To “live in the moment” has become trite advice in popular thinking, a kind of doublethink motivated by guilt, regret, or nostalgia. One looks back years and wonders why, at moments of imagined happiness, one did not devise methods of perpetuating the circumstances of that moment, of making them a permanent part of one’s life. What a trick that would have been!
But the effort would have been futile because we cannot craft the circumstances again, cannot freeze time. Saunter through the streets of an old home town, especially around the countryside, the farms, the factories, the railyards, the routes into the city’s heart, where everything was unloaded or disembarked, bought and sold. The ugliness one failed to notice in the bliss of youth is now glaring and repulsive. It is not that nothing good has survived but that consciousness tells us bluntly that it was always this way, always ugly.
Everything is part of a built-in evanescence, only we assign levels of solidity to our experiences and their settings. Age deteriorates the solidness, and shadows of fog and noise eat away at the structures of the past. Soon, like a rushing stream, time has carried away all the circumstances of a past moment we had painstakingly identified and assembled to our imagining. Or how could something be remembered favorably, yet gone away, while that which is dead or lifeless lives on wretchedly? Wretched memories, regrets, sorrows. All of this is clearly the stuff of art, which is a deliberate contrivance of memory, not reality. Hence the attraction of art, of art for its own sake since it cannot impact anything anymore.
We interpret the past from the content of the present. Our present adriftness is as misjudged as was the adriftness of the past. At least the past adriftness was ignorance, and it is well to remind oneself of that. But the present adriftness is but the consciousness of evanescence. And evanescence is but ignorance of a future reminiscence, something no yet occurred.
The trite advice of living in the present bites us. The present is the ignorant accumulation of past circumstances, or, rather, the effect and result of circumstances now gone, causes no longer here, but their effects lingering, seeping into the fabric of time and rending it slowly, inexorably. The only moment in which one can live does not remain; it is quickly scattered, just as the past on which we seize has been scattered but our distorted memory of it remains.
The present is but the present for a moment. In another moment, and then another, the present is gone. Like a candle’s flame, the light is destined to extinguish itself, destined to soon be the past. Memory, even nostalgia, lingers for a reason — because it is all that we can pretend to control, because we still need the light of the candle. As soon as we realize that we will lose that light shortly, panicking, one jumps into that rarefied shell of the mind that is memory, clinging there against the present. For that present, if it can be perpetuated, made to be free of content, insult, bad thoughts, memories, sounds — we understand it at once to be the only moment in which one can live.