I heard a fascinating story on This American Life this week. In their show titled, "New Beginnings", a man talked about an experience he'd had as a youth. In a nutshell: he spent a night sleeping on a marble slab in a church which marked the location of the cross on which Jesus was crucified. It was a profound experience for him. He had a thought that, what if he were to die in 6 months? How would he live his life, knowing that? He related to what Jesus must have felt like, knowing he was going to die. The man decided to live as though this were true. He did not do anything grand, rather, he went back home and spent several months with his parents; He gave away most of his money anonymously to friends and family; He rode his bicycle across the country visiting his brothers and sisters. When he arrived home it was the night before he was to "die". He had a nice dinner with his parents, they talked about his trip and what was going on with his sibling. He went to bed feeling satisfied with what he had done, with how he had spent his time. He said he didn't know what to expect that night, but he was prepared to actually die. When he woke up in the morning, he said he felt like he had never felt before, like he had his whole life back.
To hear him tell it, it was very powerful. He talked about how living totally in the present was an inhumane way to live. Whenever he found himself making plans past that date, he stopped, and didn't allow himself the opportunity to make plans past his "death" date. He said that to have a past, present, and a future is part of what it means to be human. That, we couldn't be fully human without all three. When we live in one state too much, it becomes unhealthy. Isn't that true? Do you know people who live too much in the past? Or the present? Future? I do, and it's pretty obvious it isn't good for them.
I live too much in the future. I don't enjoy the present as much as I should. For instance, I will find a book or magazine article and think, "I will read this, because it might be good to know in the future to either talk or write about this subject." That is a really strange thing to do, I can see, but it is really how I think. I can see how it puts undue pressure on me to learn things for some nebulous date in the future, which may or may not ever come. I do read for pleasure, and do things to enjoy some things now, but not all the time and not like I should.
It is hard for me to enjoy what is happening in the present because I am too busy planning for the next thing, and the next thing, and the next thing after that: what I need to pack so we can go to work/school/the library/the store/an outing. I spend a lot of time thinking about what I need to do now in order to get through the next day. I can't seem to enjoy the present fun until I'm all ready for the next thing. By the time that happens, the NOW is usually all gone.
I suppose it's something I do to cope. For whatever reason, I feel the need to be prepared for the unknown future. And the big joke is, I am often unprepared! I don't think of everything, or can't think of everything, and I forget things. The future being unknowable, it's understandable how I set myself up for failure this way, and in the meantime, miss out on the present.
The good news is, I can change this. The bad news is, it probably won't be easy. I've been this way since forever. I like the idea of finding a better balance between past, present, and future. The truth is, it's good to be somewhat prepared, but not at the expense of the present. It's not a good idea to give too much weight to the past, but at the same time it's good to not forget the past completely. It did, after all, happen. It's useful to take your experiences and use them, to learn from them, and not shut the door on fond memories.
There is a lot to enjoy in present moments. I think about what memories I want to have when I am old, and they do not include how I remembered to bring water in the car when we went to the store! Or something like that. I want to remember love, laughter, warmth, caring, gentleness, understanding, and kindness shared with the people I love.
I don't know exactly how I'll accomplish this shift in my focus, but I can easily see the benefits. It is worth stepping outside the bounds of my comfort level to experience life more fully. Life is nothing if not everchanging and new, whenever you want it to be.