Living in the moment – Animalism or saintliness?

I was recently sent an article written by Mukul Sharma questioning the wisdom of living in the moment. The article says

Economic Times
24 July, 2010

What’s so great about living for the day? Or for that matter, its various high-speed variants that urge us to exist in the here and now, the passing
present, that urgent, ephemeral and apparently most-important ‘moment’ ? Stuff like “For the past is but a shadow and the future an unknown; therefore, voyager revel in the instant you transit through for ’tis the only thing you know” . (Yes, it’s made up, but you get the drift.)

The Bible says give us this day our daily bread — and not, for instance, our week’s supply. Buddhists tell us to take one breath at a time. The Gita’s advice is to concentrate on present action.

Alcoholics Anonymous, whose rules are similar — namely, to lay off the liquor only on a day-to-day basis — is at least understandable . Psychologists know there’s a neat therapeutic trick of reinforcement involved by means of which a person can reward himself with one brownie point on completion of each 24-hour period that passes without downing a drink.

Yet, when that same rule gets applied to everyone across all levels of living, it hardly makes sense. If all of us did that — which naturally would be the goal of such an exhortation — and took it literally, then we’d end up in monasteries, mountain-tops or in our own reclusive and absolute worlds.

There’s nothing intrinsically wrong in that, but if taken to its logical extreme, it would be like how most animals live: not for the day, not for the minute, not even for the moment because their lives are a mindless and biotic persistence that keeps traversing through infinitely thin slices of time till that fleeting instant also passes through them and they die.

So, if living one day at a time means don’t think about tomorrow or the next day and just live the now, it’s a no-brainer . Because unlike animals, we have an awareness that allows us to learn from past mistakes and anticipate possible futures and, therefore , why should we unnecessarily and suddenly renounce this added feature of our brains?

Also, what if all the enlightened people in our history had thought they should be living in the moment and not tomorrow, not next year; that they should be enjoying life today? If they had simply allowed their wisdom to lie fallow while wallowing in its bliss by themselves, would we have had some of our greatest religions today? No. It goes without saying they definitely lived for another day.

Mukhul Sharma

I have to disagree with Mr. Sharma.

It’s a matter of how one interprets “live in the moment”. Living in the moment does not mean that one does nothing. I would be curious to know which religion, which philosophy, and which saint ever said that. The Gita clearly says that to act is a must, there is no choice. But act now without getting hung up on the results in the future – that is living in the moment. To plan for the future, but not get overly attached to your plan, that is living in the moment. To think of the future as necessary, but not unduly worry about it, that is living in the moment.

I wonder if Mr. Sharma has truly studied the lives of the saints. All the great saints – Ramakrishna, Ramana Maharishi, Kabir, Guru Nanak, Adi Shankaracharya – all lived ( and acted) in the moment.

I’ll speak from personal experience. In May, the uncertainty in every aspect of my future – be it job, my potential move to India, my property issues, the work pending in India, my relationships, my work here in the US- weighed down heavy on me. I got so overloaded that my immunity came down and I had a relapse of Malaria. During my severe fever and in the days of bed rest later, I realized that I had forgotten to practice that simple lesson- live in the moment, do your best in the moment, leave the future to the divine hand, to the river of life.

Now I am doing so again, and a large part of the stress is gone. I am recovering. And things are working out beautifully, by God’s grace.

How do I live in the moment? Any time i start having negative thoughts about what might look like an insurmountable future, I ask myself if there is anything wrong at this present moment. It’s very hard for me to find something wrong. The past is over. It cannot be changed, so no point dwelling on it.

From my perspective, living in the moment removes worries and troubles. And by doing so, I don’t feel like an animal. Not every quality of an animal is inferior. There are things we can learn from them. Nor do I feel like my progress has stopped.

It is a waste of time and mind to wrestle with such things beyond a point. I just make sure I understand it, try it for myself. If it works, I keep it.

Living in the moment is a keeper.

A disciple once asked Swami Vivekanada
“it would be better for me to come back to this life again and again and help the causes that are of interest tome rather than striving for personal salvation and deep longing to get out of life. ”
Swami Vivekananda replied ” That’s because you cannot ovecome the idea of progress. But things do not get better; they remain as they are. We grow better by the changes we make in them.”

It’s a very useful thing to understand. As in Einstein’s theory of relativity, or as we sometimes think the sun moves in the sky, the outer world does not move. It is we who are moving, constantly, ceaselessly. And when we understand this, we also realize that living in the moment cannot be static. It is impossible.

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