My closest friend has been doing a lot of questioning and soul-searching lately, and in the course of doing so, she started reading up on Buddhism. We’ve been discussing Buddhism and Taoism and some of the tenets thereof, and the one that’s been on my mind most is the idea of living in the moment.
The basic idea is not to dwell too much on the future or the past, but to fully live each moment as it comes along. On the surface and in a general way, this makes a lot of sense to me. Worrying overmuch about the future robs you of joy or contentment in the present. Regretting the past does the same. I understand this, and it’s something that I’m learning to accept and incorporate into my life. But if you look too deeply at the idea, it becomes flawed. Why? Because some moments just aren’t worth experiencing all that deeply.
One of the texts that I read when I was studying up on this philosophy of living in the now said that we spend too much time thinking about things other than the here and now. It gave the examples of worrying about work while on vacation and thinking ahead to the evening or weekend while we’re at work. While I agree that we shouldn’t let worries about work spoil a vacation - the perfect opportunity to live deeply - I’m not so sure that thinking ahead while at work is a bad thing. If, like me, you have a job that doesn’t afford you satisfaction beyond a way to make ends meet, why would you want to experience it deeply? Why wouldn’t you want to think instead about more pleasant things that you have waiting for you after you get done with work for the day? After all, anticipation is one of the things that keeps us human beings from succumbing to inertia. If we had nothing to look forward to, how boring life would be!
On the flip side of the equation, you can take living in the moment too far and think too little of the future or the past. You can forget mistakes you’ve made and end up repeating them. Or you can neglect to anticipate the long-term ramifications of the decisions you make. Sometimes, this isn’t such a bad thing, but other times it can be devastating. I have fallen into the trap of thinking too little about future ramifications because I got so caught up in living in the moment. I’ve been fortunate enough to not have my life wrecked by the consequences, and I believe that I’ve actually benefited greatly from those times when I just say ‘to hell with it’ and jumped off the proverbial cliff. I know others who haven’t been so fortunate. I guess the real trick is to make sure there is a net to catch you when you make that leap.
For me the best way of expressing my views of the philosophy is “Carpe Diem.” I’m a big believer in spontaneity and in grabbing opportunities when they arise. I’m a big believer in living life for all it’s worth because it’s uncertain. At the end of the day, though, we still have to deal with a lot of stuff that gets in the way of ‘carpe diem’ - rent and bills and responsibility often collide with the opportunities that life throws at us.
We have to choose our paths carefully so we don’t end up on the streets. Because of this I believe the key to this whole ‘live in the now’ thing is the same as it is for anything else: moderation and balance. We have to find a healthy balance between planning for the future and living in the moment, between anticipation and contentment, between memories and dreams and reality.
I’m not sure how to find that balance, but I’m working on it. I think there are some components that are missing in my life that would make it a lot easier to find that balance. I’m working on that, too.