Live your life. Savor each moment. Be present where and when you are.
The idea is so simple. Just do it (with apologies to Nike). Yet most of us struggle to stay in the moment we actually possess, getting stuck instead in some other time and place. Thus we dilute our presence in the now–robbing others of the best of ourselves and robbing ourselves of the deepest joy of living.
Sometimes we want to live in the future. Because the future is unknown there is a natural fear of what might be out there. We can be consumed by worry about what might be and thus be distracted from what is. Sometimes we want to live in the past. Ancient traumas (or blessings!) may become set points that exert a gravitational pull over the rest of our lives, constantly pulling us back and hence forcing us to relive the trauma over and over (or long for that past blessing). We’ll save the future worries for the future (pun somewhat intended) and focus today on our tendency to develop set points in the past that we return to over and over again.
Let’s start with the traumas. Almost from the moment we are born, life begins to take its shots. I carry a scar on my forehead from forty-seven years ago. I fell and hit my head on a coffee table. Fortunately, my encounter with a coffee table left only a physical mark and hasn’t become something more, but you get the point. We are wounded physically and mentally. And the greater the wound the greater the mark. Wounds painful enough will almost certainly take on a life of their own in our subconscious and exert levers of control in our personality. Thus our lives becomes haunted houses where the ghosts of the past become the dominant presence. Unfortunately, while haunted houses are interesting places to visit most people have no desire to live in one. We like our people of flesh and blood and substance and present life. Yet time and again we empower these ghosts of our past and live through them in current life. We prefer substance and presence but offer the ghosts instead. You don’t have to imagine how this impacts your life and relationships because you have almost certainly lived it and so have I.
It’s not just the traumas of the past that can be an issue though. The blessings of the past can also assume an outsize place in our lives. Almost all of us have certain “Golden Ages” that our heart looks back toward with nostalgia. There is not a thing wrong with that. I remember my kids being small and rough-housing with them all the time. I have a great fondness for those times and genuinely miss them. But even as I type, my youngest is packing for her sophomore year of college and in a couple of hours we will drive her and her massive amount of stuff to her dorm ( Seriously, she has an ENORMOUS amount of stuff!). And I can guarantee you my college-age daughter has no interest in rough-housing with dad right now.
The nature of living is change. To be all we can be we must change with it. We must grow. As much as we are tempted, we cannot build the blessed times of the past into shrines that require our constant attention and care. It’s healthy to remember with fondness, but folly to remember and worship. However wonderful, the glory of the past is just that–past. It is no more helpful to live there than it is to live in some deep trauma of the past.
So what to do? Time demands that we save the bulk of specifics for later, but the most important step is always the first one. No journey begins without it. If you want to escape your haunted house or walk away from your shrine you have to acknowledge it exists. Pretending is something children do at play, but unfortunately many adults carry this ability to pretend far past the games of childhood. They have learned to look in the mirror and not see themselves. But the ghosts cannot be sent on their way without acknowledgement, nor the idols pulled down. The first step to getting rid of the chains is admitting they are there.
Live your life. Live today. Give yourself to the moment at hand.