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How to live in the present

A woman sat meditating in front of a scenic lake and mountain, with her backpack to one side with a sun hat on top
Neil Da Costs
By Neil Da Costa, Senior Tax Lecturer Link to Neil Da Costa's LinkedIn profile

Neil Da Costa is a Kaplan Tax lecturer and author of Advanced Tax Condensed who tries to keep things simple. Passionate about mental wellness, he shares the benefits of living in the present.

Learning to live in the moment

One sunny day, a Zen master was walking through the jungle when he came across a ferocious tiger. Whilst backing away, he realised he was trapped against a steep cliff and in desperation, he climbed down a vine and swayed over the precipice.

Suddenly, two mice began to nibble on the vine. The Zen master realised that if he climbed back up, the snarling tiger would kill him, yet if he stayed on the vine, he would soon fall into the abyss below.

He noticed a plump wild strawberry growing on the cliff’s edge and swung towards it before plucking it. As the vine gave way, his words were ‘This lovely strawberry. How sweet it tastes’.

This ancient parable teaches us that we control our thoughts and what we want to focus on. The tiger represents the past while the abyss symbolises the future. Instead of worrying about things he could not control, the Zen master lived in the moment and savoured the pleasure of the strawberry.

Living in the present moment is a skill we all should learn.

When you learn to live in the moment, you are able to savour the tenderness and beauty of the world around you. You can enjoy simple pleasures like the warmth of the sun on your face or the wind blowing through your hair. A walk through the park noticing the birds and butterflies can be a magical experience.

The futility of worrying

As an accountant and a finance professional, you are usually task driven and as long as you are focused on working on a set of accounts, month-end, an audit, or a client report, it is easy to lose yourself.

However, after work is when the worries and concerns usually come flooding in. Concerns about the family finances, the children, your partner can lead to spending half the night tossing and turning.

The next day, you find yourself exhausted and ready to snap at the slightest offence. The reason for this is you are focusing on the past (the tiger) or the future (the abyss). The futility of this is obvious: you have no control over either of these events.

Furthermore, working from home and social distancing has recently made many of us feel isolated and cut off from the rest of humanity. It is important to accept the realisation that worrying about the future will not change it in the slightest way. Remember, 99% of our worries never come to pass.

Idolising the past

Regretting the past is also a waste of time and we have to learn to use our experiences to avoid making the same painful mistakes in the future.

One of my closest friends is a successful accountant and once a month, he meets up with the same group of school friends. They spend half the night trying to outdrink each other and invariably he spends the next two days desperately sick, trying to recover from the ordeal.

The next time his friends invite him out, he has forgotten about the pain and idealised the social experience so repeats the same pattern again.

We have the tendency to edit out the bad parts of our past experiences which makes us view the past as more enjoyable than it actually was. This is why so many of us reminisce about our childhood and going back to a simpler time when we did not have so many responsibilities.

Do not deny your past, just do not ruin the present by getting swept up in idle daydreams.

Implement these easy techniques

Learning to live in the present may sound easy, but as any Zen master will explain, it takes time and effort. Here are 3 simple techniques to start you on your journey.

Technique 1:

Spend 5 minutes every morning sitting down focusing on your breath.

When you focus on your breathing, your mind is brought back to the present. Say to yourself- ‘I am breathing in, I am breathing out’. This will stop you worrying and connect your mind to the present, as the flow of the breath is how your body interacts with the world.

Technique 2:

Keep a personal journal. At any time during the day, spend a few minutes writing down how you feel, what you plan on doing that day, what you are excited about or concerned with.

The act of physically writing down your thoughts will calm your mind and will help you live in the present. It will also help you get to know the most precious person in your life - yourself.

Technique 3:

Every day try and connect with nature for a few minutes - enjoy your morning coffee in your garden or take a walk observing the trees and the sky. Try and listen to the birds and the wind.

This will help you realise that we live in a beautiful world and by opening your mind to it, its treasures are yours to enjoy.

Not someday, but today, now, in this very moment.

If you enjoyed this blog, check out our other well-being blogs.

Neil Da Costa is a Kaplan Tax lecturer and author of Advanced Tax Condensed who is passionate about mental wellness and believes in inspiring people to achieve their full potential.