It was 4am on a Friday morning and my week had not been a good one.
The local theatre where I had been volunteering as a technician for the last 20 years had previously announced that they were in trouble financially, and two days earlier with no warning they announced they would not be opening the next day.
Productions that we had been working on were cancelled. Several schools, full of kids who had been rehearsing for months were left with nowhere to perform and other production companies that we support had lost significant sums of money and were facing closure.
We were given limited time to remove any equipment that belonged to us from the building and the rush to get it all moved out had ended just hours earlier.
Then there was the decision. Throughout the run up to the vote on Brexit I had been a passionate supporter for remaining, and had been under the impression that the majority of the country was with us, but as I woke at 4am and glanced at the news on my phone my heart sank.
I felt like I had been knocked down and trodden on until my will to get back up had all but left. I was the lowest place I had been for quite some time.
I made my way down the stairs and seeing the early morning sun outside went out into the garden. Then something magic happened as I stepped outside, the morning air hit me and it felt like all my problems disappeared.
Was there something in the morning air?
Yes, the present.
A place where only the positive exists
There is a lot of talk about the present in the worlds of mindfulness, stress reduction and personal development. Being present means being aware of what's around you but also being in the now.
You see unless you are in any sort of physical discomfort, then any sort of negativity you perceive to currently be present in your life can only be in your ideas about the future or past. Think about it.
Your worries, fears and anxiety are all about the future. Your anger and regrets live in the past. The present can only be negative if either we are currently in some sort of physical pain, or if we feel an uncomfortable feeling as a result of our focus on the past or future.
Now of course physical pain we can't always avoid, although in many cases this is exaggerated by our thinking. However, the feelings we get as the result of our thoughts will only persist as long as the thought does, and we choose what we think.
In fact, as the current moment is the only one we ever experience first hand, it's a wonder that we ever feel any negativity at all. Our ability to do this resides entirely in our unique ability to represent fictional futures or past experiences in our minds, and then react emotionally as if they were real.
Now I understand you may have some questions here:
Isn't it important to pay attention to the future and past though?
What's this about it being 'fictional'?
The fictional truth
Of course there is value in learning from our past, and in planning for the future, but that is all that focusing on either has to offer.
Did you know that your perceived future and past are fictitious anyway?
I was recently listening in on a mentoring call with Michael Neill when he said:
The future is an incomplete equation, because we can never take into account our thinking in the moment.
We are rubbish at predicting the future. When have you ever imagined the future and had things turn out 100% as you imagined? Never, it doesn't happen. Not least because new thoughts are coming our way all the time, and our thoughts and actions will be defined in no small part by thoughts that we have at the time.
Thoughts which we simply cannot predict in advance. Ideas which are completely new play their part and direct our futures onto a path we never knew existed.
What about our past though. That isn't fiction. We know, we were there and can remember it. That must be true, right?
Well not really.
First of all our conscious minds can only process less than 1% of the information received by our senses, so we only experience a small part of any one moment, but also because memories degrade. It doesn't matter how old or young you are, every time you visit a memory it changes a little, it moves a little further away from truth and towards fiction. Time also plays it's part. With every new day that comes the memories of those that went before degrade.
So you see in reality both the future and past are works of fiction, the only reality is now.
How to be present
So if there is no advantage to living in the thought of our future worries or past regrets, and experiencing the negative feelings that follow, then the only smart move is to focus on the present, but how?
The good news here is that being present is really easy. It all comes down to one basic action. Use your senses.
For more detail on what this involves, and for a look at a second powerful tool for escaping a spiral of negative thinking take a look at Two escape lanes from negative thinking in the Evolve section of this website.
It's impossible for the past or future to haunt you when you are truly present. Along with gratitude this is the quickest way out of negativity. Just as that morning air snapped me out of mine.
This is the best day of your life because it's the one you get to experience right now.