‘Carpe Diem’ is a Latin expression meaning ‘enjoy the moment’ or ‘be happy in this second,’ often translated as ‘seize the moment.’ This catchphrase is Horace’s call to live every day with pleasure, looking for positive emotions in everything and not to postpone a full-blooded life for an uncertain future. It is obvious that the past is irreversible, the future is unpredictable, the only thing that you can influence is the present. However, it’s easy to say but difficult to do. Indeed, what does it mean to live in the moment, here and now?
A few years ago, I had no idea what does it mean to live in the moment. Moreover, I thought that all these concepts such as ‘Carpe Diem, ‘YOLO’, ‘Here and now’ are bullshit. Honestly. I thought it was invented by irresponsible people who are not able to analyse their past mistakes and prepare for future achievements, learn from their experience and anticipate difficulties. I deliberately passed by the shelves of bookstores with this kind of psychological publications calling ‘The power of now’, ‘The secret of enjoying your work and life now’, ‘Reclaiming the present moment,’ etc. I didn’t really believe in it.
However, one situation completely changed my attitude to this philosophy and to the way I lived in general. At the end of a very stressful week in 2008, I was sitting in one of the cozy cafes in the city centre and chatting with one of my friends. We talked about different things, such as what was going on in our personal life, what we have achieved professionally, what are our plans for the future, etc.
She asked me a basic question like how my week had gone. When I started describing my week I realised, wow, I don’t really remember exactly how my week went: what I was doing, what I was wearing, who I was communicating with, nothing (well, something, I remembered, but not in details). I was so surprised and upset at the same time. I couldn’t believe I was unable to remember the details. I, who always planned everything and made sure that everything happened clearly according to plan. I, who kept in mind all the important events of everyone around me. I, who took control of all the problems that came along the way and solved them. What was going on, I thought?
On the way home from this meeting, reflecting on what had just happened, I realised that all my actions were actually being performed ‘on autopilot.’ I didn’t live in the present moment, here and now, I lived ‘on paper’, meaning following my schedule, automatically following the plan. In other words, physically I was present in one place, but my consciousness wandered somewhere in another, analysing the past or preparing for future events. This applied not only to my professional life but also to my personal life as well.
The only time when I was fully presented at the moment was basically in the early morning when my family was still asleep, the coffee was brewed and the news feed was not yet updated. Perhaps that is why those 20 minutes when I could just sit in the kitchen alone, enjoying the silence and breathing in the invigorating aroma of the coffee, were the happiest part of my day.
Building a relationship with the present moment
So, the realisation that I am not actually living a fulfilling life has become a wake-up call. Obviously, I needed to reconcile my relationship with the present moment, and I needed it immediately. I acutely understood that I want to feel and enjoy my life for more than 20 minutes a day when I drink coffee. I want to appreciate ordinary things throughout the day, notice changes, perceive the world as it is, and not through the prism of my daily schedule. The question was – how can I do it?
Starting with the bookstores, I bought several books on mindfulness and began my journey towards my new conscious life. According to some Eastern sages, I learned from books that it is not what we do that matters, but how we do it. For example, there are two ways to wash dishes. The first is to wash the dishes to keep them clean, and the second is to wash the dishes to … wash the dishes.
In other words, if, to the sound of water, we think only of a cup of coffee that awaits us ahead, and try to do away with the dishes as quickly as possible, we do not live because we are not able to grasp the miracle of the moment. To be honest, I personally trust washing dishes to the dishwasher, but otherwise, I agree. The fast flow of life makes us want to get everything at once, thereby depriving us of the opportunity to enjoy the moment.
Another reason is the fear of reality. Indeed, it is so uncomfortable and scary to live here and now, being aware of the reality in which dirty political ‘games’ are taking place, the economic crisis is approaching a new round, the state of the environment is frightening, not to mention the current pandemic that has turned the world upside down. We seem to be constantly walking along the edge. We are not up to enjoying the moment.
How to slow down?
So, how to slow down and save your life from the arbitrariness of everyday vanity and fears. How to make sure that the wealth of internal resources that each of us possesses is maximally manifested in the daily course of our days. In other words, how to learn to live in the moment.
The answer I got from the books is ridiculously simple. We should, emotionally and consciously, experience what is happening to us. Be available to our own emotions, don’t shrug off grief, don’t postpone unpleasant feelings ‘for later’ and don’t forbid ourselves to rejoice. Live what is, every moment.
Sounds simple, right? Since I had a lot of experience in managing critical situations, I thought I could deal with negative emotions. However, it looks like I was wrong. It turned out that all my life when I was faced with an unpleasant event, I kind of deliberately lost sensitivity, so as not to experience pain, loss, sadness, devastation, anger. It was as if I closed my eyes, like in a movie when a terrible episode begins on the screen. I just pressed the pause button. I didn’t realise that even negative emotions play a positive role in our lives.
