The entirety of our lives consists of a series of moments; as poet Emily Dickinson wrote, “Forever is composed of moments.” No one is intelligent or kind or cruel or neurotic or saintly or enlightened or funny or sad all the time. But some of us have more intelligent, kind, cruel, neurotic, saintly, enlightened, funny, or sad moments. One realistic aim might be to increase the number of kind, enlightened, intelligent, or happy moments.
While we live, we’re doing something in every moment. That doing may be sleeping and dreaming, or laughing or playing, or sitting very still in meditation, or writing or stretching. Life consists of action (or stillness) moment to moment. So even if you tend to dream big, start small; then connect the dots. Those dots are made of moments.
What Are You Doing in This Moment?
What are you doing in this moment? Are you sitting on a chair or a sofa, treadmill or stationary bike? Maybe you’re lying in bed, sitting at the table or under an umbrella at a resort or on a beach. Whatever your location, reading is likely your current purpose. Maybe you’ll stop for a few moments, look up and around, take a breath, sip a drink, or bite into a snack — which then becomes your purpose in the moments that follow.
Each moment is a gift. And as the proverb goes, “One moment can change a day, one day can change a life, one life can change the world.”
There’s No Such Thing as a Future Decision
All decisions are made in the moment, for the moment. Trying to make a permanent decision is like trying to eat once and for all. Waves keep rolling in; circumstances change. Each new moment is fresh. Want to know what you’ve decided? Observe what you do.
Begin your training in making decisions (and living in the moment) by noting the following guidelines and observations.
The Only Decision You'll Ever Make
All you have to decide is what you will do right now. That is the only decision you can make or will ever make. Decisions only matter in the moment: Resolutions are at best good intentions, so make them if you wish — then face the next moment, ride the next wave. What will you do now?
You only need to make a decision in the moment you need to make it. Deciding which college you’re going to attend, which job you’ll take, or which man or woman you’ll date or marry isn’t necessary until it’s fish-or-cut-bait time. Meantime, don’t agonize over it. Just do what you’re naturally doing in the moment.
Take It One Moment At A Time
We only need to manage (or change) our lives in relevant moments. One of the primary sayings in Alcoholics Anonymous is “Take it one day at a time.” In reality, all we have to do is take it one moment at a time. Those who experience a powerful compulsion to drink do not feel compelled all the time. There’s no need for them to decide not to take a drink except when the impulse to do so arises. In that moment, they can decide not to drink and instead call a sponsor or attend a meeting.
Decisions get clearer the closer you are to having to make them. Making a decision about what you will do next year or when you retire is extraordinarily difficult and usually ends up being inaccurate — guesswork at best. Again, it’s only a wish or intention. Deciding what to do in this moment arises naturally from circumstances at hand.
This moment is all you need to manage. This is your moment of power.
The Challenge of Attending to the Present
Much of the time, we humans are bored with the present. So the prime difficulty of learning to live in and attend to the present moment is that we don’t really want to. It doesn’t seem enough for us, because we’re not really paying attention. Isn’t it fascinating that we can immerse ourselves in a video game or movie for minutes or hours, yet we can hardly pay full attention to eating dinner for more than a few seconds?
Our restless minds flit about from past to future, remembering, judging, regretting, replaying, anticipating, planning, expecting. And none of that has anything to do with this moment. As author Alan Watts wrote, “The power of memories and expectations is such that for most human beings the past and the future are...more real than the present.”
All Moments Are Unique and Special
One night in the gymnasium, after Socrates watched me fly from the high bar, perform a difficult aerial maneuver, and stick my landing, I raised my fists in elation and declared my workout over. I pulled off my sweatshirt and stuffed it into my workout bag, and we left the gym. As we headed down the hallway, he said, “You know, Dan, that last move you did was pretty sloppy.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked. “That was the best dismount I’ve done in a long time.”
“I’m not talking about the dismount,” he responded. “I’m talking about the way you took off your sweatshirt and stuffed it into your bag.”
I realized I had treated one moment, doing gymnastics, as special — and another moment as ordinary. Socrates reminded me, once again, that there are no ordinary moments. This realization, this challenge, lies at the very crux of your life and will determine the quality of your every moment: Can you, will you, learn to love the present moment? Can you develop the capacity to show each arising moment the same attention that you might give to a cherished friend or a lover — or at least to an online game? Will you wake up to the inestimable value of each passing moment as it slips, like a grain of sand, through the hourglass of your remaining time here?
Reprinted with permission of the publisher, HJ Kramer/
New World Library. ©2011, 2016. www.newworldlibrary.com
The Four Purposes of Life: Finding Meaning and Direction in a Changing World
by Dan Millman.
About the Author
Dan Millman — a former world champion athlete, coach, martial arts instructor, and college professor — is the author of numerous books read by millions of people in twenty-nine languages. He teaches worldwide, and for three decades has influenced people from all walks of life, including leaders in the fields of health, psychology, education, business, politics, sports, entertainment, and the arts. For details: www.peacefulwarrior.com.