Gestalt Psychology

Here And Now

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Probably the most recognizable expression in Gestalt therapy is ‘Here and Now.’ Let’s discuss some of the philosophical and practical reasons why placing the emphasis on what is happening in your actual surroundings, at the moment it is happening, can help you live a fuller life. First we need to talk about the unique ability humans have to escape from the immediate situation. We are the mammals of time, to borrow an expression used by the existential psychologist Rollo May. We can project ourselves into the past, regretting mistakes or feeling nostalgia about a happier time, for example. We can conceptualize and discuss realities from thousands or even millions of years ago, like ancient Greek civilization or the creation of the universe.

We can project ourselves into the future. We might spend our time obsessing over projects, deadlines, and important upcoming social gatherings. We look forward to vacations, marriages, promotions, weekends, or retirement. We can even ponder our own deaths and the march of time into infinity. There seems to be no limit to our ability to ignore the present in favor of the past or future.

We can also let our thoughts drift horizontally and ignore the physical space we occupy. In its most extreme form we call this process dissociation. During traumatic events like rape or physical violence, people often report that they left their bodies during the assault; their consciousness detached from the horror of the immediate experience. They escaped the ‘here’  to protect their psyches. Day dreaming is a mild form of dissociation that most of us have experienced.

There are plenty of legitimate reasons to dampen down the impact of the immediate experience. Doing so makes an unbearable plight more bearable. However, this inherent human ability is often used as a means of escape. Rather than protecting yourself from what is actually psychologically painful, you avoid the here and now to protect yourself from what is potentially psychologically painful. The more you allow yourself to be fully aware of yourself and your immediate surroundings, the more real reality becomes. Creating distance between yourself and the here and now partially protects you from the existential realities of pain, loss, and suffering. But these things are inseparable from the human condition. And you also keep yourself from any of the true joys of life. You miss the pregnancy of the moment and stop yourself from experiencing the richness of life. Have you ever seen a wild animal in the forest, fully alive and aware of the moment in its natural surroundings? This animal lives more in five minutes than many people do in an entire lifetime.

Increasing your awareness of thoughts, sensations, emotions, and physical environment in the moment is a good thing for mental health and happiness because whether you wish it or not  your entire life takes place in the present and from whatever physical location you are inhabiting. You can plan for the future but you are doing so from the present. You can regret the past but you are doing so from the present. Whatever it is you are doing, including reading these words right now, you are doing so from the present. And because your consciousness is confined to the body you occupy you are also doing so from a discrete area of space.