The mantra “live in the moment” serves as a reminder that the past is unchangeable and the future uncontrollable. It’s the exhortation to savor time in its most immediate form because passing minutes can never be regained, and future hours are impossible to predict. Relishing each second is an appealing ideal but, for the majority of Stanford students, a definitively intangible state of mind. With the fast-paced quarter system, it seems like just as we gain our stride in one set of courses, we’re browsing Carta and shuffling units for the next. We bike at full speed from classes to practices to meetings and back to class, barely stopping to absorb all that whizzes by us.
“Living in the moment” means slowing down, taking a breath and allotting precious time to reflect, instead of always looking towards the future. When every moment is an opportunity to improve and excel, time spent doing nothing can feel like a waste. The pressure to progress constantly is undeniable. Slowing down can feel more like falling behind, whether the allegedly sacrificed progress is in terms of working on an assignment, improving a relationship or perfecting a skill. By definition, progress is moving forward from one moment to the next. It’s the antithesis of stillness. It’s the future, not the present. In a society obsessed with progress, how can you make time to slow down? How can you reflect on the present moment with the constant pressure to maximize our efficiency?
In one of my classes, I recently read “Walden” by Henry David Thoreau. To isolate himself from the blur of modern life, Thoreau retreated into the woods of Concord, Massachusetts, building a small home beside Walden Pond where he spent the next two years of his life in near solitude. Exasperated by the bustle of the city, Thoreau withdrew to nature where he could “find eternity in each moment.” Of course, this reaction is extreme and unrealistic for most, but the idea of making a space for quiet reflection remains a relevant solution to combat the constant hustle and the instinct to always look towards the future. Appreciating the present moment is not a waste of time but rather a valuable way to detach from constant pressures and contemplate your personal priorities.
People say that when you look back on your life, you’ll remember not where you ended up but the journey you experienced getting there. In other words, you’ll remember the small moments more than the collective big picture. So, despite the desire to progress and focus on the future, the present moment is truly the most valuable and timeless.
Contact Elizabeth Dunn at eldunn14 ‘at’ stanford.edu.