As Jedi we recognise that the universe is causal in nature. We understand that actions have consequences, and that this extend both behind us into our past, and in front of us into the future. Yet we strive always to live in the present; we understand that all of our power to act lies within a single moment: the present.

As humans we are prone to emphasise the importance of both the past and the future. Some believe the past defines and creates us, and many people live lives without responsibility under the guise of their history. “You don’t know me so you can’t judge me” or “If you knew where I’d come from you wouldn’t think this was such a big deal” and similar sentiments are expressed regularly in our culture. Similarly, people like to justify their actions by appeals to the future; “I have to do something I don’t agree with, but it’s really going to open doors for me!” is not an uncommon sentiment to hear expressed. But both of these modes of thought have serious limitations.

If we only ever live in the past, we carry our regrets and hurt into every situation, obsessing over things which have gone and which we now have no power to change. We are blind to opportunity and have the mental equivalent of short-sightedness, rarely seeing beyond the end of our nose and making all our decisions based on what we already know rather than taking risks to make positive change. Conversely, if we’re only ever focused on the future we ignore what we should have learned in the past and spend our whole life trying to live in imagined futures, obsessing over things which haven’t happened and which we have no current power to change, beyond the odd nudge here and there. We are ignorant to the mistakes we’ve made, doomed to repeat them. This is the mental equivalent of long-sightedness, being able to see a hundred things far away and never being able to truly grasp them when they get close.

The underlying problem of both these approaches, then, is that if we only ever live either behind or ahead of ourselves, we can’t appreciate the present. The present contains elements of both our past and future; we bring wisdom from our past, we take action to move into our future, and we work only on what we have the power to change (or not, as the case may be). The present is a wonderful, powerful gift when we learn to find it, because in the present we realise the extent of our potential. When we’re focused on our past or our future we fall into thinking patterns like “I can’t do this, I tried before and failed”, or “I won’t be able to get everything together to do this!”. Doubt, fear and poor self-belief have no power when we learn to truly live in the present; they rely on us being hung up on either the past of future. I believe that finding the moment is the truest comfort, the truest pleasure any of us can ever experience.

So the question is how do we “reach out into the present”? How do we “take off” the past, and “untether” the future? Well, there’s a number of ways. But the underlying sensation of this is the same for all of them; we allow the present moment to absorb us. We become “one” with our actions, or the actions we’re observing. For example, I might be washing the dishes. My mind will often wander to what I’ll do when I’m finished, or something which happened earlier in the day. I find I’m viewing the present task as a “chore” when I engage with it this way, and I can’t wait to finish it so I can “get back to” something else.

The problem is, when I’m onto that other thing I feel exactly the same – I want to see or do something else and I’m never quite “present”. If, however, I make a conscious decision to engage with the present moment, to feel the heat of the water on my hands, the sensation of the scrubbing brush, the smooth sensation of the plates and cups, the sound as they chink together and rattle into the drying rack… the smell of the apple washing up liquid… even the feeling of my breathing, the sensation of my tongue resting against my palate, and my feet moving on the (increasingly wet) kitchen tiles… if I can engage with all these things, I really “lose myself” in the present. I enjoy the satisfaction of completing a task to a high standard, and I also enjoy a clean and tidy kitchen.

There are many other ways to achieve this oneness with the present; meditation is a big one, as we are essentially exercising our capacity to be mindful when we meditate, in the same way we exercise our bodies by going for a run. Coincidentally certain types of physical activity are designed to make us “fully present” and lose ourselves inside the moment; yoga, tai chi and many martial arts emphasise the total absorption in a specific activity which allows us to “switch off” the unhelpful and irrelevant thoughts which ordinarily plague us. I describe this as “reaching out” rather than any other term because it is a gradual thing. We can’t suddenly become masters and we must practice. As I said, our ability to attune ourselves to the present moment is like a muscle to be exercised to peak fitness. Thus we take small steps to the ultimate goal of complete awareness of the moment – and as we continue to change and learn new things, we must again exercise ourselves to integrate the new element into our unconscious capacity to perform it without unhelpful thought.

The sensation of the moment is the equivalent to losing oneself in a good book, a great movie, or maybe watching a band play your favourite song. You begin by “drinking in” the sensation, whatever the sensation may be, and eventually you realise you’re drifting in an ocean of it. You lose track of the messy and complicated “self” which regrets the past and frets about the future. You find “flow”, a familiar concept to most of us. Time becomes meaningless and when leaving the state, you may realise your subjective experience of time either slowed down or sped up, often to an alarming degree. You reach Zen; you become one with the living Force. I think this is something we can do in any and every productive part of life, and the more I see and learn, the more convinced I become it is essential we actually do so.

Does this focus on the present mean we can never learn from our past? Not at all. We do not abandon wisdom for the sake of an ideal, otherwise what’s to stop us sacrificing that ideal as well? We do good work in our lives which makes us wiser people and that wisdom is worth holding onto, but wisdom is distinct from preconception. We equip ourselves with the values which work in allowing us to remain in the moment. We dispose of the hurt and regret which makes us bitter, but we keep the love which makes us strong and whole people. Similarly, does it mean we can never plan for our future? Again, there is a big difference between setting up a plan for the minutes, days or years to come, and living our lives fearful of the tiniest details which we cannot possibly predict. We once again cultivate wisdom; this frees us from unthinking action born in fear, and increases our capacity to focus on what’s really important for our future: what we can do right now. It enables us to “seize the moment” rather than squander it in trying to pre-live a thousand possibilities, only one of which will come to pass.

It seems strange to have to think our way back to the point of valuing the present, especially given how positive an experience it is. We perceive the present as a narrow sliver between limitless past and limitless future, vast roads stretching in front and behind us. But the truth is we only ever experience the present moment. What we think of as “remembering the past” is happening now, and so is “planning the future”. You have one moment, only one moment. Everything else is conceptual. Learning to live in harmony with the moment makes us not only better Jedi, but stronger and happier people. I choose to act now, not in some perceived past or future. And with that, I choose to stop.

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