As the Sun careens through the universe like a runaway freight train, the Earth effortlessly dances its celestial orbit in unison. The annual finale of this cosmic tango provides a neat little signpost to the seven billion humans (and counting), each doing their own little dance across the globe, that a new year is here.
This observation and celebration of the passage of time can be through New Year’s, birthdays, anniversaries – any number of events. One thing is often the same: we always try to find a reason to dance. We always find a way to keep an eye on the galactic shuffle of the Earth. Without that, how would we know anything has happened at all?
The Universe is inconceivably large, but we conceive it to be about 93 billion light years in diameter (for now).1 For refence, a single light year is about six trillion miles.2 The moon is 238,9003 miles from Earth.4 Alpha Centauri, the closest star to Earth besides the Sun, is just over four light years away from Earth. Humanity would have go to the moon over twenty-five million times just to travel the equivalent distance of one light year. That alone feels maddening to comprehend. If only it were as easy as counting toothpicks.5
Within the ethereal enormity of the Universe, there are billions of galaxies (just like ours). Within those, there are even more solar systems (just like ours). And within each of those, there are somehow even more planets and celestial bodies (just like ours). But within all of it, there is, to our knowledge, only us.
Across the observable scope of existence and reality, only humanity on Earth has been granted an awareness of their existence (no disrespect to elephants and octopi). The most astounding fact of life might just be that humanity shares the same fundamental ingredients of life which exist across everything in the Universe. The atoms of the universe are the atoms within us. While we are in this universe, the universe is within us.6 Everything is connected like threads in an interstellar blanket.7
There’s a pervasive desire to live in the moment, but that’s tricky to do. When we go to remind ourselves to live in the moment, we actively pull ourselves out of the moment. This can create an insanity loop where our only present thought is explicitly reminding ourselves to be present, and then get angry we’re thinking about the present instead of just doing it. You know, those super fun intrusive thoughts. We neurotically cackle while polishing off another frosty and foggy golden pale ale while whispering to ourselves “we’re having fun, right? Yes, this is fun. This is what fun feels like. Let’s have fun!? We are having fun.” It encapsulates the madness of trying not to think of a pink elephant.8
If to enjoy the moment, we simply demand from ourselves that we do so, is that any better than Gob at The Bluth Company Christmas party? Everybody dance, now.9
Working to figure this out is worth it. Particularly to appreciate and enjoy the time with the people we love. After all, all that truly matters in life are relationships and events.10 Trying to brute force enjoying the moment will muddle the effort more, pushing you further away from joy and presence. As Alan Watts would say “it’s like trying to smooth rough water with a flat iron.” Monks don’t go around announcing how enlightened they are, do they? Of course not, that defeats the point.
Reframing the problem might put us on a better path.
Maybe a better solution is to take note of what good moments make us feel and use those examples as cues to remind us what matters. To remind us of a positive experience from a moment. When we catch a smirk or a giggle, a sense of comfort or joy, we can log a mental note of “oh yeah, that’s what this is about. That’s joy.” If we can continue to daisy chain those recognitions together, we can forget about the idea of being present because eventually we’ll stop cataloguing the feeling we’re trying to appreciate. It will instead become a signal of what we should appreciate and therefore the moments we can seek to create. It’s not like we need to be told how to enjoy a beer with our best friend, right? It just happens. We just need to show up. To make time for the relationship and the event.
Drinks with friends. A fun exchange with the local caffeine dealer. A hug from someone who cares. A scoop of ice cream. Enough of these post-experience recognitions, and we can recalibrate our sense of how to enjoy the moments. Of how to enjoy life. Because that’s what the live in the moment concept is for, right? A way to not let the past or future steal our current opportunities for joy. And like an old man slowly steeping into a piping hot bath, little by little, these moments of recognition will become more comfortable, more familiar, and can reshape the whole concept of “trying to be present” to just “being”. Or more importantly, being with the people you love and conducting the “events” which matter for the life you want to live. Maybe that’s gratitude. Or self-awareness. Or compassion. Probably all three.
The truly important piece of learning how to start to live in the moment (or as close to an understanding that I have found so far), is that it lets you appreciate the people you care for most. You not only appreciate your interactions with those people more, but you open yourself up further and further to more of those moments. To more moments of empathy and vulnerability. Of deep conversations. Of appreciation and support.
As the Earth continues its dance through the cosmos, we should keep finding our reasons to keep our own dance going. Stringing together moments which make sense to us; which are important to us. We are the only known life like us in existence. And for that existence (the existence), the most important things are relationships and events. To live in the moment, something seen as the essence of living a good life, is best appreciated as the mechanism to recognize, appreciate, and replicate joy among the people and activities which matter most to us. Which makes each orbit around the sound mean something. Which makes life worth living.
Distances like the one between us and our next nearest star feel insurmountable. The Universe feels unobservable and incomprehensibly vast. Oppressively so. It can make us feel small and pointless. Alone. And without appreciating the moments, this solitude can grow deeper and more intense. We become less like the stars and more like the void.
We are this Universe. And we can see this Universe. More importantly, we get to find people we love in this Universe. Who love us. And celebrating the moments – dancing along our own cosmic orbit – is worth it. It’s worth it to strengthen our bonds with the people we care for; to enrich our connections with other beacons of awareness, and to use a brighter perspective to redirect ourselves toward more meaningful actions.
Relationships and events.
2 – 5.88 trillion to be exact | https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Light-year
4 – There is no proof that the moon being made out of BBQ spare ribs would change the distance, but we would probably go there more often: Space, The Infinite Frontier
5 – How many planets? Let’s start with toothpicks: Bobs Burgers – How Many Toothpicks?
8 – Intrusive thoughts; https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ironic_process_theory
10 – Theory/statement shared by Carlo Rovelli in his book The Order of Time