As everyone embarks upon the journey of the new year, special resolutions about how to be better people abound. The focus of most New Year's resolutions usually is becoming happier and healthier in one way or another. The quest for deep peace and contentment in life tugs at us at this time of year, inviting us to consider what will bring us true happiness.
While the presents have all been opened, and the decorations neatly packaged and stored for next Christmas, life as usual has returned. The bright lights of the season have now dimmed, but the human spirit still longs for the true light, which is Jesus himself.
Throughout history, the great spiritual teachers of the Church have shared a piece of wisdom that can be helpful in fulfilling our resolutions and growing in our faith as we seek the Lord Jesus in this New Year. The secret of happiness that many have found is being present to the present moment. In this complex and highly technical world, this is more difficult than it has ever been at any other time in history. Rather than maintaining a strong focus on the task at hand, multitasking is a way of life. Voices we don't know constantly clamor for our attention, and we are pulled in many directions. Recently, a deacon from the Diocese of Buffalo wrote that what is happening to us is that we are present to what is absent, and absent to what is present as we are glued to devices and social media.
To be present means more than simply being in attendance, being here. The invitation to growth in the spiritual life calls us to be attentive to now, to this moment in time and no other. The spiritual masters of the past tell us that the only moment where we can experience God is here and now in the present. No matter how trivial some of our activities might seem, God is moving in our lives in the present.
A good share of time for most people is spent living in the future or the past. Attached to our devices, our focus shifts to what is remote, and we are deprived of the present. Devices may alert us to plans being made and when things don't turn out as we expect, of course, we are disappointed. Sometimes we can be so consumed with expectations, either positive or negative, that the present moment escapes us.
In contrast, when we live in the past, we review events that already happened, for better or worse, trying to make sense of them and explain them in our own terms. Living in the past, through our thoughts and conversations with others, frequently encourages regret, feeds sorrow and takes us away from what is happening right now.
Simply put, being present is having the awareness of what is happening in the moment, and it is about what our senses can take in right now. A famous proverb says, "Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery, today is the present, and that is why it is a gift." Perhaps the great gift we can give ourselves and others this year is to truly be present. Our presence is a present which will lead us to happier, healthier living.