I talk to students today about their own minds. I want to give insight on what it means to have a healthy mind based on things I’ve learned and continue to study over the years. A healthy mind, I’m learning, knows where to focus attention. My students agree that most of their thinking involves reviewing the past. They replay conversations. They dissect what others must have thought. They consider what they might have done or said.
Is that you? Some of my family members fall into this category.
Unfortunately, much of this past focus bears no good fruit. Instead, reviewing the past keeps you in the realm of shame, regret, or longing. It’s good for some things (reviewing joyful memories, recalling lessons learned, or gaining wisdom from mistakes or victories), but mostly, it’s not very good for you. But it’s so hard to snap to attention and stop ruminating over past behavior.
The majority of my students admit they live in the past. Their minds simply stay there. Others, however, live in the future. They worry about unknown outcomes. They attempt to visualize what will happen to gain control. They play out the whole day before it even happens. They often live in anxiety or fear as a result. Like living in the past, living in the future isn’t always productive or good if it only breeds negative emotions. However, looking ahead can indeed allow for advanced planning, goal setting, and hope for things coming. But sometimes, we live too much in the future. That’s me. I’ve already pictured this whole day including dinner. I think about deadlines, the next thing coming, and what I’ll do after this. I’m rarely living in the present moment. I’m planning writing lessons for tomorrow as I walk across campus. I’m thinking of future outings. I’m wondering what I’ll make for after school snack.
I have learned the importance of the present moment in order to balance my tendencies out: I can swing from past to future, but when I enjoy the present moment by indulging in all five senses, by listening intently to a person speaking to me, or learning to simply observe carefully with a curious heart, I keep the negative emotions associated with past or future thinking at bay. This helps explain why I love writing so much. It’s here right now. I’m here right now. There’s no past, no future. It’s just so now.
My students agree that things they truly love have everything to do with present joy: the smell of lasagna cooking, the softness of snuggling with a beloved dog, the feel of cold air on your face.
Stay present. Inhabit this moment as fully as you can.