moment saved my life, because it showed me glimmers of a possible future when I wasn't sobbing all the time, which makes me think it wasn't really living in the moment.

Chris said...

The concept of "living in the moment" does not work for me either. Sometime I feel it is a deficiency. When I catch myself in a moment and think: "You should enjoy this more, you will look back at this moment as a beautiful one." And yet I cannot help it. One effect is that I hardly ever wish moments would last longer. I am rather looking forward to looking back at them.

Question back to you Niobe: Does this sometime generate tension with your surroundings? Because of not resting enough in beautiful moments, because of constantly moving on?

Which Box said...

This is pathetic, but the easiest way I think about living in the moment is when, doing some work task, i find the time just flies by and I am immersed in whatever I'm working on. Some people (who? I don't know? scientists? Phychologists? Who knows, I probably read it in a women's magazine) call it being in the flow. Sometimes, when I'm with my daughter or son, I think - this. This is what it's all supposed to be about. So remember this, be in this moment, so that when my mind is thinking about the past or the future, this is the feeling that I can conjure.

niobe said...

Chris: I think you put it perfectly when you said I am rather looking forward to looking back at them. It's true that there are many events that I know I should enjoy, but actually don't especially enjoy while they're happening.

I soothe myself by thinking eventually, I'll remember this as a time when I was happy. And, usually, that's exactly what happens.

Cara said...

I have learned, practiced, finally observed myself - living in the moment in the past year or two. I can't quite describe the process for me, only at at the end of the day if I can smile knowing that I enjoyed most minutes, choosing not to be derailed by pesky annoyances or unfulfilled expectations, then I lived a good day.

dj said...

Actually, I never pronounced anything before knowing where the word comes from; it's one of my second best interests, etymology.
Yeah, living in the moment...hmmm....very rare. It's like happiness, it sparkles sometimes, seldom. But there was a moment, a few weeks ago, a stormy evening, when the lights turned off, in the candle light, my children playing on the kitchen floor. It was maybe mid-march. I lived the moment.

Magpie said...

I was confused when I found out that "indict" did not have a hard C in the middle.

"Living in the moment" sounds way too touchy-feely/Oprah for the likes of me.

Bluebird said...

My initial and very strong reaction was "Oh yes, I am so with you. I, too, enjoy and perhaps prefer the imaginary worlds in my head. . . recreating the past and dreaming of the future. . ."

But. As I dwelled on this idea I realized that that is something I am trying to change about myself. Because it's exhausting to walk around with my mind always spinning like that. And, for me, it has the effect of making me feel rather unsatisfied and discontent. I need to embrace the here and now, our present circumstances, a little more. Does that mean "live in the moment?" I don't know. Perhaps.

Thanks for making me think :)

Ya Chun said...

I am trying to be more present. I have found that I DON'T remember things well, and I attribute that to not paying attention to what is going on WHEN it is going on.

I think of it more as being 'present'. Living in the moment tends to connote 'without a care' or 'irresponsibly'.

For this, I love to read Thich Nhat Hanh. His books "Miracle of Mindfulness" and "Present Moment, Wonderful Moment" are good for this. He explains it so succinctly.

My favorite thing to remember from it is "Wash the dishes to wash the dishes" Be aware that you are washing dishes and that it is an enjoyable and worthwhile task.

I say that phrase to remind myself, even when I am not washing dishes! Some kind of mantra, eh?

The whole concept is great in theory, so I strive to do it. And it does life a burden. It ties in with the idea of thought stopping. The easiest activity for me to achieve this in is gardening.

Oh, and there are no stupid questions, it is stupid NOT to ask them!

Lori said...

It's NOT!?

The concept does resonate with me (obviously, if you've read my post today, or any Monday).

I have spent almost all of my life living in the past or in the future, which are just constructs.

I had a high school history teacher who theorized that there is no Now, since it can't be measured or pinpointed.

And now, I theorize that that's ALL there is. But most of the time I don't even notice it.

If I am in the past, I am in my emotional body. If I am in the future, I am in my mental body. Being present means, to me, being in my physical body, being aware and conscious of physical sensations and intuition. Calling back my energy from the places I've allowed it to roam.

erica said...

