‘Living in the Present’: Just a Romanticised Myth?

7 Minutes Read Shubhangi Butta

The ‘present’ is analogous to the neck of the hourglass with no scope for holding the sand, but only a window to let it slip away. Let alone its coexistence with the past and the future, even the nature of the present’s existence, then, becomes questionable. Is it a fine line which must distinguish the past from the future? Or is it the baton passed from the past to the future?

Since the commencement of our memory encoding, none of us can possibly recall a point in our lives where we didn’t refer to time as a dictator of our lives, be it the sleeping and waking up time as a toddler, or the schedule for the week as a worker. While time seems to be an intrinsic feature of nature, we evolve only to realise its complexity to an extent where we shock ourselves at the loss of words when asked to define it. 

Our cognitive desperation pushes us into constantly mapping meanings of the concepts that enter our knowledge system. So, owing to human tendency, we chose to develop a sense of time, and gave it a simplified framework with three degrees. The next human tendency calls for the availability bias that we succumb to, conveniently perceiving and understanding time in the available framework, without questioning its rationale enough to even independently define ‘time’. Now, though we have come too far a way to think of time in the absence of this pre-developed framework, a challenging exercise would be to try and unlearn that framework. The first step of this exercise is to evaluate the cognitive load we can sustain, for unlearning is much more intellectually demanding than learning. But that's part of what mindfulness tries to establish: redeveloping new rationales to associate with. The point of unlearning, in this context, is to begin our journey of perceiving time in the freshest way possible. But why must we do that, you ask? Simplify to dethrone the past, present, and future, and take over to define our own versions of the ‘present’ comfortable enough for us to inhabit. 

The pressure of time haunts many of us as a massive source of anxiety. From deadlines to vacations to ageing, time either seems to be moving closer to the future faster than we wish it would, or seems to be stuck in the past, as if at a standstill. But despite being aware of its constant progression, why do we still have different judgments of the same span of time passage? This leads us to our fresh attempt at creating our own perception of time. As mentalistic as it sounds, we can take control over our time and its pace and build our very own ‘present’ that actually holds the sand. Here’s how:

Time Doesn’t Control Our Actions; it’s the Other Way Round: Research has shown that when we invest our interests into activities, the passage of time judgments are much shorter than when we indulge in activities half-heartedly. It’s not just the academic journals that confirm these claims- more often than not, we can too. An hour-long lecture doesn’t even compare to a short movie of the very same hour. This lame, nerdy fact is actually an eye-opener to a world where the actions we indulge in control time, instead of it being vice-versa. 

The Timeless Paradox of the Past, Present and the Future: As I penned this down, the irony was hard to miss as I approached ‘Present’: leaving ‘Past’ where it would belong while ‘Future’ paved its way. But having the future instantly slide into the present and the present, into the past, the present seemed no more than a mediator of change. When time is so fluid and malleable, we need to consider putting an end to the pressures shuffling on us between the seconds, weeks and years, and mould it the ways we like.

Do the Things You Love, or Love the Things You Do: The real test of drawing our versions of the present comes when we pick up the actions, we want our time to be defined by. Realising that our actions control time is half the battle won, but the other half is equally important to take full control over the life you want to lead. The bottom line of any action you do must convince you of its value enough for you to embrace it.

‘Living in the present’ can be more than just a romanticised myth: There is no way to immerse yourself in your favourite song when you can’t stop thinking of what might play next. The only thing you need to learn about your ‘present’ is to let go of all the have been’s, as well as the will be’s. When the present is ideated by you, there is no one who can stop you from creating the same. 

To take ownership of your actions, meanings, and your life is an art of its own kind; to be mindful of that, perhaps one of a greater kind. Defining our own present and living in it might be the most ideal place to be in but letting go does not imply discounting the process of becoming a personified amalgamation of all our learnings. In any case, nothing’s more enlightening than a present built as a buffer in disguise, for us to slow down and introspect.

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