Renew Your Focus On, And Appreciation Of, The Present

To practice Stoicism is to place a much greater emphasis on the present moment than on the past or the future.

Stoics like Marcus Aurelius trained themselves to focus on the here and now.

“The present moment is enough for you,” he told himself.

As Pierre Hadot wrote in his book Philosophy as a Way of Life, this had a double meaning:

It is enough to keep you busy; you have no need to think about anything else; and

It is enough to make you happy; there is no need to seek for anything else.

It’s almost impossible of course not to think about the past and the future at some point.

Take the past, for example.

Have you carried any frustrations from yesterday into today?

Maybe you regret a mistake or something didn’t go your way and it’s dominating your thoughts.

Rather than performing mental gymnastics in an attempt to go back and change what happened, take a moment to find the good in it.

Take a moment to, as the German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche put it, redeem the past:

To redeem the past and to transform every ‘It was’ into an ‘I wanted it thus!’ — that alone do I call redemption!

Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra

Why is it good that this unwanted event occurred?

If you look hard enough there will be something positive you can take from it.

Maybe it prepared you for the same thing happening again in the future, maybe it showed you that you’re capable of dealing with it, maybe it built your character.

Finding the lesson in a past event is often a good way of drawing a line under the event and moving on so you can focus on the present moment.

Because the present moment is enough for you.

Another helpful way to appreciate the value of right now is to think for a moment of all the days that have passed since the ancient Stoics lived two thousand years ago.

Think also of the millions of years of Earth’s existence that flew by before that.

In these contexts, it’s clear that we’re not here for a long time.

Life for each of us is a mere moment.

Consider that the next time you’re worried or anxious—we’re all living in what is a blip on the timeline of all existence.

The realization that our time really is limited sounds gloomy.

It’s not gloomy, however.

It promotes gratitude, it allows us to focus on today, it raises our awareness of what is around us.

Knowing we have a finite amount of time helps us appreciate the smaller things every day while we still can, it helps us focus on the present, and gives us a deadline by which we need to get things done.

The more we can enjoy the smaller things, the more there is to enjoy.

What would get done if our time was infinite anyway? We’d keep putting things off until “someday.”

And even if we did get round to doing things, we would end up bored and hopeless as there would come a point on our infinite timeline when we had literally done everything there was to do.

If you need a more vivid appreciation of finiteness, try this meditation from Anthony de Mello’s book Awareness:

The passport to living is to imagine yourself in your grave. Imagine that you’re lying in your coffin. Imagine you’re lying flat and you’re dead. Now look at your problems from that viewpoint. Changes everything, doesn’t it? What a lovely, lovely meditation. Do it every day if you have the time. It’s unbelievable, but you’ll come alive.

So don’t meet the passage of time with anxiety – let it wake you up and energize you, let it bring you back to life. Renew your focus on, and appreciation of, the present.

As Seneca put it: “The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.”