My stepmom, Cha Cha, always ended her voicemail message with this: “Enjoy today, it is a gift to you.” I can still hear her voice saying those words, but now I hear them on a deeper level, as a simple but profound call toward learning to live in the moment.
In my view from the edge, I find learning to live in the moment is a valuable life skill that brings peace and contentment, even in the midst of the bigger challenges of life.
I have a patient who lives each day in the moment. He has short term memory loss and cannot remember what he had, or even if he had breakfast. I visit him regularly, same day, same time. But each week I introduce myself all over again and he usually asks, “Have I seen you before?” I let him lead the conversation and we talk about the things that matter to him in the moment. I realize this is the greatest gift I can give him.
The last time I visited him he directed my attention to the window. The window framed a beautiful picture. The sky was clear blue, the sun’s bright rays reflected on small patches of snow left behind after a winter storm. The trees, bared of their leaves, were alive with squirrel activity. As we paused for a moment to soak in the scene, he expressed appreciation for the beauty of God’s creation. As our conversation naturally turned toward God, we talked about God being present with him always. He could not remember if he had breakfast, but he knew God was with him and had purpose for his life, every moment of it. Acknowledging that he would not be here forever, he reflected on how he wanted to be remembered: simply a nice guy who was good to people. Each day for him is all about connecting with God and being the best version of himself, with no regrets. What a way to live, experiencing and appreciating each moment as it is.
The ability to live in the moment is beautiful, but not that easy for the rest of us. Worse still can be the regrets that keep us tethered to the past. I had another patient who sacrificed his peace because he was struggling with the past he had no power to change. He lived in regret and unforgiveness that rob him of the beauty of so many precious moments.
Living in the past causes guilt, regret, and sadness, while living in the future causes anxiety, fear, and worry. I had a third patient who was anxious about the dying process. He was not currently in any pain but confessed he was worried about experiencing pain as death grew closer. I suggested when these anxious thoughts begin to formulate, that he focus on how he is feeling in the moment. If he is not experiencing pain, I encouraged him to pause and to breathe, to reacquaint himself to the moment and enjoy the freedom from pain. If he is experiencing pain, he should call the nurse, because in hospice, the goal is always comfort, pain-free living. By learning to live in the moment he was able to live out his last days pain and anxiety free.
This is the age-old practice of mindfulness. But you do not have to lose your memory or be dying to find it, it is something you can learn and practice in your daily life now.
Buddha is most famous for the practice of mindfulness, he said this: “The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, or anticipate troubles, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
I love this advice and focus for living. This is simply enjoying today rather than dwelling in past regret or future anxiety. It reminds me again of my stepmom, Cha Cha; one of her favorite verses from the Bible is Psalm 118:24. In my own effort to become more mindful and to practice living more in the moment I am making this my new daily prayer: “This is the day that the LORD has made; let me rejoice and be glad in it. (Paraphrase mine)
Enjoy today, it is a gift to you.