Our conscious awareness of the present moment is, in some relevant sense, already a memory. But as a matter of conscious experience, the reality of your life is always now. And I think this is a liberating truth about the nature of the human mind. In fact, I think there's probably nothing more important to understand about your mind than that, if you want to be happy in this world. The past is a memory. It's a thought arising in the present. The future is merely anticipated; it is another thought arising now. What we truly have is this moment. And this. And this. And we spend most of our lives forgetting this truth, repudiating it, fleeing it, overlooking it; and the horror is that we succeed. We manage to never really connect with the present moment and find fulfillment there because we are continually hoping to become happy in the future, and the future never arrives. Even when we think we're in the present moment, we're in very subtle ways always looking over its shoulder, anticipating what's coming next. We're always solving a problem, and it's possible to simply drop your problem, if only for a moment, and enjoy whatever is true of your life in the present. This is not a matter of new information, or more information. It requires a change in attitude. It requires a change in the attentiveness you pay to your experience in the present moment.
-Sam Harris, Death and the Present Moment
2013 has not been a happy year, for myself, and many people I know. Personally, I'm still dwelling on a moment that happened in September of 2012. Other unfortunate things have arisen in my life since then, too. In all of this, I do not live in the present moment. I am still trapped in that 2012 moment, which was little more than reading some words on a computer screen that I did not want to see, but changed my circumstances entirely. I won't share what they were; it's a personal matter. But my life has been less fulfilling since.
I know this seems contradictory in light of my It Gets Better video, and I assure you, it's really not. Good and bad times, things, and circumstances come and go as you live. Like lines on a graph. If you look at 5 points on a line and they show a down trend, but you zoom out to see 50 points, and you notice the whole line is actually in an up trend, you can't say things are wholly worse. Just not as good as they had been, and can be again.
And It Gets Better is certainly not about living in the moment. It's an active campaign meant to highlight not living in the present. Looking to the future. If your graph is showing a line dragging on the bottom, stare at that point on the x axis where you know you can make a change in the y axis, and keep your thoughts there.
But Sam Harris is right. Whether it's constructive, or destructive, living in the future or the past at all times is horrifying, examined objectively. If you live in the past, you ignore the future, and no matter how good awareness of your present moment is, one of humanity's strengths is planning and anticipation. Everyone needs it to some degree, from something as basic as a shopping list, to something as complex as moving your family to a new home.
If you are always worried about the future, you place no value on the past experiences you've already had, aside from using them as a tool to anticipate more.
If you do either of these, you ignore the present moment and everything that comes with it: opportunity, pleasure, contemplation, joy, acquisition of new knowledge, or simply, experience.
The present moment deserves to be experienced. In light of an uncertain future, and a potentially unpleasant past (if you're an out gay atheist, you're probably not on the best of terms with everyone, no matter how smooth your coming out was), and ultimately a finite life, the present moment is the best moment you have. Use it.