Sunday, July 1, 2012

The Only Time is Now

I've been getting indications that you all have noticed the scarcity of my postings of late. I'm finding it increasingly difficult to get motivated to do things that require discipline, planning, or forethought, like thinking about or researching blog subjects. On the flip side, I'm finding it easier, even natural, to do things that I feel like doing. I've been living in the present.

I know this sounds like the indulgence of an irresponsible urge--a childish failure to live up to my obligations--but in fact, I'm becoming aware that it's really the development of an essential skill that I've lacked for pretty much my entire life. You see, I'm a worrier. A control freak. Always have been.

I've always been one of those people who will endlessly, circularly, wonder and fret about how everything will play out in my life. I will think about how I will pay for my kids' college, how I will have 'enough' for a good retirement, how I will get everything done that needs done, when I'll pay the utility bills, whether I should get the oil changed in my car, what I will say to someone, what I should have said to someone, what someone will think about me, etc. For quite a while, I've understood intellectually that worrying, pondering, and planning every detail of my life is fruitless. You can't actually change anything by worrying about it, and you can't actually make things happen the way you want by "planning" them. But, know that as I might, I still did it.

Lately though, I've been increasingly understanding that, so long as you're spending your energy on thinking about the past or worrying about the future, you're actually using up all the time and energy you're allotted for right now. The import of this may not be obvious, so allow me to belabor the point for just a moment.

In our culture, we are taught in all kinds of ways, to focus on the past. We have "reunions" that are all about trying to live up to, or overcome, who we were when we were in high school. Yikes--thank goodness I've never attended one. We spend untold billions of dollars on "beauty products" and "procedures" designed to help us pretend that we're still young and stupid, instead of being proud of who we are, and how we've cared for ourselves, in the present. I don't know about anyone else, but you couldn't pay me to go back and be who I was at 20, or 30, or even 40. I view my wrinkles and spots and veins as proof that I've made enough mistakes to know better next time. My age is a warning to people not to mess with me. :-)

Speaking of mistakes, even our version of morality has you scour and examine your past for "sins." You are then told that you are to spend your time today "making up" for those missteps, by praying or performing some ritual, or doing good deeds or whatever. We're told that it is only after we've spent time doing whatever is the recommended penance can we move on from our mistake. Now, I've got no problem with the idea of praying or doing good deeds, but why dedicate those things to the idea of stuff you did wrong in the past? Rehashing and then trying to make up for your past errors actually doubles the time in your life you waste on your own stupidity, and frankly, in my life, I've made enough mistakes that I just don't have the time. I've decided that, for me at least, just recognizing that I've made a mistake and deciding to do better next time should be enough. Then, get on with life--right now. Pray or do good deeds because it improves today, not because it makes up for something yesterday.

Our culture also teaches us to obsess about the future. We're supposed to plan for our retirement, save for a rainy day, book a wedding venue two or three years ahead, sign on for thirty years of debt to have a place to live, open a college savings account when our kid is two, have six months of liquid assets in the bank, yadda, yadda, yadda. None of this stuff is a bad idea. But if it results in doing stuff that makes you worried, obsessive and unhappy now for the supposed promise of some satisfaction years down the road, it's the height of stupidity. If it causes you to forego doing something that would really enrich your life today so that you can have more dinners at a cafeteria when you're 80, well, sorry, but I don't much like canned green beans anyway.

So many people put off happiness and satisfaction for the supposed safety or security of what we might get, have, or need, someday. Ask the people who put their savings in trading accounts at MFGlobal, or with Bernie Madoff how well it worked for them. They would have been better off giving fists full of money to perfect strangers than how they wound up. At least they would have made somebody's day. And even if there's no financial funny business, we don't know if we'll be alive at the end of the mortgage, when the kid is old enough for college, or even tomorrow. So all most of us are doing with all this focus on the future is trying to convince ourselves that we have control over something tomorrow so that we can conveniently ignore that we're giving up our control (and enjoyment) of today.
I'm not sure what has occurred to make this very obvious truth finally penetrate the rigid little pores of my consciousness all of a sudden, but something has. And so I've been trying to spend my energy in the present--enjoying one of the last years where I'll have both my girls home for the summer, gardening, playing games, walking dogs, knowing that the past is best left right where it is (in the past), and trusting that the future will be here when, if, and how it's supposed to be. This isn't a recommendation to be stupid or thoughtless or frivolous. It's just a recommendation to just go ahead and BE. Now.

So here's some cool thoughts about focusing on the now. I'm going to keep working on it.

Eternity is not something that begins after you are dead. It is going on all the time. ~Charlotte Perkins Gilman

Forever is composed of nows. ~Emily Dickinson
Let us not look back in anger, nor forward in fear, but around in awareness. ~James Thurber

We crucify ourselves between two thieves: regret for yesterday and fear of tomorrow. ~Fulton Oursler

Pile up too many tomorrows and you'll find that you've collected nothing but a bunch of empty yesterdays. ~The Music Man

People like us, who believe in physics, know that the distinction between past, present, and future is only a stubbornly persistent illusion. ~Albert Einstein

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