The other day I was talking to a friend I hadn’t seen for a while. He was telling me that he’s been working for a company that funds research into increasing human lifespan by stopping all the things that make us age. I said I was more interested in learning how to make the most of life now than expanding how long it lasts for. He asked what I thought you need to do to make the most of life. I said “Stay in the present moment rather than thinking about the future and the past.” He said “What’s so great about the present moment?!” Good question, I thought. Here are reasons I think the present moment is the place to be:
- It’s the only moment there is, and ever will be
- All your fondest memories are experiences you’ve had, not thoughts
- You can’t enjoy or appreciate what’s happening if you’re thinking about something else
- Your mind not being in the present usually means we’re dissatisfied with it
- You do everything better when you’re paying attention to it
Mindfulness is a way of training your mind so that you have your attention on the present moment more often. The basic practice is to choose a point of focus, such as your breathing, try to notice when your mind has wandered off onto thoughts of the past and future, and gently bring it back to your breathing. You’re training your attention span like a muscle, and over time it gets stronger. It’s even more important to do this in age of internet, emails and smart phones which are training our brains to scan a lot of information quickly, but weakening our ability to maintain focus on one thing at a time.
I’ve noticed improvements in my concentration in reading a book, listening in conversation and noticing the world around me. Yesterday, for example, I enjoyed taking some time to appreciate my walk to work: