One of the songs on James Taylor’s first album of original material in thirteen years contains the following lyric:
Thin, thin, the moment is thin,
ever so narrow the now.
Everybody say got to live in today,
don’t nobody know how.
This got me thinking: If our goal is to live more in the moment, how do we do it?
Suppose someone asked a golf coach, “How do I swing a golf club?” The coach would probably say something like, “Well, first we need to back up a bit before the swing. We need to assess the ball’s position because in this game we play the ball where it lies. Then we need to imagine the shot we want, then choose the appropriate club, then address the ball correctly with proper posture, then grip the club in just the way we want for this shot. Only then do we swing the club.”
If our question is “How do I live more often in the moment?” perhaps we need to back up too. Before we can live in the moment, we must first be aware of the moment. Being aware of the moment, we must accept the moment as it comes to us (just as the golfer plays the ball where it lies). Accepting the moment as it is, we are free to engage the moment mindfully without judgment of it or over-conditioned reactivity to it.
When we think of living in the moment as the third step in the sequence of awareness, acceptance, and engagement, we realize that living more often in the moment requires some daily practice primarily on the first two steps. That’s because engagement follows awareness and acceptance as naturally as evening follows morning and afternoon.
How do we get better at awareness and acceptance? The same way we get better at anything else we want to improve: practice. Mindfulness practice comes in many varieties, but they all involve awareness of the present moment with acceptance (without judgment of it as good or bad). A good place to start learning more about mindfulness practice is the work of Jon Kabat-Zinn, who more than any other person is responsible for the explosion of research interest—over 3400 published studies in the past twenty years—on this practice.
If anyone reading this knows James Taylor and Jon Kabat-Zinn personally, maybe you can send the songwriter the meditator’s contact information!