Life is full of moments, some very precious and others that we would rather forget. So, what is this thing we call a moment and how can we make the most of the ones we have?
In medieval times a moment of time started with the moving shadow cast on a sundial. The time between sunrise and sunset was divided by twelve hours. As the hours of daylight changed with the seasons, the length of an hour was variable. Each hour was split into forty momenta, or moments, which were around ninety seconds each in modern currency.
A moment is a useful conceptual abstraction that we use to make sense of our experience. Like the moving shadow on the sundial, what actually happens is a continual flow of the present moment. Like all living organisms, humans are subject to the passing of time. If we imagine standing in a stream facing the oncoming current, we exist in the unfolding present, which flows behind us into the recent past and future moments are moving towards us in the distance.
Mindfulness can be defined as “working skilfully with present-moment experience”, so being present is an important part of the practice. In formal practice we often focus our attention and awareness on the breath and body, as they are only ever in the present moment. Anyone who has practised this kind of meditation cannot fail to be astonished by how difficult it is to simply rest attention on the breath. Instead, our attention is easily switched away by the mind, often into thoughts about the past, or an imagined future.
A related thing that’s also astonishing is how easily we forget that it’s always now. If for almost half of our waking lives we drift off in thought about the future or past, away from the present moment, what percentage of our life have we actually been there to experience? Arguably, we’re only awake and alive when consciously and directly experiencing what life has to offer in the moment.