A lot of the advice in then self-improvement community centers on being present. Don’t live in the past, don’t imagine you are already in the future, live now. One widely recommended way of living in the moment is meditation. If you either shut off your thoughts for a brief period of time and/or focus exclusively on what you are doing right now – e.g. the dishes – you will hone in on the moment and loosen your attachment to the past and future.
Abandoning those attachments is the basis for getting rid of regrets – a passed opportunity – or fear – of bad events that could happen to you. Moreover, you learn to act and not react, since you are not a slave of your emotions.
I believe meditation is a great way to teach ourselves to live in the moment. Yet learning to meditate is a long-term project. Are there alternate means to let go of the past? Maybe of seeing the past in a peaceful, positive light and learn to accept that it has gone? Maybe even getting inspired from it?
Living in the moment is something I have always tried to do.
In fact, I had been the happiest –
– when I KNEW that I had enjoyed the moment.
For me, it’s not the memory of any event per se that I treasure. It is when I know that I was treasuring the moment when I was there. When I know that back then in that moment, I was aware of the fleeting nature of time and truly embraced the presence – and cherished it as much as I possibly could. Cherished the fuck out of that moment.
Let me give you a couple of examples.
#1 – Coming home
I grew up as a son of a single mom, who was an elementary school teacher. During mornings, our neighbors took care of me. Those were the happiest days of my life. We had lunch and breakfast, and afterwards we would often go for a walk. I proudly rode my little scooter, and we would look at a lake or pluck elderberries. Paradise.
After I got into 1st grade elementary school, my visits became less frequent, but I would still stay in touch and frequently visit. They just lived two houses down the road.
Then, later on, when I was in 8th – 10th grade, during school holidays, my mother would often go on a bike trip with her friends. As a 14 – 16-year-old kid, I was not keen on hanging out with middle-aged women, and I rather visited my friends in the town where we now lived.
Where to sleep, though? I stayed with my original neighbors again, who lived further away now, but still close – 20 minutes by bike.
Every day I would ride downtown and come back in the afternoon. Imagine the dawn of fall, slightly foggy country roads, and then I would spot the light from the living room of my old neighbours’ house. It was an incredible feeling to come back from the cold and have dinner in a warm and cozy house. Almost a fairy tale life.
I knew that this life would not always be there, so I really took in the complete moment. I was happy, and I know that I enjoyed every minute and never just let these situation pass without paying attention to their uniqueness.
#2 – A musical view into the abyss
It was 1996. Our orchestra was on its long-awaited summer tour through Greece. It was hot – as you would expect for a July on the Peloponnese and the Mediterranean sea. Luckily for us, our conductor loved the hottest climates in the summer, so more often than not, we would go to the South of Europe.
On that particular day, we played on a little village in the mountain. Yes, it was one of those villages that you could only reach via serpentine roads. On one side the mountain, on the other side a pure abyss. Nothing but mountain goats and carcasses of cars when you looked down.
Our bus driver was bravely driving uphill, but got stuck half way. We took our instruments and walked the rest of the way, while our bus driver carefully maneuvered downhill and remained there. The plan was to wait for us after the concert, the villagers would drive us downhill with several pickup trucks. So far, so good.
Have you ever been to Greece? If so, you might be aware that dinner rarely starts before 10 pm, and after delicious Greek salads and a little bit of wine, we finally played. The audience paid us rapt attention, fired up some motorcycles in between, equally rapt – and we finished the last 5 minutes of Dvorák’s 6th symphony in total darkness, because someone had pulled the plug from the lights – meaning that we had to play by heart.
Luckily, we finished reasonably well, and then came – more drinking. The party got started! By 2 – 3 am, we were pretty much wasted. Us and the villagers. Several orchestra members already had done some tumbling down while trying to use a bush on the hill as a provisorial bathroom – yeah, we were a happy bunch. So much so that we could only laugh when we heard that the bus that was supposed to wait for us at the bottom of the hill had already relocated home without us.
But what to do now? No worry – the villagers volunteered to drive us back home. All the way. And… gulp… they would actually drive us down the serpentine. We were a bit apprehensive, but a few bottles of vino, and we decided to take on the risk.
The villagers drove us down. Our only hope was that they were used to their wine, so they would not be too drunk.
We sat on the back of the truck. No belt that secured us to anything. We had a good view into the abyss. Our bass player gave back his food the same way it had gotten into his body. It was a surreal situation. We knew right then and there:
This situation will never come back. I just embraced the moment and decided to be happy about it. Wasn’t too hard, since we all had a blast. But I know when I think back on that day: I cherished the moment like a good glass of wine.
