Recently while reading a bedtime story to my five-year old son Muhammad, a realization came to me that changed the way I look at life.
A few pages into the book, I found my mind wandering aimlessly—thinking about my responsibilities and tasks for the following day. I began to make a to-do list of tasks and assignments in my head and found some anxiety starting to creep in while thinking of them.
Before I knew it, I had no idea what I was reading—and Muhammad, too, who usually relishes story time, could sense that something was a little off this evening. I felt embarrassed when he asked me a simple question pertaining to the story I could not answer. I suddenly realized that preoccupation with the future was preventing me from enjoying this precious moment with my child.
Spiritual teacher and author of best-selling book, “The Power of Now,” Eckhart Tolle once famously said, “Most humans are never fully present in the now, because unconsciously they believe that the next moment must be more important than this one. But then you miss your whole life, which is never not now.”
A study conducted by psychologists at Harvard University found that people spend 46.9 percent of their waking hours thinking about something other than what they are doing. This leads to feelings of unhappiness.
One of the reasons that depression and anxiety are so prevalent today is most of us tend to live our lives in our minds, preoccupied with our thoughts about the past or future. Ruminating about negative events of the past invariably leads to sadness and depression—while constantly thinking about the future leads to stress and anxiety. If we realize, however, that the present moment is all there ever is, and all there ever will be, then we can begin to bring more joy and tranquility into our lives.
Constantly obsessing over our losses and the hardships we have faced in life can easily turn into ingratitude to God Almighty, because it blinds us to the blessings we have been given presently.
This reminds me of a quotation from “The Timekeeper,” by Mitch Albom: “We all yearn for what we have lost. But sometimes we forget what we have.”
In reality each one of us is drowning in the blessings of God. We just need to look around ourselves right now to realize how much we have been given.
Allah says in the Quran (16:17-19):
“And if you should try and count the blessings of God (Allah), you could not enumerate them. Indeed God (Allah) is Forgiving and Merciful.”
Similarly, a tendency to worry too much about the future leads to an increase in anxiety while decreasing one’s reliance and trust in God. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) related to us that God (Allah) said, “I am as my servant thinks of me,” meaning a person shall receive from God according to their expectations of Him. Therefore we should always give our best effort in everything we do, but ultimately surrender to God’s plan and be pleased with it.
How many times have we engaged in a conversation with someone and planned in our mind what we were going to say next rather than actually listening to them? How many of us text or play around with our phones while conversing with someone?
I challenge myself and others to be fully present in every moment, and especially in our interaction with friends and family. Put away your electronic devices and have real conversations with real people.
I recently took my children on a hike to witness the sun setting at Blackrock summit in the Shenandoah National Park. After taking a few pictures I decided to put my smartphone away and be fully present in that moment with them. It ended up being one of the most awe-inspiring, breathtaking sunsets I had ever seen.