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John W. Travis, M.D. & Regina Sara Ryan
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Living in the Now

Looking to the future for happiness or living on past glories is a sure setup for disappointment. Ultimately, we have no assurance of anything beyond this present moment. There really is no future or past - just a continuous progression of now" moments.

The question then is "What am I to do in the 'now' in order to experience meaning?" The secret of happiness, shared by great mystics throughout the ages, is to do just what you are doing, but do it with awareness. Be just who you are, but be it intensely. Look long and lovingly at what is real right now.A classic Zen tale relates the adventure of a monk being chased by a tiger. After running a short distance the man found himself at the edge of a cliff. As the tiger approached, the monk noticed a small tree branch jutting out of the wall of the cliff, just a few feet below him. Managing to catch hold of the branch, he hung there, with the tiger above him, and an abyss below. A mouse began gnawing on the branch. What to do? Just then he observed a tiny strawberry plant within arm's reach. He plucked it, put it in his mouth, and savored it. It was delicious.

Everyone's life has its tigers and its mice and its strawberries. And, while we may not have the attention or the discipline of the monk to stay fully focused in such a difficult, yet wondrous, present, we can begin to notice how often we leave the present moment and begin obsessing about the past or future. Awareness of this tendency is the vital step. Watching our thoughts (as we discuss in greater depth in the section Wellness and Thinking) and choosing where to place our attention is a skill that we can cultivate.

Some events are easier to stay present to than others. Eating a meal, we can remind ourselves to do nothing else but eat with awareness, enjoying every sensation. Making love, we can remind ourselves to stay present to the body, rather than retreating into fantasy. Taking a walk, we can remind ourselves to look, smell, feel, hear what is around us. We can stop ourselves occasionally throughout the day and simply ask, "Do you know where you are right now, and what you are doing?"

Living in the here and now is a practice, not some concept. It requires our dedicated commitment to learning this practice. Refer to the section Wellness and Breathing, for many helpful reminders about how to use the breath to keep you present to yourself and your world.

Sometimes, living in the now means that we simply savor what is given. At other times, full awareness of the now means that we take dynamic action.

Tenzin Palmo, a Tibetan nun, was snowbound in her hermitage during a great storm that precipitated an avalanche. The situation seemed hopeless. For many hours she sat quietly, practicing meditation and observing her thoughts, her fears. She prepared herself for death. In the midst of her meditation, and with an internal state of great calmness, she heard a voice with a strong demand. "Dig!" it said. She did, and lived.

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