I recently wrote about the important effect that our emotional approach to “now” has on our happiness. Guilt about our past should inform our choices, but not overwhelm our ability to enjoy a better life. “Now” is precious because it is our only opportunity to enjoy the moment, do something virtuous or make a decision to improve the future.
There are those in the new-age movement who seem obsessed with the current moment that is now. These people hold that, because the past and future cannot be directly experienced, they are no better than illusions — the only thing that can happen is happening now. This is true enough, as far as it goes.What we experience, how we interpret it and what we do about it, are the only dynamic parts of life. How blessed it is to be always aware of opportunities to “smell the roses” — a little narcissistic, but nice.
I believe that the whole point of remembering the past and experiencing the present is to learn, act in the image of God’s love, do good, and create a better future for ourselves and others. That is, a well-lived life is the act of persistently creating something better. Ken Wilber, a contemporary philosopher, recently pointed out that, “The way you approach the present isn’t just determined by the way you approach the past, but by the way you approach the future. The richer conception of the future you have, the richer your life in the present becomes.”
Do you have a clear vision of where you’re going in life? Consider Alice’s conversation with the Cheshire Cat from Alice in Wonderland:
“Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?”
“That depends on where you want to get to,” said the Cat.
“I don’t much care where,” said Alice.
“Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,” said the Cat.
This wisdom should seem so obvious that we would all regularly reflect, with sincere purpose, on where we want to go and how we are planning to get there. However, we often see a very different attitude. There are those who simply want to go through life with the bare minimum of hassle, responsibility or obligation. As a teacher, my wife referred to this attitude of indifference as “unengaged.” The unengaged student only wanted to do the least amount of work required to get by.
Sometimes, you can’t avoid facing a choice and having to make an unexpected decision. Yogi Berra recommended that, “If you come to a fork in the road, take it.” But, there is no purpose to walking around blindly. As the first-century Roman philosopher, Seneca is quoted, “Luck is where the crossroads of opportunity and preparation meet.” Said another way, if a door opens to you, will you be prepared to recognize it and walk through?
We should ask what kind of future we imagine for ourselves; our families; our community; our world? Does it promote happy, healthy and productive lives? Are we behaving as if we recognize and appreciate our gifts? Are we caring for the garden that is the world in which we live? Do we have established goals for a better future? Do our decisions persistently move us in that direction?