The Real World: Attending To The Here And Now

This is the typical human problem. The object of dread may not be an operation in the immediate future. It may be the problem of next month’s rent, of a threatened war or social disaster, of being able to save enough for old age, or of death at the last. This ‘spoiler of the present’ may not even be a future dread. It may be something out of the past, some memory of an injury, some crime or indiscretion, which haunts the present with a sense of resentment or guilt. The power of memories and expectations is such that for most human beings the past and the future are not as real, but more real than the present. The present cannot be lived happily unless the past has been ‘cleared up’ and the future is bright with promise.

There can be no doubt that the power to remember and predict, to make an ordered sequence out of a helter-skelter chaos of disconnected moments, is a wonderful development of sensitivity. In a way it is the achievement of the human brain, giving man the most extraordinary powers of survival and adaptation to life. But the way in which we generally use this power is apt to destroy all its advantages. For it is of little use to us to be able to remember and predict if it makes us unable to live fully in the present.

What is the use of planning to be able to eat next week unless I can really enjoy the meals when they come? If I am so busy planning how to eat next week that I cannot fully enjoy what I am eating now, I will be in the same predicament when next week’s meals become ‘now.’

If my happiness at this moment consists largely in reviewing happy memories and expectations, I am but dimly aware of this present. I shall still be dimly aware of the present when the good things that I have been expecting come to pass. For I shall have formed a habit of looking behind and ahead, making it difficult for me to attend to the here and now. If, then, my awareness of the past and future makes me less aware of the present, I must begin to wonder whether I am actually living in the real world.

~Alan Watts

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5 thoughts on “The Real World: Attending To The Here And Now

  1. This is a curse that impacts the majority of adults, many children are in the present. A children’s animation quoted “past is history, future is a mystery, present is a gift.” Past and future do not exist, only the present exists, thus to live fully, to be really alive, is to exist in the present.

    • Exactly.

      As children, we are sort of afforded the luxury to exist fully in the present, as not much is expected of us (however, recent research shows that this may be changing, as more and more children are growing up with anxieties). Once the moniker of adult is placed upon our heads, we are expected to exit the present and start thinking about the future of our adulthood and too often look into the past in nostalgia or pattern-recognition or advice, etc. It is a sad aspect of human existence, actually, as it is possible (perhaps in a different kind of society) to live fully in the present and not have to worry about problems that may only be shadows on the wall. We can miss out on so much of life be living outside of the present (which according to physics is really the only “time”). Alan Watts speaks much on the Here and Now and I encourage you to look him up on YouTube to hear more of what he speaks on the subject. I think you would enjoy Alan Watts particularly with your love and respect of nature.

  2. I remember when Alan said words to the efftect of: “If you can’t live in the present, when can you live?” Then a hearty laugh. So true and I will always carry that gem with me. Thanks for bringing our awareness here.

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