“We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
I came across this quote in an excellent post by Jonathan Mead about preparing to live but never really living. Check out the video embedded in that post. It’s a fascinating interview with Ido Portal who looks like some kind of superhuman gymnast Zen ninja. Very cool.
As far back as my undergraduate days I’ve been talking about and pondering this dilemma of seeing everything in life as a means to an end but nothing as an end in itself. I remember giving a talk to a group during my senior year of college and saying something like, “You want to graduate so you can get a job so you can get a car so you can get a house so you can get a wife or husband… Then what? A bigger car? A bigger house? A bigger wife or husband…?!” I got a good laugh from that line, and still do, but it’s a legitimate quandary (except for the bigger spouse part).
We always seem to be getting ready for something out there in the future but never truly living in the present. But when you get to the future, it’s just the present, right? The peak moments in life are the ones where past and future fall away because you’re so aware of and alive in the present moment. Think back on the moments in your life when you felt most alive and see if that’s not true. That’s why thrill-seeking is a thing. It’s hard to worry about next week or feel regret for last week when you’re on a roller coaster or jumping out of an airplane. Or when you’re truly listening to someone you love or in a tickle fight with your kids or completely engrossed in work you love. Go read Thich Nhat Hanh’s classic little book, Peace Is Every Step. What an awake, aware life he must lead. Yes, the unexamined life is not worth living, but most of us most of the time are actually living a sort of unconscious life, hoping we’ll get there, someday.
So, how do you have more of those moments? This 2-minute video featuring an Alan Watts story beautifully exposes how our culture ingrains this future focus in us and leads to most of us never truly living. And he offers a nice metaphor for how to shift your perspective for a more excellent experience of life: