Today, Tomorrow, and Yesterday

July 4, 2017 - 4 minutes read

Since the 1980’s it’s been popular to “live in the moment.”  That’s what a therapist told me I should do more than thirty years ago.

While I understand the concept, I’ve questioned the necessity of the advice.  How is it possible not to live in the moment?  “The moment” is really all we have.

The therapist was really recommending that I pay attention to the moment, and not dwell excessively on either the past or the future. It’s what we now think of as “mindfulness.” To be mindful we simply pay attention to our bodies, our thoughts, and our surroundings.

After my mother died my father dated Barbara. Over a period of seven or eight years we got together once or twice a week. I don’t remember a single time when Barbara failed to talk about her former husband. I know that he played football for The University of Southern California in the 1940’s. Though I don’t know if he died or if they separated, he was always the topic of her conversations, which became predictable and boring.

I don’t much dwell on the past. But the past is helpful to me as a guide to the future. I like to return to the restaurants I have enjoyed, and I prefer to avoid the people and places I didn’t like. My past helps me to improve my life in the present.

Athena has been my friend for more than fifty years. When she was younger she only looked forward to the future – her next date, her next vacation, her next relationship. She never seemed to value whatever she was doing at the time.  Today Athena is retired and fortunately she finally seems able to savor the moment, spending much of her time with her daughter and granddaughter.

I don’t live for the future, but I do enjoy planning for the future – what movie to see tonight, where my business might be six months or a year from now, and where in the world I might travel next. I’m clear about that process – I am living in the moment while I am planning, enjoying both the process and my anticipation of what may come.

Many experiences, such as a fine dinner, are best savored entirely in the moment.  Some experiences, such as a great vacation, I might enjoy more in memory. I can relive the best parts, such as visiting the British Camp in Antarctica that was abandoned in about 1955, and forget about the worst parts of the trip such as being cold. Other experiences are best enjoyed in anticipation. I enjoy the thought of seeing a new movie more than the actual experience because few movies live up to my high expectations. Of course, while seeing a bad movie I can also enjoy the thought of complaining about it later.

You can live in the moment and still enjoy a memory or a pleasant expectation.  All we really have is right now.

Happy Fourth of July!

Alan

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