Several years ago we were canoeing the Nicomekl River with good friends. Lunch time rolled around and we stopped and had a picnic in a farmer’s field, watched by three horses grazing in the distance. It was a beautiful, sunny day, affording us a fabulous view of the North Shore mountains. It was good to be there.
I distinctly recall sitting on the blanket soaking up my surroundings and thinking how rare it was to actually “be in the moment.” I mentioned this out loud, and my wife and friends agreed that it was rare for them as well. The beauty of our environment captured our full attention in such a way that it felt strange yet pleasant at the same time.
More recently I have been asked to define good mental health and I have always included the ability to live the moment well. The ability to stop one’s thoughts and simply “be”, in all its fullness.
The challenge of being truly “conscious”, as Eckhart Tolle would say, involves stopping the ongoing parade of thoughts which flow through our minds. It is so easy to think about tomorrow or yesterday, or some other aspect of our lives, that we end up missing the moment we are living. Tolle talks about being “unconscious” when our thoughts monopolize our attention.
Psychologist Jonathon Kabat-Zinn is a pioneer in “mindfulness psychology”. He borrows from Zen Buddhism and teaches people how to meditate by focusing only on the present moment, being “mindful”. When thoughts intrude, he encourages a person to focus on breathing as a way of causing the thoughts to stop.
Mindfulness Psychology is an evolving therapy and it seems to have a positive impact on the lives of those therapists who practice it. A therapist who lives in the now with his client will be able to have a richer connection with that client. The quality of the empathy will be strong and this will have a positive impact on the therapeutic relationship.
Cognitive Behavioural Psychology has been established for some time and has an excellent track record with depression and anxiety. It involves learning to differentiate which thoughts are irrational, and challenging these thoughts by replacing them with more realistic or rational thoughts. The outcome leads to less intense emotion.
When one learns to live in the moment, one frequently stops one’s thinking and this makes it unnecessary to go through the process of determining if a thought is irrational or not. If there are no thoughts distracting a person, the individual absorbs her environment and feels peaceful and joyful, possessing a fascination with her surroundings and noticing details that she usually missed.
Years ago while sitting in that farmer’s field we had a startling lesson about the benefit of being in the “now”. At a certain point the three horses on the other side of our picnic area decided they did not want us there and suddenly thundered toward us. We managed to scramble to our feet and leap over the fence before they reached their targets. They didn’t slow down until nearly hitting the fence and snorted at us for intruding into their space. We let them be and climbed back into our canoes, thankful for the lesson on “living the moment well.”
Eckhart Tolle’s first book is entitled The Power of Now. He has also written A New Earth, Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose. Jon Kabat-Zinn has written Full Catastrophe Living, Wherever You Go There You Are, Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life and most recently Coming To Our Senses, Healing Ourselves And The World Through Mindfulness.