Another excerpt from my book: “Body Over Mind: a mindful reality check”
If all we ever did was place one foot in front of another, moving us in one spatial direction only, it would be apparent that our whole life was a straight line path of physical movement. Everybody’s life completes some pattern like this, a more complicated version of the linear walk. Let us imagine our body making an abstract design in space as a result of our moment to moment activity. If we could leave behind a visual mark on the canvas of earth and air that would never fade, like permanent skywriting, we would be able to see clear proof of where we had been every second of our life, like footsteps in the snow.
Similarly, if we each had a videotape portraying our whole life, we could selectively pause the tape to review what we had done in specific moments. We only have our memory for this, and though some part of us knows that we really did do certain things at certain times, sometimes, in retrospect, our mind distorts this knowledge, which can leave us questioning and regretting our past behavior. A videotape would show us a play by play development of events, which would remind us why we participated in the ways we did, and why things are the way they are now.
Though we are not fortunate enough to have such a visual account, I recommend playing with this awareness, as we frequently find ourself in situations that we judge to be imperfect, wondering how we got there. We literally do not know why, for example, we are in a particular state of affairs with someone. Looking back we say: “I shouldn’t have done that,” or, “I could have handled that differently,” or, “I wish I hadn’t said that,” even if our actions made perfect sense to us at the time.
The discrepancy that can exist between the lucidity we feel when something is happening and the ambivalence we experience when our mind translates an event back to us is especially dangerous if another person reacts negatively to our behavior, as in these instances we really tend to mistrust our own wisdom. On the other hand, if everyone were pleased with everything we ever did we might never suffer from self-doubt or regret. In general, we are inclined to blame ourself when things do not go the way we think they should, and we forget that everything in our life progresses step by step, which is what brings us to the places we end up.
I just started following your blog. I am intrigued. Question – why is it so difficult to stay “present” and in the moment?
Thanks for your comment. My focus is not so much on whether we can “stay” in the present moment (with our attention). It is instead pointing out that whether we are paying attention to ourself or not, we are still only ever “in” the present moment because our actions take place in real time, by our physical body moving through its activities. Staying in the present moment really just means keeping your attention on what you are doing moment to moment. Our brains don’t keep our attention on anything consistently in that way; it would be like staring at the weather twenty four seven. Our attention moves around from various things all the time. But I (in my teaching and writing) mostly bring awareness to the fact that we are safe to know that we are always doing everything we should be doing because “we” isn’t the mind’s representation of we (as in thinking about ourself) but we/I is just our physical body, which is our only person, doing what it is doing. There is no way that that physical entity can be mis-acting. We don’t have to stay present mentally to act correctly. The good news is that whether or not you focus on what you are doing in the moment, you are still always only acting in the moment :-). I hope that helps!