Sunday, March 31, 2019
How You Avoid The Moment — Part I
Striving to live as much “in the moment” is one of the rare truths on which philosophers and theologians agree.
We humans tend to look towards the past with joy or regret;
We tend to look towards the future with hope or fear.
The Greek and Roman Stoics—promoting ideas strikingly similar to Buddhist and Taoist ones—suggest three basic emotions which depend on time.
Ideally, you enjoy three “good feelings,” joy, wish, and caution.
Joy exists in the present, and both wish and caution in the future.
In the present, we struggle, so the Stoics say, with joy versus pleasure.
Stoics would endorse wishing for something in the future, but not in a hungry way. In essence, they believe, it’s fine to expect having a nice time with your friends tonight. They advise against planning on it.
Therefore, they preach using caution regarding the future. If one of the friends you plan on seeing tonight has a history of violence, you might alter your expectations. You might avoid the encounter altogether.
You get the idea. Caution is good, fear is not.
Since everyone seems to agree, at least intellectually, that living in the moment is a good idea, then why do we have such difficulties with it?
I named this posting “Part I” because many answers exist.
I delineate just a few of the more common ones based primarily on my experience practicing psychoanalytic psychotherapy.
Here then comes an always incomplete list of why we avoid living in the moment, followed with possible solutions:
- The moment brings up mental pain ranging from mild apprehension or sadness to severe anxiety, depression, or other diagnosable mental disorders. Wherever one exists on that continuum, taking refuge in the future or the past offers easy relief. We can fantasize about the great weekend before us; we can ruminate about the terrible mistake we made in the past. Either way, the pain of the moment is avoided. Here, the solution is obvious: Face the pain. Use psychotherapy, meditation, or any other means to deal with whatever causes the immediate discomfort.
- The ever-invasiveness of the media, digital or televised, on the streets or in our homes, distracts us from living in the moment. Have you ever noticed how television commercials make you feel bad about yourself? If not, observe yourself next time you watch one. They seem deliberately designed—more powerfully than ever before—to elicit a feeling of inadequacy that could alleviated by whatever product or service they are hawking. Jaguar commercials are particularly brilliant in this regard. They invite you to feel lousy about your romantic partner, your stature in life, wherever you live, and what you do for work. They always include a gorgeous man or woman, an ideal home, a perfect, geographical background, and a sense of calm and meaning—all achievable if you drop everything, sell everything you’ve ever owned, go into debt, and buy yourself a Jaguar. The solution here is heightened conscious awareness: Beware of corporate America’s deliberate intent to create a sense of lack which they then promise to fulfill.
- Social media, the bane of humanity, the bearer of violence and intimacy-destruction, immensely invites us out of the present. Many consider FB a form of addiction. Millions gape at their screens, reviewing their friend’s delight at a fancy meal, viewing pictures of their cousin’s children, or reading reports of fantastic romantic encounters. Easy solution here: Join the many who avoid social media like the plague.
- Our fellow humans, friends even, relatives sometimes, cope with their own pain-of-the-moment by promising parties, gatherings, vacations, or other future events which subtly promise satisfaction. These people mean well. They invite you into their future plans without realizing what they are doing. (By the way, looking forward to events in the future can be lovely but only, a la the Stoics, if done with caution). Here, the solution is also obvious. Evaluate the invitation carefully, and strive to remain mostly in the moment even if you genuinely look forward to the future event.
Alas, I bring the always incomplete list to an end.
I’m sure you can think of more examples, and perhaps I’ll offer more in another posting.
Meanwhile, are you living in the moment?
If not, what’s bugging you?
Or, what regret or fantasy distracts you?
Whatever it might be, you cannot escape the truth that only this moment exists.
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Alan Karbelnig, PhD, ABPP