While I’ve always been aware this phrase was giving people something significant to ponder, I didn’t know its history. It’s actually attributed to Confucius, the great Chinese philosopher.
In 1994, Jon Kabat-Zinn expanded on this idea in his book Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life. In essence, acknowledging our presence in the world at each moment is what mindfulness is all about. It’s also key to finding happiness and meaning in the human condition.
We can only remember the past. We may have to deal with consequences of previous experiences and decisions we’ve made, but we can’t change them. We can dream about and plan for the future, but we can’t live it today or even make it come about. All we really have is the present moment, so we need to learn to make the best of it. This is indeed where we are.
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Experiencing joy in the present is all about gaining awareness. What can I do in this moment? In essence, all that I really control are my thoughts, words and actions. I determine whether I’ll respond to the challenges I face, whether I’m grateful for these challenges, whether I’ll treat others with respect, whether I’ll treat myself with respect and whether I’ll live with integrity.
When I meet parents with young children, I often say to them: “Enjoy every moment. Every age is different and each is wonderful.” Yes, there are sleepless nights, dirty diapers, the challenges of balancing work and family life, and many worries. But each phase of a child’s life also becomes a beautiful memory. Nothing can take away the love and laughter we share with our children as they grow, and a happy memory really is a joy forever. Of course, this joy can continue as our children live their adult lives.
Not everything in life is easy, yet Christian scripture says, “be thankful in all circumstances” (1 Thessalonians 5:18). How can this be? How can we give thanks when we’re treated unjustly or when bad things happen?
There’s a big difference between being thankful in all circumstances and being thankful for all circumstances. An extreme example illustrates this point most clearly:
I’m sure that the great Viktor Frankl was not thankful that he suffered unimaginably inhumane treatment in Nazi concentration camps and that he lost many members of his family in these death factories.
In his classic Man’s Search for Meaning, however, Frankl recounts the importance of maintaining a thankful spirit in these circumstances. He talks about how he and his fellow prisoners cheered when they realized that the train they were on was taking them to a work camp and not to a death camp. This is but one example of the level of extreme gratitude that helped many people to survive when surrounded by suffering and death. They held a vision of a better future, yet lived in the moment.
“No matter where you go, there you are.”
As we take time to mindfully embrace this statement, whether it be through meditation, prayer or whatever means we choose, we discover the significance of the now.
By living lives of integrity, by doing our best despite our imperfections, we find a way to move forward.
This is the message of great teachers throughout the ages. We are significant, we are where we are at this moment, so rejoice and be glad this day.
Gerry Chidiac is an award-winning high school teacher specializing in languages, genocide studies and work with at-risk students.
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