The most common manifestation of underlying mental problems is dissatisfaction with the present. This applies to almost everybody. How often do you actually live totally in the NOW? If you are honest with yourself, then you will admit that most of the time, no matter what is being done, you are dreaming or wishing for something else. When you walk to work in the morning you wish you were still in bed. When you are working you wish you were still on holidays and having great fun with friends. When you work in the garden you wish you were eating that wonderful tasty meal that you ate last weekend; and when you take your food you are thinking of the time that you went for a walk in the countryside or worrying about work problems and so on. Very rarely do people live in the present and totally concentrate on the activities in hand. For this reason people perform most actions in life half-heartedly and with very little efficiency and enthusiasm. How is it possible to work properly when the attention of the mind is elsewhere, when the mind is jumping from one thought to another like a wild monkey jumping from one branch to another in a tree?
Yet it is certain that everybody at one time or another has experienced periods, perhaps of short duration, when they were totally concentrated on one activity or something of deep absorbing interest. And if you retrospect, you will perhaps remember that those periods were times of great joy and happiness. Try to recall your past experiences and confirm this fact for yourself. Or you may have noticed when you do your yogic practices that you sometimes feel a wonderful sense of joy welling up from within you. This is particularly noticeable when you are mentally balanced and when you perform your practices with intense awareness. These experiences are so overwhelming that it is difficult to forget them. One of the reasons for this feeling of joy and happiness is the mere fact that for a short time you lived in the present. That is, during your most memorable yoga practices, you were absorbed in the practice at hand; you stopped obsessively dwelling on other unrelated thoughts. Your attention was on the now. It is the same when you were reading an interesting book, or totally absorbed yourself with an interesting but friendly discussion or involved with your stamp collection. It is living in the present that is important.
This living in the present is an essential part of yoga. Yet at the same time it cannot be developed. A person cannot say to himself: “From now on I am going to live in the present,” for within a few minutes he would be living in the past or future again. The reason for continual projection, living in the past or future, is mental disturbances. Therefore, the only really effective way to live more and more in the present is to empty the mind of its hidden problems. Merely being told of the importance of living in the present is not enough, for it can never be practised until mental problems are eliminated. When this is done then living in the present becomes spontaneous and no effort is required.