I was taking a look at LinkedIn the business social media website the other day and someone had posted a quote from the Dalai Lama:
The Dalai Lama, when asked what surprised him most about humanity, answered “Man. Because he sacrifices his health in order to make money. Then he sacrifices money to recuperate his health. And then he is so anxious about the future that he does not enjoy the present: the result being that he does not live in the present or the future; he lives as if he is never going to die, and then dies having never really lived.”
I thought this was a pretty profound statement by one of the greatest spiritual leaders of our time. It made me consider my own behavior and motivations. It seems our future orientation, often with a fixation on acquiring wealth, position, power, and things prevents us from living in the present. I guess most of the time I can at least claim that I do not live in the past, but I am surely not fully living in the present. I seem to be fixated on what’s next, what do I need to achieve, the next thing I need to acquire (car, phone, home), how much more money I can earn, and the future sense of satisfaction that I will feel. This is really a fools game when you think about it. Have you ever recieved a large raise or cash windfall? How long was it before whatever sense of satisfaction you felt just faded away? For me it was a matter of days, maybe even less. All the time invested in this quest for material gratification only made me less accessible and less aware of what was happening around me. I truly lived in the future and was never very happy with the present.
What is really ironic about living with this future oriented mindset is that you go through life as quoted above anxious about the future and not enjoying the present. I’m sure much of this future orientation comes from our desire to judge our success in terms of wealth or how much we have acquired. So the more money I make, the larger my house, having an expensive car, and spending lavishly on vacations motivates us and we buy into the idea that this makes us happy. As future oriented people we are also driven by fear; this might be a fear of not having enough money to retire or the fear that we will lose our wealth or possessions. Goals are great, but to live in the present means that the motivation to achieve these goals must be something other than accumulating wealth or avoiding disaster. How will our life change if we start to focus on living in the present. My assumption going forward is that when you really think about it is all you have is this very moment. All my elaborate plans go right out the window if I succumb to a stroke or die in a car accident going home today. If you can live with the notion that the most important time we have is now then let me take a stab at a few reasons why we should change our mindset:
Increased happiness – Instead of spending all your time thinking about the future and what your next acquisition will be you are focused on this very moment. You are not agonizing on future choices, what you need to achieve next, or something you need to prepare for. You are just focused on what is happening all around you, right at this moment. There is a sense of calm that happens when you are not thinking about what I need to do next, and your stress levels begin to diminish and your attitude starts to improve, you are starting to feel what some people call being happy.
Being connected – If I am always talking to you about what I am going to do in the future and how I need to work on this or that for some future reward, I’m probably not even listening to what you are saying and much worse I don’t really care because I am on a quest. Do you know people like this? Maybe a co-worker, a brother, a sister, a friend, a parent, a spouse. They are very busy people, but they are not connected to you in the moment. They may have feelings for you or care about you, but they don’t have time to show you or time to listen you, they are much to busy. Living in the present allows us to spend time with people and become available, to hear what they are saying, to show empathy, and to make a better connection.
Mastery – When you look around you at those people that have become masterful at something in their life, maybe it is music, sports, writing, or teaching you find that they invest in the present. I would suggest that a great pianist or violinist doesn’t spend their time thinking about how much money they will make or what material thing they will acquire next. Instead they are focused in the moment knowing that their focus will let them acquire something more than wealth or things, but it will result in mastery. Don’t get me wrong mastery can have material consequences, but it starts with living in the moment and focus. I would suggest the primary motivation is to get very good at something, to master it someday, and this alone creates happiness.
There are many other benefits to living in the moment, and we didn’t really make much headway on how you develop that mindset, but we can save that for some other time. It is Friday night and as much as I enjoy writing and posting I think I need to go spend a few moments with some special people.
Enjoy the weekend!