80 days until graduation. 7 days until my next midterm. 26 days until my thesis is to be completed. 17 days until I leave for Belize for spring break. And, you expect me to live in the moment.
“Live in the present” has always seemed to me as one of those cute, cultural maxims that people tend to say without meaning. To me, it has always felt like someone asking the impossible to be possible. Living in the present is more of a day-dreamer’s reality than the reality of being a type A college student who finds value in deadlines and time management. But then again, I walk into TJ Maxx or Target and one of those kitsch plaques that reads, “Live in the moment”. How am I the college student who has multiple important deadlines to meet daily, or the stay-at-home mom who has to remember the scheduling of her children, or the businessman who has to meet with clients on an air-tight schedule supposed to live in the present waking moment?
It is to Dietrich von Hildebrand that I pose this puzzle. Hildebrand finds this skill of living in the present of inestimable value. In my last blog post, I talked about the essential connection Hildebrand makes between beauty and happiness. Considering that this present moment is so foundational to our receptivity to beauty and experiencing beauty is a profound source of happiness, our key to happiness lies in the present moment itself. From my own personal experience, I have seen a few key habits that have given me the freedom to live in the moment, free from the anxiety of the future and any regret of the past.
1. Please, put down the iPhone
I sincerely love Apple products. They are efficient, trustworthy, and useful. But, it is when I start putting my iPhone between myself and beauty that I lose this fight. Instead of going to an art museum and pulling out your phone right away to snap a picture, why not allow the painting to speak to you first? In discussion on reverence, that is the virtue that allows man to experience values in and of themselves, Dietrich von Hildebrand says that there is a “necessary space for its [beauty] proper unfolding” (3). This space cannot be removed if we are to have this deep experience of the present moment. Rather, it must remain open. We have to stop putting our iPhones up to bridge the gap.
2. Be quiet.
Again and again Hildebrand speaks of a “contemplative attitude”. This is profoundly important and profoundly simple. By this, he simply means that we approach the object with itself with a detachment that allows us to be carried up into what is beyond and outside of ourselves (5). The object of beauty here does not become one of intellectual analysis but something that is enjoyed as a visage of the face of God Himself (6). Without this attitude, one will be consistently imprisoned in themselves and in no way free to live in the present.
3. Have a conversation. Enjoy a cup of coffee. Read a good book.
I know, I am asking you to do something for yourself and that might seem absolutely crazy in your fast-paced life where you have tons of tasks to complete, but please just do something for yourself. Having a conversation, enjoying the beverage of your choice, or engaging in your favorite leisure activity are times when only being in the present moment can you really enjoy what you’re doing. If I am drinking my morning coffee and having anxiety over the rest of my day, I am blind to the value of the coffee. If I am having a conversation with a friend and only thinking of the tasks that are unfinished and not the person, then I am going to miss out on experiencing the beauty of the person. This is certainly a skill but it really just has to be practiced. So, just give it a shot.
4. Make space for beauty.
In asking you to abandon yourself to the present, I am sure you feel the anxiety I felt when I first tried to do this. What if I miss my meeting because I’m not thinking? What if I forget my class times? This is why I started filling out a planner. It gave me a structure for my day that I could look at but did not have to constantly worry about which direction my next step needed to be taken in.
That being said, if I fill my days with busyness from waking to sleeping, then where am I going to have time and mental space to be open to beauty? Beauty may be everywhere, but if you want to experience this profound joy and value, then you must make space for it. There is truth in the daily beauty but to take a hiatus from everyday life and put oneself in a place of beauty can truly transform the daily. Taking the time to go to an art museum, going on a hike, or creating beauty can all be opportunities to soften one’s own heart to beauty.
5. Have discipline.
As much as I would like it to be, this way of living is not a quick one time and done kind of thing. To live in the present one must continually strive to this on not only a daily basis but hourly and even minute to minute. The key to any good habit one is hoping to cultivate is perseverance and this could not be more true here. This commitment to the present moment must be renewed in each and every present moment.
I realize you may be thinking this is an impossible task set before you. As someone who also once thought it was impossible, I assure you this is entirely practical. It may be a slow re-awakening, but with discipline and an end goal it is entirely possible. Even as one engages on this journey, with every step there is a new depth of receptivity to beauty. There is a new “easiness” each time. Beauty becomes more perceptible. The present moment becomes more desirable. And, I promise you will be happier.
1) Image One.
2) Image Two.
3) Dietrich von Hildebrand, “The Art of Living", 7.
4) Image Three.
5) Dietrich von Hildebrand, “Aesthetics”, 383.
6) Ibid 384.
7) Image Four.
8) Image Five.
9) Image Six.