After reading Preacherman’s article on the power of habit to improve the quality of our lives, I’d like to offer a response and perhaps an augmentation to the ideas he has proposed.
I’d further break down the compartmentalization of each day into the compartmentalization of each moment. This is based upon the idea that the past and future simply do not exist. If we take this idea on its surface, it may seem preposterous. We have memories of the past and can imagine a future; how could I possibly make the claim that they don’t exist?
To illustrate this point, I’d ask a few questions:
1. Will you ever relive any moment in your life? When you recall a previous experience, can you ever relive it to enjoy the best times of your life – the birth of a child or the moment you first fell in love? If you made regrettable decisions, can you ever go back to that precise moment and make a different choice?
The answer here is plain: No. You will never again experience the past. It exists in our imperfect memories, which lack accurate and specific details. We may even manufacture details or blend memories to make a coherent story to tell ourselves and others. The past is a story we tell ourselves to make sense of events; it is just as much a figment of imagination as it is a lived experience. When taking this into account, our imperfect memory of the past further negates the existence of that past.
2. Will you ever live the future you’re imagining now? Did the worst-case scenario you imagined happen exactly as you worried it would? Do your worst fears or best laid plans ever materialize just as you imagined? Has today unfolded as you thought it would when you woke this morning, or have a hundred different distractions and unanticipated occurrences altered those plans? Is it better or worse than you imagined it would be?
I’d venture to guess that your present moment isn’t what you imagined it would be when you looked ahead to what today, or even the next five minutes would be. Had you even planned to read this post? Had you planned to be changed in the ways you are changing as you take in new information, respond to unanticipated events, or leave the tasks undone that you’d so carefully added to your list this morning?
Even as I write this article, I can’t quite remember every idea I had thought to include, and I’m not entirely sure what words I’ll use to illustrate the point I’d like to make.
Why does any of this matter?
When we are able to let go of the past, we are free to make different choices now. When we let go of the regret about decisions we once made, we can forgive ourselves and appreciate the choices we are now making. When we appreciate the good times without wishing for a return to the good ol’ days, we free ourselves to enjoy the moment we have right now.
When we let go of the existence of the future, we free ourselves from worry that we will be unable to cope with the changes that future will bring. We free ourselves from the idea that our future will somehow be better than our present. We stop thinking our future self will make better choices or behave differently than our present self, and we accept that all we can do is begin to behave differently now.
When we stop occupying so much of our thought with memory and prognostication, we free ourselves to see the potential in this very moment. We go from wishing we kept in better touch with our friends and family to calling them to see how they’re doing. We go from wishing we hadn’t done something to appreciating the lesson it taught us.
Coming back to Preacherman’s point about habit – appreciating this moment is simply a habit. It’s a habit that can be reinforced throughout the course of each day. Simply noticing that we are lost in thought about the past or future will simply unravel those thoughts and return us to presence. Changing how we think allows us to change how we feel, and changing how we feel affects the tone of our lives. Affecting the tone of our lives improves our moods, and a change in mood affects everyone with whom we interact in a day. It changes the quality of our moment-to-moment experience in a way that can be truly profound.
Just as worry is a habit, optimism is a habit. Just as bitterness and judgement are habits, love and grace are habits. Just as judging the past as better than the present is a habit, appreciating what is happening right now is a habit. Just as predicting doom and searching for evidence to confirm it are habits, acceptance and flexibility are habits. The mind loves patterns, and these habits are simply patterns of thought that the mind can learn through repetition.
As a spiritual practice, a habit of accepting each moment as it is with grace and appreciation, it does not matter which religion or tradition you subscribe to. Each has its virtues, and Preacherman has quoted scripture that supports the idea of presence as an act of worship beautifully.
Here, I’m simply saying that each moment is unique, a discrete occurrence that hasn’t and will never happen again. And so it isn’t that there is “no time like the present” to begin changing our habits and our minds, there literally is “no time but the present” to do it.