Dealing with fears and time
According to some psychotherapists, we should give negative emotions as much respect and place as positive ones. Then they will do their job and go into the past, becoming an experience. But for this, we will have to experience pain, resentment, anger, not being afraid of these feelings, not denying them. Then wash them off with tears, comprehend, catch a breath, and only then continue to watch our ‘film’. After all, in any case, ‘this movie’ must be watched to the end. This is the only way to integrate the ‘scary’ into our lives.
Another reason why it is difficult to live in the moment is purely physiological: the human brain is simply not adapted to this. We don’t have a special organ for the perception of a moment in time, unlike, for example, taste or smell. To understand the passage of time, we look at a clock that actually only shows numbers. We perceive time in a completely different way: an hour in the dental chair feels like an eternity, and a week on vacation feels like an instant.
The topic of time and its perception by human beings, in fact, is very interesting to me, but it’s a long story and I don’t want to dwell on it here. I will leave this topic for future articles, keep your eye on my blog.
So how can we learn to live in the moment? I have found that some simple exercises can help to be present at the moment, to stay connected with yourself, other people and the world. I was specifically looking for exercises that don’t take long and that can be practising anywhere and at any time of the day.
Exercise 1. Ground in your senses
The first exercise is from rheumatologist Jean-Gerard Bloch. He recommends whether you are standing or sitting, and wherever you are – in line, on the subway, in the car or the office – give your full attention to the soles of your feet that are in contact with the floor. What do you feel? Is the pressure strong or weak?
It is important not to judge, but simply to feel. If you do this exercise every day for 20-30 seconds, gradually increasing the time, it quickly calms, and also helps us return to our sensations and grounding in reality.
Exercise 2. See everything like for the first time
The second exercise is from the psychotherapist Yasmine Lienard. She recommends during the day look at everything around you as if you just arrived on Earth. No titles, no ratings. Consider colours, materials, lines, curves, relief, light reflections, as you would in a contemporary art exhibition where everything has a place.
Every time an obsessive thought or value judgment strikes you, let it go and return to visual perception, training to examine everything to the smallest detail: a speck of dust on the floor, a thread of clothing, the tip of a hair, etc.
This exercise interrupts mental associations and immediately brings us back to the present moment. It also allows our consciousness to get out of autopilot mode.
Exercise 3. Meditation
It was difficult for me to find the time and learn to immerse myself in meditation, but I did it and I can confidently say that it really works. Meditations help get out of the ‘unconscious’ lifestyle and detach from the emotional component and thoughts. In addition, meditation makes it easier to let go of fears, pain and resentment, stimulates brain activity, increases the level of concentration and attention.
However, unlike the first two exercises mentioned above, meditation requires dedicated time and a place where you will not be distracted by anyone. But it’s definitely worth it.
There are many different sources where you can find how to practice meditation, such as the Internet, books, but I recommend heading over to YouTube and finding your own trainer. I personally prefer meditations guided by Jason Stephenson. For those who prefer a female voice, I advise you to practice with The Mindful Movement.
In the end, somehow, I managed to take root in the only moment between the past and the future, which, in fact, is called life. But I didn’t enjoy it for long, as the feeling of guilt immediately seized me. Why? It was probably because it always seemed to me that only frivolous people can be content and happy for a long time. Having achieved their goal, Serious people immediately move on to the next one, without wasting time celebrating these achievements.
Now I know that being here and now, fully aware of what is happening, means taking risks, getting out of your comfort zone, braving your vulnerability and enjoying not only the result but also the process. After all, as the main character of the Peaceful Warrior movie said: ‘The journey is what brings us happiness, not the destination.’
Thus, my answer to the question in the title of this article is definitely YES! I believe that the only way to live in these days, when the world is literally falling apart, is to abandon inhibitions, find courage in yourself and grab any opportunity that each moment gives you. We really never know, maybe tomorrow won’t come but ‘don’t be afraid that life will come to an end, rather be afraid that it will never have a beginning’ /John Henry Newman)/. So, don’t waste time, wake up the sleeping giant inside you and seize the moment!
Finally, I would like to provide a list of some phenomenal movies which will make you think and will most definitely inspire you to look at life from a renewed perspective.
- Dead Poets Society (1989)
- Peaceful Warrior (2006)
- Good Will Hunting (1997)
- Groundhog Day (1993)
- Yes Man (2008)
- The bucket list (2007)
- 1+1 (2011)
- The Pursuit of Happyness (2006) (no spelling error here)
- Mona Lisa Smile (2003)
- Eat Pray Love (2010)