We all know, at least intellectually, that we will benefit from truly living in the moment. And yet, too often, we peer forward, planning for some distant, hypothetical future, attempting to frame a contingency for every possible scenario, organizing our lives around what might be. Either that, or we’re scrutinizing our history, relishing or loathing the past, living for a time that once was.
I notice the former—the incessant looking forward—in some of my friends. And I often observe the latter—looking backwards—in myself. (To be fair, I notice both traits in everyone.) Neither is conducive for an ideal life.
With the people I love, we may be eating dinner, enjoying a concert, or just spending time together, and although the moment seems perfect, it can be tainted with the suggestion of “let’s do this again,” looking forward, as if now is not enough, as if we must plan, we must have more. This seems to be part of the human experience: no matter how great things are, it’s never enough. We always want more.
Similarly, when I am personally comparing the present to the past—whenever I’m more concerned with what has happened than what is happening—this moment loses its beauty, its power, its virility.
I’ve noticed, however, that there’s at least one occasion in which this doesn’t happen: when I’m driving alone in my car. Whenever I’m behind the wheel, I avoid both temptations. Instinctually I know I have to keep my eyes on the road and deal with whatever is on the other side of the windshield, here and now. If I daydream too long, starring off onto the horizon, or if I glue my eyes to the rearview mirror, taking in the scenery I’ve already passed, I’m going to crash.
Sure, it’s fine to occasionally glance at the road behind us, just as it’s ideal to see what’s on the horizon from time to time, but we benefit most from negotiating the open road, everything that’s directly in front of us. Right here, right now. As it happens, we don’t need more than this.
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