#3 – A ritual for the end of an era
This is a more current example. Every time when a big and important period in my life nears closing, I drive through the city and just try to take in the atmosphere of the place. I realize: this is the place where I spent the last 5 years of my life. When I ended my Biochemistry studies in Hannover, Germany, I biked through the neighborhood and saw how familiar and pretty all those houses were. At the end of my PhD in Dresden, Germany, I saw all the city houses, the campus, and came to see that this was the last time I would actually feel like a student. Though when I moved from Princeton to New York to start a new lab job, I embraced the college atmosphere once again… Princeton is a beautiful place, even if you are in New York and just drop by for a visit. The architecture is gorgeous, down to the gargoyles on several of the buildings and the humongous chapel.
All these instances have in common that I knew that I had been blessed and fortunate to be at those places. Without a shadow of a doubt, I knew that an era was ending, yet I stood there and took it all in. I knew that this look back on that period of my time only happens once, and that I would be forever grateful for that “moment of zen“.
Even now, I can imagine how it will feel like once I leave my current lab and university – no matter how emotional some of the events have been, I know that I am tremendously enjoying my time.
And that is the most important part in achieving closure.
Embrace the time you spent and be aware of how fast each moment will be gone.
Even in those jobs that I haven’t liked much during my career – I always looked back on those as well and just focused on the positive aspects. For example, I loved the building in which one of my “bad” labs was located in. Or I was absolutely grateful for the opportunity of a lifetime I had during one summer lab, even though I did not click that well with all of my coworkers.
Every moment passes by, lightning fast. I want to embrace everything that it can give me and keep in my mind that the memory of each place lives on precisely because I remembered the fleeting character of time and decided to enjoy it.
Whenever I look back, I know that I can never bring back the time.
But when I know I have lived the moment to its fullest, I can make peace with the past and accept that whatever was is now gone forever.
So I started to train myself in the habit of enjoying the moment.
This habit does not just get switched on in your mind. You need to actively nurture it. Every day.
Yet it’s easier than it appears.
Here is what YOU can do…
… to get used to enjoying the moment – and keep the memory that you did enjoy it.
I recommend two different strategies.
#1 – Every day, you can write down three things you are grateful for – see here for a description.
#2 – Every day, write down what went well in one sentence. Maybe you finished a project, went on a great date, read your favorite book – it should really make you happy. One thing. Every day.
Then, after 30 days, review your list. You will realize that
(a) the past is gone;
(b) you have it written right in front of your eyes that you enjoyed your days;
(c) you may even be able to recreate some of that magic.
Maybe you remember one week during summer last year that you were really, really happy – check your list, and you have a good idea of what actually made you happy.
Summary of Day 61
#1 – Career
(a) Lab work
Today was basically a clean-up day after submission of the manuscript last week.
(b) This blog
I am back to posting regularly. Though I wish I can learn to keep myself a bit shorter on my daily posts.
#2 – Health
44 push-ups in proper form. Finished out until 120 push-ups (with halfway down push-ups); 120 squats and 120 sit-ups followed.
Body Fat Percentage: 20.9%
Morning: nothing (bit short of time).
Lunch: Cheese, crackers and grapes.
Dinner: Mozzarella with tomatoes.
5 hours of sleep. Not quite 6 hours, but I am getting there.
#3 – Social Life
I talked with a couple of friends, but nothing out of the ordinary here.
#4 – Habits
Here is the list from 30 Days of Discipline:
1. Eat three meals or less, no snacks: 3 meals.
2. Get up between 5 and 7 am: I got up at 8:30 am. That is basically a fail, but instead I will just make next saturday a normal working day to compensate for me being late today.
3. Cold showers: check
4. No Porn and Masturbation: check
5. 100 push-ups/squats/sit-ups minimum: See above, no problem
6. Dress to impress, dress for success: check
7. Make a to-do list: as always
8. Stand tall and proud: always
9. No excuses/explanations/BS: check
10. Keep those ideas written down:
What did I do well?
Even though I missed getting up by 7 am, I did not panic and worked off my to-do list as far as I got. Never give up!
What do I want to improve?
I spent too much time on Social Media.
How will I improve?
Only spend 10 mins per day on Social Media.
11. My purpose: Blog and lab work. I took care of them. See above.
To check the description of the “One Year of Discipline” challenge, click here.
To get back to the homepage, click here.
Dusk Image: “BrenigAbendst” by myself – my photograph. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons – http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:BrenigAbendst.jpg#mediaviewer/File:BrenigAbendst.jpg
Mountain Road: By User:Wktpope (Own work) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
End of an era: Richard Webb [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons