The one thing people tend to realize at moments like this is that they wasted a lot of time when life was normal.
Its not just what they did with their time, its not just that they spent too much time working or compulsively checking email, its that they cared about the wrong things. They regret what they cared about. Their attention was bound up in petty concerns. Year after year, when life was normal.
And this is a paradox of course because we all know this epiphany is coming. Don’t you know this is coming? Don’t you know there is going to come a day when you’ll be sick or someone close to you will die… and you’ll look back on the kinds of things that captured your attention. Because even if you live to be a hundred, there is just not that many days in life.
It is always now. However much you feel you may need to plan for the future, to anticipate it, to mitigate risks, the reality of your life is now. Our conscious awareness of the present moment is, in some relevant sense, already a memory. But as a matter of conscious experience, the reality of your life is always now.
And I think this is a liberating truth about the nature of the human mind. In fact I think there is probably nothing more important to understand about your mind than that if you want to be happy in this world. That the past is a memory, its a thought arising in the present. The future is merely anticipated, it is another thought arising now. What we truly have is this moment… and this.
And we spend most of our lives forgetting this truth – repudiating it, fleeing it, overlooking it. And the horror is that we succeed. We manage to never really connect with the present moment, and find fulfillment there. Because we are continually hoping to become happy in the future; and the future never arrives.
Even when we think we are in the present moment, in very subtle ways, we’re always looking over its shoulder – anticipating what’s coming next. We’re always solving a problem. And its possible to simply drop your problem, if only for a moment, and enjoy whatever is true of your life in the present.
There are more connections in a single cubic centimeter of brain tissue than stars in our galaxy, and yet our inner experience offers absolutely no clue-we are subjectively unaware of most of what our minds our doing. And yet when we think about what matters… what matters is consciousness and its contents. Consciousness is everything. Our experience of the world, the experience of those we care about is a matter of consciousness and its contents.
So whatever the origins of consciousness, the most important question for us is: “How can we truly be fulfilled in life? How can we create lives that are truly worth living given that these lives come to an end?”
So the frame we put around the present moment is important, and largely determines our experience of it, but it seems possible in fact to experience life more nakedly than this. To experience it without an obvious frame. To pay attention to the present moment closely enough so that you are not doing anything to it.
Now you might feel that your consciousness is in your head, or behind your face – but as a matter of experience, these are just more sensations arising in consciousness. The only evidence of your face and head is as sensation arising in consciousness at this moment. Whatever you can possibly notice-in your body in your mind in the world-has only one place to appear, in your conscious experience.
Now I’m not saying this is all just a dream. But as a neurological matter it is very much like a dream. It is a dream that is constrained by inputs from the external world. And the dreams we call dreams at night are dreams that are not constrained by the external world.
But your mind is all you have, its all you ever had. Its all you have to offer other people. We are all trying to find a path back to the present moment, and good enough reason just to be happier.
If your constantly ruminating about what you just did or what you should have done or what you would have done if you only had the chance, you will miss your life. You’ll fail to connect with it, you’ll fail to connect with other people. Being the mere hostage of the next thought that comes beaming into consciousness isn’t useful.
So if there is an antidote to the fear of death and the experience of loss, its compatible with reason. I think its to be found here. The purpose of life is pretty obvious; we are constantly… Why do we create culture and form relationships-beyond matters of mere survival?
We are constantly trying to create and repair a world that our minds what to be in.
— Sam Harris