I try to have both, the imagination reaching forward and back, and a sort of focus on what's happening now. Sometimes it seems to work and sometimes it really, really doesn't. Sometimes *not* being present in the moment can be a huge relief to me.

A highly embarrassing moment in my adolescent years had to do with the pronunciation of enigma and enema.

Wabi said...

I like it when, as WhichBox put it, I get "in the flow" and time passes without any internal dialog. But this is the antithesis of most of modern daily life. It's hard to attain that and still get work done on deadline, get the dinner on the table, etc. If you are very scheduled, then you probably live in your head.

LAS said...

We talk all the time at meetings about living in the moment. I only experience it when I am doing something that requires every last bit of my energy and attention. Like when I go rock climbing and all I can think about is where to move next - that is living in the moment for me. My attention isn't on anything else but the very thing in front of me. Aside from that, I live in an imaginary world in my head.

Yolanda (the callipygian chronicle) said...

I don't see any way that the now could ever be as interesting as the future I am contemplating or the past on which I am dwelling. Now has no significance until it has passed. And tomorrow is filled with infinite possibilities--good and bad--whose significance will only be revealed in retrospect. The only thing I am aware of in the now is its ability to change everything that may happen in the future.

And it's not berry-boned? That word is be-ribboned? My mind's ear refuses to hear hat sound when I look at that word.

painted maypole said...

i was reading this thinking... didn't she already post this?

but I think you alluded to it in a comment you left over my way a while back

niobe said...

Painted Maypole: You're absolutely right -- it's something I've said, more or less lucidly, in comments -- at your place and probably elsewhere. In fact, I was so worried that I'd posted this before, that, before I hit publish, I searched my blog to make sure I hadn't.

painted maypole said...

here it is on my blog, you make a distinct reference to your unpublished post:

Eva said...

Well, for me it's really enjoying where I am and what I'm doing and focusing on that and trying not to fret about other stuff. Like when I'm walking on the beach, pay attention to the waves, the smell.

Bon said...

i think what you're supposed to get out of it is the release from the misery or pressure of it not being what you'd expected it to be in all your thinking about it.

mostly that doesn't work real well for me because it's the signifiers i enjoy, the triggers for narrative, blah blah blah. but when something goes terribly wrong and i'm faced with all those triggers i've already spun narratives about (even if many of my narratives are less than sunny), just telling them to fuck off and being present can be actually quite pleasant.

doesn't last though.

and i thought lichen was litchen for YEARS. still don't like the word as it's properly pronounced.

Bea said...

I'm very opposed to living in the moment. At least, I think it's fine if you're some kind of ESFP, but otherwise, it's just a really absurd practice of putting pressure on yourself to live your life less reflectively.

My husband is still mad that the word "respite" is pronounced "res-SPIT" and not "re-SPITE."

Hope's Mama said...

i hate living in the moment, as for the most part, i hate my "moment". i'd rather go back or i'd rather move forward outta here, and fast.

christina(apronstrings) said...

i think of it in a buddist way-living through my five senses as much as i can. i.e. i try not to think about work while i am taking a shower in the morning--or my day ahead. but stopping to admire the trees outside through the, appreciate the warm water. or smelling my baby when she is sleeping on me. or listening to her tiny breaths.
That said, I enjpy daydreaming as much as i can-and remembering fond moments from my past. our trip to paris-my summer in turkey, etc.

flutter said...

I came to a conclusion in my shrink's office the other day. All I need to do is to be ok, right in this moment.

the rest will work itself out

Quadelle said...

Which Box is right, flow is a concept of psychology, particularly pioneered by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (try pronouncing THAT. Actually, it's rather fun and easy: me-high-ee chick-SENT-me-high-ee). I did an honours thesis on flow because I love those moments when I am completely lost in what I am doing - where time stands still, where my energies (physical / mental / emotional) are challenged fully but not overwhelmed. This is a type of living in the moment where it's not a conscious effort, it simply happens because you're so absorbed.

