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Can Christmas Teach Us to Live in the Now?

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There's a tendency in some of us to remember our own past in a sweeter, more sentimental light, to romanticize our childhoods, summer holidays, even last year or last week!

Of course, it's better to look fondly on our own past than look back ruefully (and, indeed, many of us have regrets and painful memories too). But, sometimes, this means that we spend too much time dwelling in the past. Living in the past is like looking at those sepia-toned photographs. Everything looks soft and blurry, warm and inviting.

"Pick the day. Enjoy it -- to the hilt. The day as it comes. People as they come... The past, I think, has helped me appreciate the present -- and I don't want to spoil any of it by fretting about the future." -- Audrey Hepburn

Although I don't think of myself as a person who lives in the past, there are times when I think we all "go there," finding ourselves in confusing times, we long for what looks in hindsight like a simpler time. But my own personal tendency is to live for the future, casting my mind forward in time.

And I think living in the future is a much more common occupation. It's also one that's encouraged a lot more in the movies and books and magazines we all consume. Our "makeover" culture is based on an idea that in the future we'll be a better, more fulfilled version of ourselves.

It's a compelling fairytale kind of idea, one engrained in us since we first read that story about that ugly duckling emerge into a swan; the idea that in the future things will be better, we'll emerge into a better more fully-formed reality. But casting all your hopes and dreams to an idealized future, denies you the simple pleasure of living in the now.

"Learn from the past, look to the future, but live in the present." -- Petra Nemcova

Of course, it's important to honour your past, to recognize that has made you who you are and to reflect upon it. And it's likewise important to think about where you want to go, to strive for something. As I like to see it, "to be your own director, write your own script."

But dwelling too much in the past or the future creates a fragmented sort of existence, opening up a gap between the reality of your days and your memories or hopes. It can get in the way of you appreciating the people in your life now and even your own achievements because you're constantly focused on what's next instead of what's now.

As a person who identifies with being ambitious and forward-thinking and working in an industry that's always focused on what's next, I have to admit that I often struggle to live in the present. And yet I recognize the importance of living in the present for being happy. It's not that I think that I have to give up thinking about the future, but I do want to make sure I'm experiencing the joy of being wholly present every single day. This is my little pre-New Year resolution.

The Christmas season is a time when our focus narrows to a shorter time-frame. Right now, we're all preparing for what happens between now and December 31. We're permitting ourselves to indulge, to delight, to treat each other, to revel in the lights and evergreen scent, the food and family. We put off thinking about things that will fall in the new calendar year. It suddenly seems far away... there's a whole four weeks full to the brim between now and then.

And, in this way, maybe Christmas is a good time to practice living more in the present, being fully there at those gatherings of family and friends. Slowing down to take stock of a year and feel fully where you are now, and to think of it (just temporarily) as a place of arrival, a base-camp before the ascent into the new year.

And I'm hoping if I can practice this for the next four weeks that I can carry that same spirit forward with me into the new year. Not that I won't simultaneously strive forward into the future and also, occasionally, reflect on the past. But that there will be moments in each and every day when I'm fully present, grateful and happy with my present tense.

How do you keep one (or both!) feet grounded in the present? I'd love to know!

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