I often hear people advocate that one must learn to “live in the moment”, “live in the here and now,” “live in the present” or similar expressions. Usually, it’s in the context of meditation. I have heard many interpretations of these phrases but have not been satisfied with any, so I would like to give you my thoughts from the Mahayana perspective.
First of all, the recommendation to “live in the moment” is meant to remind us that we should not be scattered. We are constantly “false thinking”: that is, we cannot stop thinking. We may be eating some delicious ice cream but by the force of habit, we might be thinking about work. Some might consider “multi-tasking” to be a positive or a necessity. But the true meditation practitioner considers this constant mental processing a negative, a symptom of being scattered. It is undesirable because we have no control over our thoughts. That is why meditation teachers remind us to live in the present.
Learn to reduce false thinking by concentrating on the task at hand; do not allow your mind to wander.
It is important to recognize that our minds like to false think about the past or future instead of focusing on the present. When we delight in the memories of our childhood or are consumed with worries about our family or our job, aren’t we neglecting the present? Therefore, it is better to re-train our minds to concentrate on the present as long as we must think.
Let’s delve a little deeper. “Living in the here and now” gives us more details. “Here” provides the space dimension while “now” provides the time dimension.
Here means the very place where we are. We should be aware of where we physically are or the specific environment we are in. If you ask the Mahayana practitioner, he would explain to you that at a deeper level, here really means your body; the innermost layer of your sensory perception. Those with true skills in Mahayana meditation will point out the need to remain within and not go chasing outside after forms, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch and things. Then you are living here, in your body.
Now refers to the present moment in time. Actually, it does not exist because it belongs to the past. As soon as we speak of the now, it has already become the past. We really can’t bring up the future to catch the present because the future has not yet arrived. This is what is referred to in the Vajra Sutra as: “The past cannot be obtained, the present cannot be obtained and the future cannot be obtained.”
In the context of here and now, it is suffice to say that “now” alludes to the importance of cherishing the moment. Let’s cherish life while we still can. And I’d like to add: live right by doing the right things and not self-indulge so much. Furthermore, we cannot afford to be too short-sighted and only consider this lifetime. We must create the good karmas and avoid creating the bad ones because the actions and choices of this lifetime will affect the next. That is the Mahayana spirit of living in the now. Do good so that you create the positive causes to ascend and elevate ourselves from our selfishness and pettiness to a higher level of being.
Finally, “to live in the here” is to be considerate to our environment. Help improve it instead of exploiting it for only our own benefit. “To live in the now” is to be considerate of others. Let’s resolve to be good and pleasant instead of plotting for our own advantages and pleasures.