Some people experience flow more easily than others, and those who experience it tend to love it. It's more commonly experienced when doing a physical activity (like LAS with rock climbing, in fact, rock climbers were a group chick-SENT-me-high-ee studied because they so often report flow).

Agreed with Magpie about the term 'living in the moment', and, like Ya Chun, I prefer to use terms like being present or being mindful.The last couple of years I've been practicing mindfulness and teaching mindfulness to clients. It's a far more intentional practice.

Mindfulness, to quote a popular proponent, Kabat-Zinn, is about "paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment, and nonjudgmentally". It's choosing to step back from the mental noise (i.e. thoughts about whatever, including past/future, memories/hopes, good/bad and imaginary worlds of all types) to focus on some aspect of what is happening here and now. Like Eva noticing the waves and the smell when walking on the beach. Or perhaps observing your emotional state. Or your breath. Or pretty much anything.

There are plenty of good books on mindfulness, and I imagine there would be some good resources online, too.

Research is developing a strong body of evidence that shows that mindfulness is actually beneficial to people in multiple ways - lowering risk of various health problems (e.g. heart disease), increased capacity to remember things, and people feeling more equipped to cope with difficulties whether large or small. Two groups I've worked with for whom the research is very positive is people who experience binge eating, and people with borderline personality disorder. However, the general population benefits from it, too. Which is why I like to practice it. :)

I could go on more but this is meant to be a comment, not a post! :)

Christa said...

When I am alone, I am always away from the "moment" and instead fantasize about the future in my head. It is when I am with others (usually my husband or my boys) when I try to capture moments (only of happiness) and truly recognize them as happy. I think the notion of living in the moment is over-emphasized and absolutely makes no sense when things are sad or difficult. Why would you want to feel or experience things any more acutely than you already are. Enough self-examination, already! Sometimes you just have to get through it.

Can we take a vote that it should be be-ribboned? Reminds me of the time in college when I was making fun of newscasters saying sexual HAIR-is-ment instead of ha-RASS-ment and my professor told me they were right and I was wrong. Still makes me cringe.

Smiling said...

One of your comments got me thinking and that became a post and then I saw this and I finished the post (as much as I ever do..)

I never ever got this... but I was a person who chased 'flow' like a drug. Mostly through music and sports and sometimes my work. And once I read a bit about flow, I started to get what I was doing.

For me it is about being aware of what I am doing now in this very moment because that becomes my past... just before the future arrives. And sometimes I choose to spend the present moment thinking abou thte past or future, I just am a bit more aware of it when I am choosing to do that.

Sarah said...

it really sounds awfully cheesy but i have to say there was a major turning point in my life when i finally got outside of my head a bit and learned to just be, at least some of the time, so that's what it means to me. i think it was actually a move from a state of constant mild depression that i didn't even recognize to a level of relative calm and happiness that i hadn't had before. its a little chicken-and-egg though, i'm pretty sure that the calm and happiness is what changed and then i was able to just enjoy the here and now a little easier. i don't think it's something one can really "try" to do. in another sense, i do try to savor the moments with piper as they race by at warp speed.

niobe said...

Which Box: I've been thinking about your comment and I have to say that, while I've certainly felt so immersed in a task or book that time has flown by, I've always thought of that as the opposite of living in the moment -- as living so much in the world of ideas that the real world dwindles to nothing.

LAS, Quadrelle: Yeah, physical activity is just about the only setting in which I wish I could turn off my brain. I don't really enjoy, say, skiing because I have this whole internal dialogue thing going on. And plus I'm not a very good skiier. Also.

red pen mama said...

What Julia said.

Being of an anxious disposition, living in the moment is more about pausing in my worrying of the future (like a puppy worrying at a shoe).

Took me years to realize it wasn't FAT-e-gue (fatigue) and satisfication (satisfaction).


Christine said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Angela said...

I must confess that for QUITE some time, I thought awry was pronounced AWW-ree. =(

leanne said...

I like what Lori said about mental (future), emotional (past) and physical (present) bodies. That resonated with me.

