Summary: According to communication pathologist and neuroscientist Caroline Leaf, Ph.D., BSc, it may not even be possible to live in the present
Original author and publication date: Olivia Giacomo – April 25, 2021
Futurizonte Editor’s Note: According to Dr. Leaf, the present is a mental state. Therefore, the future (we add) is an expansion or unfolding of that mental state.
From the article:
Live in the present moment. It’s a phrase you’ve likely heard once or twice before, perhaps if your mind is feeling frenzied or anxious. It makes total sense in theory: If you immerse yourself in the current moment (without the what ifs…and remember whens…), you can approach a situation with a more mindful perspective instead of replaying past patterns or worrying about future occurrences.
But according to communication pathologist and neuroscientist Caroline Leaf, Ph.D., BSc, it may not even be possible to live in the present. (Um, what?) As she recently told us on the mindbodygreen podcast, there may be a more effective way to think about your mental state.
Why you’re never really living in the present.
To be clear, present-moment mindfulness is an excellent practice and can offer profound benefits for your mental well-being. What Leaf emphasizes, here, are the ways in which we often misunderstand what it means to “live in the present.”
The main key we tend to miss? Context. “We spend between one-half and three-quarters of our day in our minds time-traveling between the past, present, and future,” Leaf explains.
Think of your nonconscious mind as an endless forest, rich with thoughts and memories. Those memories are never rooted in the present: Once they occur, they’re immediately existing in the past. Then once a memory has been consolidated, it has the power to affect your future by informing you of what has and could happen.
It’s a constant process that’s constantly churning—and Leaf says your mind physically cannot stay in one place for very long. “It’ll just calm you down for a few seconds,” she notes. Then, once your mind starts shifting between the past, present, and future again (because, trust, it will), you might not be able to keep up. “[Living in the present] is only part of the process,” she adds.
So what should you do?
When it comes to mindfulness meditation, Leaf shares that our ability to remain in a state of presence has its limits: “The deliberate exercise, trying to stay in the now for a few moments, is a very good practice to develop the mind, but it’s not the solution to managing chaos.”
Rather, she suggests embracing the entire context of your past, present, and future—not avoiding it. She notes,
“You have a narrative, you have a story, you are responding in this moment because of everything else about you.” Essentially, your current reality is rooted in the stories of your life—so don’t ignore them; make sense of them!