Why Living In The Moment Is Overrated

Growing up, I kept a copy of ”Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” by my bedside (not too far from the “The Tao of Pooh,” a collection of poems by ee cummings, “The Catcher in the Rye” and “This is My God” for those of you keeping score).  I dabbled in psychedelics, listened hard to 60’s and 70’s folk-rock, wrote creative non-fiction for my high school newspaper and swam competitively. All of the above, I have come to understand, in the pursuit of deepening my experience of the “now.” I spent my earlier years as a B student of the present moment; never a Master, but a card-carrying and eager student.

A good part of my life’s practice today involves a commitment to being present. I teach my kids and my students about “leaning in” to their lives and “showing up, mind body and soul” even for the rough stuff. There’s not a day that passes where I don’t engage in some sort of active weaning process from a story or event in my past or a gentle coaxing away from the fragile edge of my future.

I love me a good, thick moment – and when I merit to be fully present for it – I am generally quite content to stay there until I’m needed elsewhere.

But over the years, I have discovered a dusty little secret that the live-in-the-now-ers seem to have omitted from their manifesto; a simple truth that the mindful among us can, and should, heed.

It’s as simple as this folks:

Some moments totally blow and aren’t worth the investment of our entire focus.

Really, they’re not.

Take parenting, for example. I can’t tell you how many family blogs I’ve read and tear-jerky IKEA videos I’ve seen in this last month alone that have encouraged me to be morepresent,” more “engaged”  or more “mindful” with my kids.

Well, guess what @MindfulMama? Sometimes my kids are annoying and I’d prefer to be mindful about something else. I choose to be present for moments that don’t involve a sonar-pitched kvetch about the color of a straw, or a request for more of something I don’t have to give, or that don’t involve words like “Mooooooommmmmmy, he put his stinky feet in my face on puuurrrrrpose.”

I think the whole concept of living in and engaging with every moment is way overrated and needs to be adapted to something a little more true to messy family-form. Like, instead of throwing around wildly hip (and gag reflex inducing) directives like “practice mindful parenting” and “choose to see good in everything,” I think we should consider slogans like these:

“Sure, live in the moment… if it’s a good one.”

Or,

“Choose to see good – unless it’s not actually good, in which case, you should really get on that.”

Or,

“Practice mindful neglect.”

Just for a few examples.

See, the truth seekers and the “lifers” among us will always strive for more presence in all areas of our lives. We’ll continue to milk as much meaning out of every moment that we can. That part isn’t going to change. I just think we need to be equally “mindful” about keeping it real and keeping a sense of humor and stop noticing the life out of every-single moment.

I don’t encourage my four-year-old to “stay in the moment” when she’s freaking out because I won’t let her wear (only) a tank top to school on a cold, rainy day. She’s welcome to complete her tantrum in her room and join us when she’s rational and moved past that particular moment.

When my teenage girls find themselves in that very specific sort of monthly pain, as so many women do, I do not encourage them to practice mindfulness alone… I offer to medicate that stuff; I keep the mood light, make sure there is enough Ben and Jerry’s in the freezer and do my best to bring them beyond the moment.

I think a lot of us parents need to learn how to be a little less involved in stuff. We need to know how to slip-out-the-back-Jack on the moments that won’t benefit from our attention. Like tantrums and hormonally charged mood swings – as long as there is no immediate physical danger, no one benefits if I climb into that moment with them. Not even a little bit.

It is possible to over-engage in too many moments, I see well-intentioned parents doing it all the time. When we are hyper-present for everything our kids say and do, we leave very little room for wonder, even less room for self-discovery and precious little space for true independence. Plus, I think too much attention makes all of us a little weird and less fun to be around.  We all need to learn how to just simply be. That means letting life do its thing with a basic trust that things are going to turn out the way they will whether or not we were “present” or actively engaged in every moment. Us Jews call this Divine Providence; and that’s something that we could all stand to lean into a bit more.

When all else fails, and you find yourself struggling to get the upper hand on yesterday, now or tomorrow, I recommend a tall, cool glass of something that makes you feel good inside. Because, sometimes getting your head on a little crooked is more right than having it on straight. The same way that stepping out of the “now” is often all you really need to show up exactly where you’re meant to be.