I'm not sure I really live in the moment unless I'm with other people -- people I'm close to. Otherwise, I, too, get caught up in imaginary worlds. And I have way too much internal dialogue going on sometimes. Way too much.

Coggy said...

I am useless at living in the moment and appreciating it. I always live in a negative moment if that makes any sense. Thinking about how much better I could be doing or what I could be doing that is better.

I find it very difficult to appreciate things as they happen, only with hindsight. Maybe I feel I'm not allowed to appreciate the moment and be happy. Like Leanne I have way to much internal dialogue. Not healthy.

I've always thought of it as being one of those things people say, 'I must learn to live in the moment more'. I think as humans it's very difficult for us to do. We always seem to be drawn to living in the past or chasing dreams of the future. Maybe it's hard to be in the moment until you've processed it mentally and it's become the past. I dunno.

Kami said...

I started practicing living in the moment when I was teaching childbirth classes before I realized I was going to have trouble conceiving. We were using it to help with the pains of childbirth.

I remember two times that made it sink in for me. One was while driving to work. Instead of thinking, "ug. I want to be going somewhere fun." I was able to be in the moment and appreciate the sunny day and the birds and the music playing - the dread about going to work disappeared.

The second time was late Sunday afternoon when I was in a panic to enjoy the rest of the weekend because other people had claimed the rest (I think we helped someone move). I was really grumpy because I only had hours left. I quieted my mind, forgot about the time and then, finally, enjoyed the time that I had.

I also enjoy reliving old moments and anticipating new ones. When it gets in my way is when this moment is not enjoyed because I am anticipated the next. It's like having a really good dinner, but not really noticing because you keep thinking about how good dessert will be.

Virginia said...

Right after Ben died, after the service, the cremation, after the cards stopped coming and everyone went home, then, I lived in the moment. I couldn't manage anything else. I couldn't think ahead, because the future seemed impossible, and I couldn't look back at my naive self who assumed all would be well.

Since then, in the last three years, I've lost that ability to be in the moment, and I find I spend most of my life looking back, to what was, rather than noticing what is, right now.

Julia said...

I don't think of it as a good thing. It just is. Inability to really plan anything in any real way just doesn't sound as glamorous as living in the moment.

I accept it as part of the aftermath so I don't really get upset about it. I wish I could say something sappy like I make the best out of it, but I really just roll with it...

areyoukiddingme said...

I have never really liked the phrase "live in the moment." To me, it implies a permanent state of being, and that's just not practical. How can you live in the moment and still make an appointment to visit the dentist? If you don't have a cavity AT THIS MOMENT, then going to the dentist is not necessary. I know it's just semantics, and the concept is more about recognizing and appreciating the joyful moments as they come along instead of focusing on past and future problems. To me, it's kind of the same as being disappointed the beribboned is not berry-boned. I think it should be "appreciate something in this moment" rather than "live in the moment."

Also, I hate when people (i.e. apparently everyone but me) drop the first r in ornery (pronouncing it "ah-nery") or the first r and the e (pronouncing it "ah-nry").

charmedgirl said...

i'm finding that the moment is the only truth i know anymore. it's the only sure thing. it's the only reality i have...the moment. that's IT, yet, the moment is also yesterday and tomorrow.

i sometimes feel f-ing hokey about all the living in the moment philosophy i am trying to embody, but i don't think i have a choice anymore. isn't it a song, by the cure, maybe? something like, 'heaven is now'?

The Yak said...

Re Julia's comment (11:57 pm) "Inability to really plan anything in any real way just doesn't sound as glamorous as living in the moment"... I don't think planning ability and LITM are mutually exclusive. Ideally I'd be able to LITM for a certain period and then effortless switch to efficient planning mode and back again. I think that's why I enjoyed pot in college -- it greatly diminishes your sense of time passing and focuses your attention on, like, the groovy colors. I'm way too punctual, i.e., overly time-aware, which is antithetical to LITM.

As for words, my grandfather used to tell how, when he was in his 20s, his new wife laughed when he referred to a mountain lion as a "KOW-jer." He'd only ever seen the word in print.