We are constantly exhorted to “live in the moment,” to “be in the present,” to “be present in the moment.” Does that cover all the variations on the theme? All well and good except for one small problem. As soon as you manage to find and then place yourself “in the moment,” the moment is gone–slipped away into the ever-present encroaching past, and if you don’t watch it, you’ll be there with it.

This living in the moment is a tricky business. Much like stepping on chunks of floating ice that would, if they stayed put, provide a means for passage to the other side of a semi-frozen pond. But like the floating ice chunks these present moments are constantly slipping away-slipping, in their case, into the past and therefore keeping us from finding any security in our perches in the present. It means that to stay in the present we must be Olympic athletes of a kind-marathoners that specialize in hurdling each ‘now’ as it slips into the past and landing on the new ‘now’ in the split second that it arrives and before it immediately begins to slip away. Not very easy.

And as if we didn’t have enough of a problem with ‘now’ slipping into the past, it has occurred to me that ‘now’ can also slip into the future, catching us just as unawares as when it slips in the opposite direction. For example, where did all the time go between what I remember being the ‘now’ of just a very short time ago. and the ‘now’ of now-which back then was the ‘now’ of the future? In other words, how did that ‘now’ become this ‘now’ without my noticing it was happening? More and more often I see people that I knew in that not so long ago ‘now’ and I think I somehow have missed an entire generation of ‘nows’ when I see them in the present ‘now’. Present ‘nows’ can be shocking, especially if you recognize that the present ‘nows’ are past ‘nows’ that turned into future ‘nows’–often without our noticing. Confusing, isn’t it?

There are at least two insidious ways that ‘now’ can slip into the future with less than desirable consequences. You know how almost all of us are “going to lose weight–starting tomorrow”? Well, that’s one thought that makes it pretty easy for us to stay in the present–and eat as much as we want while we’re here. After all, tomorrow is the designated day for taking care of the result of today’s ‘now’, so we delude ourselves into thinking that we’ve already made provision for the consequences, if only in our plans for tomorrow’s ‘now’. Already the present has slipped to the future, but it’s when the consequences of today’s ‘now’ slip into and are suffered in tomorrow’s ‘now’, that we’re in real trouble. Here’s a case where today’s ‘now’ is preferable to tomorrow’s.

Another wily way that ‘now’ can slip to the future is common among those I know who are trapped in the corporate world. They suffer the miseries (that’s how most of them that I know see it) of the present ‘now’ so that their future ‘nows’ will be all that much better…if they ever make it that far. Their focus is not on today’s ‘now’, but some hoped for ‘now’ that drives the present into a future without the present ever being acknowledged or appreciated for what it is. In this case the future ‘now’ is infinitely more desirable than that of the present.

But back to those in the syndrome of past ‘nows’. Most of us know or have known someone caught in a life being lived in the past. I once knew a man whose main frame of reference was Noel Coward’s plays-those plays came out in the 30’s and 40’s and I knew this man in the 70’s and 80’s. He was stuck in the ‘now’ of Noel Coward’s years for a good part of his life-which ended in 1991. As I see it, he spent his last fifty years living in the ‘nows’ of the ever increasingly distant past.

So it seems that finding and living in the present ‘now’ are a whole lot easier said than done and there are no easy recipes for success. That’s stating the obvious. What is interesting is that ‘now’ can slip in either direction more easily than not. It might behoove each of us to run a reality check to see in exactly which ‘now’ we are standing, and then to see in which direction our current ‘now’ might be slipping. Which ‘now’ are you in?

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