The Buddha’s advice is excellent when it comes to preventing distractions when you’re trying to give something your complete attention, like when you’re meditating. It’s original purpose however, has been misrepresented as a lifestyle. The thinking being that “living in the now” is the best way to reduce stress and anxiety caused by events occurring sometime in the past or in the future.
The problem is, trying to live life one moment at a time is an impossible illusion. Besides being nearly unattainable for non-super humans, it would require a purely reactionary existence. A life spent in the “here and now,” would also come with an inability to plan for the future, learn from mistakes, care about others, or participate in society.
On the other hand, every aspect of life exists in real-time. We are living beings with needs that go beyond one static moment to the next. Yes, you can be alive or not alive at any particular moment, but you can only live in real-time because every single thought you have requires the activity of multiple mental functions working in concert over a period of time.
In other words, Real-time, is the time span that exists beyond “right now” and allows us to function and exist. For example, real-time is the aspect of daily living where you remember to pick your kids up after school, share memories with an old friend over a coffee, and use new information to make better decisions to correct mistakes or move towards goals.
The easiest way to live in real-time and still reduce stress and anxiety is to break the habit of speculating. Living without speculating is to live without getting caught up in the fantasies of how past events could have unraveled differently, or how future events might play out.
Like I’ve said before, for most people, speculating is a habit of using guesses in place of missing facts. Like any other habit, it can be overcome with the awareness that it’s happening and a desire to change the behavior when you catch yourself doing it.
It can take years meditating to realize every mental distraction you encounter is caused by speculating, and much longer to understand how it also leads to stress, anxiety, and depression. But meditation will help you uncover the reasons instead of masking them by practicing avoidance with a “live in the now” mentality. Instead focus on living in real-time, where you can stop living in the past or in a fantasy future, while still allowing yourself to learn from mistakes, and prepare for the future.