“As soon as you honor the present moment, all unhappiness and struggle dissolve, and life begins to flow with joy and ease. When you act out the present-moment awareness, whatever you do becomes imbued with a sense of quality, care, and love—even the most simple action.” ~Eckhart Tolle
People have always told me to stay in the present and make every moment count. I nod my head, manage to stay present for about an hour, and then alternate between living in the past and the future.
It can be a struggle to stay in the now, especially when life seems better in the past.
I am at a huge crossroad in my life, which adds to the struggle of being fully present. Next year I will leave my hometown, where I’ve lived all my life, and move by myself to an unknown city.
It’s easy for me to get caught up worrying about the future. How am I going to support myself? What will my career path be? What If I never find someone to make a life with?
Even though my life is about to drastically change, I know now that I need to enjoy every moment and grasp it right when it’s happening.
Last summer an unexpected stranger taught me a valuable lesson about staying in the present and living to my fullest potential.
In June, I went to an intense music festival. I am a violist, and during this time, I traveled to upstate New York to meet with fellow musicians and spend eight hours each day practicing and rehearsing for upcoming concerts.
I was surrounded by thirty of the best string players in the in the country. It was an intense and nerve-wracking experience showing up the first day, not knowing what to expect and wondering how I was going to keep up.
When I arrived, I tentatively went through the lunch line. I handed my lunch card to a middle-aged worker and scanned the cafeteria anxiously. “Good Morning, Angela,” he said. “So nice to have you here.”
Bob handed back my card and smiled at me genuinely. His kindness jolted me into the present and warmed my heart. I felt lighter after that and continued my day feeling thankful.
I ate eighty-four meals at that cafeteria, and Bob always asked me how my day was going, listened, and offered thoughtful responses, even though there were people behind me,
In three days, he knew every camper’s name, and he even remembered the names of campers that had come years before.
He wasn’t a huge part of my life, but Bob is one of my biggest role models. He didn’t have the most glamorous job, but he always showed up with a smile on his face and was never rude or impatient. He made every day a little brighter for us.
I wondered why Bob wasn’t doing a grander job. It seemed like he would excel at public relations or maybe even sales. My friends later informed me that Bob used to be a professor at the university, but was forced to resign after acquiring an unfortunate illness and started to work in the cafeteria.
Life doesn’t always work out how you think it’s going to turn out. I’m sure Bob never thought that after earning a PhD, he’d work in a cafeteria setting, but what inspired me was the fact that he didn’t let his circumstances derail him.
Bob fully committed to his job and made many people’s day better at breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
It amazed me that Bob always seemed to intently listen to my response about my day.
I’ve recognized that I always want to sound like the smartest person in the room. Instead of actively listening to people and giving them the full attention they deserve, I think about next intelligent thing I can say.
Now, I try to actively listen to people and fully give them my attention. I have found active listening to a wonderful tool for staying in the present.
Since last summer, I strive to enjoy every little moment. I live intensely in the present and try to not worry about the past or future. I think we could all stand to do that more. Enjoy your morning tea. Cherish laughing with your friends. Notice the scenery while driving to school.
Also, remember that while that you may have a “boring” job, you can affect people in a positive way if you try to make the best of it. Bob changed my life and he doesn’t even know much about me besides my name and camp experience. That’s power right there.
The most important lesson Bob taught me about staying in the present is that happiness is a choice. You can be in any life situation, but it’s your decision if you want to be happy. Happiness isn’t defined by an external event but rather an internal attitude.
So yeah, I don’t know where I am going to live in a year, who I am going to meet, and what I will be doing. You know what I do know? I know that I will make every moment count and live it to the fullest.
I will appreciate everything and see the light, because even if you are scanning teenager cafeteria cards all summer, you can still have a smile on your face.
Couple talking image via Shutterstock