Updated: Aug 16, 2022
Living the present is a series of posts where we debate what is happening now.
It is one of the sentences most associated with Yoga. Live the present; embrace your present moment... and one I have most problems accepting upright.
I was often told I was not following Yoga because my mind was in the future. Rightly so, the people who told me this pointed out that I was worried, tired, stressed and just wrong!
As a joke, I always say this is only the face I chose when I reincarnated into this chosen body - a theory that, taken literally, also sounds a bit rich. "I was probably Marie Antoinette's French bulldog... maybe that is why I like cake and have a tired, wrinkled face!
But what is this "living in the present" about?
I'd argue that sounds more like an excuse to shield ourselves from our past - which we might want to think we have nothing to do with us. However, suppose I choose not to do anything about my own past and past events. In that case, I'm just being another one doing nothing and living a zombie present or smoking weed to numb me from reality.
- You have too many ambitions! Who do you think you are?! - they ask.
I usually reply that I'm not a monk in a temple living on offerings and meditating to empty my mind. I have rent to pay; I have to eat; I love books, coffee and the odd naughty cake. I'm human, with far too many silly needs and wants living in a capitalist society. I can try really hard to pretend this is all an illusion and work hard to pretend I can live in the mountains, from my own crops, without electricity. Oh, I wish! Still, it is when you have no money to eat - and I've been there a few times - that all this illusion comes crashing down to a bitter reality. One has, at least to keep up with the present otherwise we live in the past.
Therefore, my "living in the present" is with my eyes on the future and, hopefully, learning from my past mistakes.
When we study Yoga, Patanjali says that we get magic powers! I call those insights as I'm not very good with magic wands or using my mind to bend spoons. Patanjali says that we can see the past and predict the future. For me, we live the present moment by studying and understanding our history, society and culture. Even being curious about how the universe came to exist - which is also a theory in Sankhya Yoga, in all religions and very prominent in science and physics.
And by predicting the future, we all want to know how things will affect us. Will the temple have money so monks can meditate on my behalf? Will the treasury have enough money to provide me with free NHS? Will I have money to pay for my yoga class and care for my future self?
If I only look at the present, I'll just imagine myself on the sofa, eating ice cream, looking at celebrities and their extraordinary lives. At the same time, I feel sorry for myself and think free NHS will take care of me. Or I think tomorrow might be better if I put some effort in and work on my health and ambitions.
Doesn't have to be ruling the world - I guess I'd be a terrible dictator as I've been told I'm bossy!
Living my present moment with my eyes on the future is about whether I can learn to be a better person. Can I try to be healthier? Can I enjoy my Yoga, the people around me, my stress and quietness? Can I learn to do sourdough and take better care of my plants? I have no kids; otherwise, that would undoubtedly be prominent - that said, if I do not take care of myself, I could be a burden on my family. Can I be better to my loved ones, my students, my borough, nature and the world?
Can I learn from my past? Can I let go of most of what is not necessary? Can I make a better present by understanding myself, my history and how I envision my future?
And why can't I? Why can't you?
Most of the time, this discussion doesn't finish anywhere. I often say that my critics are right, to comfort the other person. "I'm a terrible yogin who should be better at living the present, but... I guess I'm not”.
I’m indeed happy with what I have. I have a lot of books and a few other things more. I have enough love, problems, feelings. I try to do my best to be kind to others, kind to nature, kind and welcoming. But all this present state comes from having my eyes on the future.
I normally finish by saying that “if I die tomorrow, I die happy because I had a sense of purpose, some sort of non-strict direction, and a belief that everything will be better; that I can and deserve to try to get better".
And that is the real daily practice of Yoga’s present moment. Step by step towards something better - bliss. Something that, like smiling, my work, friendships, my body, even my decaying belongings, need dedication. And what fun it is to do so.
I invite you to follow this series where we will question the past, discuss the present and think of the future.
I hope you will enjoy the other articles soon to come.