Nothing is more sad to me than the fact that I spent the first 30 years of my life living in a space where I constantly looked to what the future might bring without ever once considering where I was at the present. I would constantly cycle through these following phrases to assure myself that while the present all might not be what I want, someday I would have what I wanted.
- “Someday I will make enough money to prove to others that I am a man worthy of their praise.”
- “Someday I will be able to afford the things in life I want.”
- “Someday life will not be so turbulent.”
- Someday I will be in good enough shape to go to the beach and not feel self conscious about how I look.”
- “Someday I will be able to provide something that a woman would want in a partner.”
- “Someday I will not be such a hopelessly lost human.”
- “Someday life will be comfortable.”
I lived my life thinking that the better part of my life always remained in the future. The present was never enough. No matter what I obtained, what I thought I needed to obtain outweighed the successes I had. “Okay so I bought a car. Big deal it wasn’t a Porsche. But when I can buy the Porsche then I will have made it! Then I will be able to lift my head with pride as I conduct my business around town.” That was until I actually bought the Porsche and realized it did nothing except drain my bank account.
There was always something more, always something that, if I was able to obtain it, would fill the gap in myself. So I would run around in circles chasing the tail of desires that had no end. And that gap in myself never went away.
The same went for work. If I started a business, then I would be in a position to make loads of money while not having to listen to others tell me what to do. I would get respect because I was a businessman! I would have purpose in life through my business. Well I did exactly that, and never found it to be enough. I lost my time and freedom attending to my affairs and trying to keep the business afloat. I looked to the future for solace, and when the future turned into the present, I cursed it for not delivering what I dreamed of.
It was Seneca more than any other who drove home the insanity of this way of living. Remaining present is a central focus of all spiritual and philosophical teachings. Out of all of the different teachings and teachers, Seneca presented it in a way that I could appreciate and understand the lesson. His letter to Paulinus on the length of a human life and what we do with it was transformative. “You squander time as if you draw it from a full and abundant supply,” he said, “Though all the while that day which you bestow on that person or thing is perhaps your last.”
Though death might not be waiting for us around each and every corner, old age is. What you are hearing when someone bemoans how “Time just flies by! One day I woke up and I was 50. Where has my life gone?” Is not that time flies, but that the actual part of life a person was actively aware of was very small.
Life moves by us at a constant pace, never telling us where it is going or expecting us to observe it. As I have become more present and aware of this day, this minute, this second, I notice each moment as the moment of a lifetime. In doing this my life appears to be longer. Time has not shifted, things have not slowed down, the universe continues on exactly as it did before I was born, and exactly as it will after I am gone. The difference being I am more aware of my life and I am able to live more of it as each day passes.
The beauty of this is while I still look towards the future at times, for example my upcoming move to another state, I can still sit and appreciate the Christmas Tree that sits in the corner of the space in which I am writing. Yes, the promise of different, not better or worse, but different situations and lifestyle lay before me, but none of that is as important as the promise of joy and wonder I get from looking at a Christmas Tree. The future does not take me out of the present. The future is there and it will come as it will. I have discovered freedom in this understanding. I am beginning to become aware that life is long, much longer in fact than I can have ever dreamed.
Now I can lift my head and look upon the world with pride. I face life as a free man, secure in knowing that the present is what is important, the future will come and I will be ready for it, but the present is all that matters. Time is not mine to waste, time is mine to experience and live. Thanks to Seneca and the wisdom he shared all those years ago, I can find the great joy in knowing that whatever comes does not matter until it does.