Why is it So Hard to be Present in the Now?

I’ve discovered a parent’s greatest joy is watching their child’s life unfold.

My son can’t fully walk or talk on his own yet, but nothing can deter him from trying. He’s up and about every waking moment, babbling all along the way. 

We make a milestone out of everything, because we’re gushing. But really, life for him isn’t about accomplishments. He’s content to discover and explore, and we’re just content to watch him.

There are a few things my son can do already that I cannot. Before he’s impressed me with his words or actions, he already impresses me each day with something he does naturally–which, for me, takes a great deal of intention.

My son is the most “present” person I know.

Now, don’t get me wrong: Avai doesn’t have a long attention span. Every two seconds he’s onto the next thing. He’s into that aggressively busy stage of development. (Or he thinks he’s on a Japanese hidden camera gameshow where the objective is to make the biggest mess without angering your mother.)

But even in the chaos and excitement of his young life, he’s living in the now. He isn’t worrying about the future or obsessing over the past. He’s just here, and now. And he wants to play. He’s unfettered by time because he has no concept of it. 

Every moment is “right now” for my son. And he’s always looking for joy.

I think this is the nature of a child’s gift of innocence. Even when they might hurt each other while playing, or even when they mischievously disobey, we don’t condemn their character. They haven’t experienced enough of life to “know better”. Heck, they haven’t even figured out how to plug in their own long-term memory! 

But I find myself watching my boy, again and again, and remarking over his ability to remain in the now. And I want to learn from him, in spite of my age and complex memory. I want to learn how to be more present. 

And I’ve discovered how tough it is.

I am never in the present by accident.

I never simply enjoy a moment for what it is, without judging its importance or becoming distracted by something else, without a great deal of purpose. Even things designed for “the moment”, like rollercoasters and spontaneous jumps off the dock, take some level of pre-planning. 

Without discipline, I’m lost in either my past or my future.

So many things are fighting for my attention. They’re relentless. The noise of my memories, my upcoming decisions and deadlines, my schedule and goals–they jostle with one another for next spot in my thought parade. If I’m preoccupied with one of them, the rest just wait in line and argue with each other, creating the lull of white noise I call “busyness”. 

I used to think this was the unavoidable reality of adulthood. I’m just not so sure anymore.

What if we can be present in our own lives? Not just with our actions–but with our thoughts as well?

Can you imagine the luxury? Not to be preoccupied with anything. No looming choice hanging over your head like a black cloud. No tinge of regret, no fear for the future. 

Nothing but the now. 

Wouldn’t that be the greatest return to childlikeness any of us could possibly experience?

It makes sense why children are free from this modern malignancy: they haven’t learned how to be anywhere other than here. It’s us, the adults, who must do the unlearning and discipline ourselves to enjoy the now.

Of course, this is something I’m learning. And it’s not something I can solve for myself over the course of writing one blog. 

But it is a journey I’m committed to. I’ve discovered that presence of mind is euphoric, and eternal life only happens in the now. 

Even if it takes extraordinary change, I’m going to live in this moment better than I ever have before.

Will you join me on a journey back to the present?