Last night my daughter Lucy and I took our dog to the Paws in the Park on Lucasville Road (product placement!). It was a beautiful evening and a lot of dogs and their humans were there. Rounding the bend for our fourth lap Lucy asked me, “Dad are you more a person who lives in the present, the future or the past?” These are the kind of conversations my 15 year old and I have! I explained that I am the kind of person who tends to think about the future, I plan, think ahead, I am always wondering how to be ready for what is coming up later that day, tomorrow, next week, six months from now, next year. I have lists, lots of lists, different kinds of lists. I carry these lists with me and I check them off one by one, even the lists I make for the coming year.
Then Lucy asked me, “What do you think most others do, live in the present, the future or the past?” This time I misunderstood the question, I told her that I thought most people live in the past. Lucy looked puzzled. She was sure I would say that most people live in the present. “Aha!” I exclaimed, I was thinking like a Buddhist, I was thinking of being in the present the way Buddhists try to live in the moment, to meditate on filtering out the before and after and being present to the very moment we have now. By that definition very few people live in the present, and thus I was suggesting most people live in the past, whether that be grievance, pain, disappointment, failure, nostalgia, etc.
But realizing what Lucy meant by her question it is obvious most people live in the present, meaning most people don’t think about past successes and failures by way of wisdom or think about the future by way of delayed gratification. Instead most people think in the now, I want something, therefore I must have it. That is a kind of living in the present we can all relate to.
Later in our walk Lucy and I talked about the difference between being present to the moment and living in the present with our immediate desires. A good Buddhist would clarify this distinction but from my limited awareness of meditation the key is to move from immediate desire to all of the feelings that come from being aware of the very moment we are given now. If I am sad do I allow myself to explore that sadness in a full way or do I move away from it with the aid of some urge or desire? If I am delighted to feel blessed do I allow that sensation to be felt deeply or shift away from the moment because my focus is elsewhere?
These days I find myself trying to focus my energy on what is truly in my mind and heart and not let myself move on too quickly to lists and planning.
I remember a woman in church telling me that every time there was a long prayer she would immediately go to a place of hurt, usually a hurt done to her, perhaps years before. The woman asked me if I did likewise when I came to a church as a visitor. I shared with her that rather than past hurts my mind races to the future and all the things I need to be ready for. We both realized that one thing both of us missed was the present moment, where that prayer found us at that particular time and space.
I look forward to the next deep conversation Lucy and I have.