Do not dwell in the past, do not dream of the future, concentrate the mind on the present moment. Buddha
Don’t worry about tomorrow…each day has enough trouble of its own. Jesus
Recently, a friend of mine said, “All my thought experiments involve a time machine.” That makes a lot of sense because we are fascinated with traveling through time. “If we could just go back and fix this episode from the past” or “If we could go and see what the future is like,” then everything would be all right in the here and now-the present. As our mind takes the future trip or the past journey, we find ourselves absent from today. Often, Laura will say to me, “Are you here?” Every good film producer knows we like to time travel—every great philosopher and poet knows it’s much better to stay present.
The Tea Shop was a lesson in being present. It all happened so fast, so I didn’t have time to plan anything. I couldn’t plan what I was going to say, or worry about how people would react, or generate a lot of expectations. One minute we were talking about tea pots and the next minute we were there. That’s the good thing about Tanya, our host. She doesn’t allow for much discussion, she just goes! She knows if we think about it too much, we will dredge up regrets from the past or trepidation about the future and we won’t move or we won’t fully enjoy the present. It seemed like less that 5 minutes after we said, “Is there a place to get tea pots?” that we were standing in the door way of the shop. We had no choice but to be present.
To be fair, there are probably a few times when it is valuable to time travel. Under the care of a counselor or a spiritual director, some time travel can do some good. Recently, I took a little journey to visit my past and was able to resolve some issues of the present. The past is a good place to visit occasionally, but we just don’t need to live there. Journeying to the future can also pay some dividends if we use it to do some reasonable planning. The trouble of course is that we plan excessively and none of us can accurately or completely predict the future. So, we drive ourselves crazy sometimes with “what ifs.”
When we left the Tea Shop, I said out loud, “What just happened?” I said the same thing the other night when Laura tricked me into clothes shopping. It is probably because I didn’t have time to execute my normal battle plan. My normal milieu goes something like this: Plan out the future event (like going to a Tea Shop), calculate all the obstacles, do a little research, think about what I will say in certain situations, make alternate plans of escape or avoidance of the unpleasant—but, above all, be in charge of how this comes out—control is necessary for survival! The guiding forces in my battle plan are the regrets of the past and the fears of the future. In this way, I avoid the uncertainty of the present and fight the battles I am familiar with over and over again. Rinse and repeat.
As I entered the Tea Shop, I tried to contrive a hasty battle plan. I thought to myself, “I’ve been in shops before. Find what you like, get in, get out, get a good deal.” But the owner of the tea shop had different ideas. He stopped me and spoke to me and brought me back to the present. He did this by telling us about himself, by giving us food and by just being interested in us. All of this snapped me out of the pattern of recreating the past or avoiding the future. Eventually, I was fully engrossed in what was happening right then. Being present brings a richness to the present. Colors seem to be more vibrant. Conversation seems to be clearer and more productive.
In the movies, the dream sequence very simply makes the present cloudy and brings into focus a different time or imagination. The important thing I want to remember is that it clouds the present. I am not fully experiencing what I could be when I’m future tripping or past journeying. I’m not really hearing my wife, I’m not really experiencing a situation or I’m not truly living if I am not present.
At beginning of class, in the 70’s and 80’s, the teacher in my classes used to take roll. They would call out each student’s name and the student would respond with “here” or “present.” Both would work for past-era teachers, but today most teachers would probably understand there is a difference. It’s very easy for me to be here and not be present. If Laura (a schoolteacher) asks me if I’m here, what she really means is “Are you present?”
The past couple of days, I have focused on being present wherever I was. In the job interview, I felt like I was totally present. It felt so much like how I want to live my life. I fully understood what the guy was saying—we were in sync throughout the conversation. The hour passed quickly. I am realizing that it takes practice to stay present. I have spent a lot of years living the other way. I’m implementing a little practice starting today. Before I go into any situation, I’m going to do a little thing in my head. I’m going to imagine Mrs. Beaty from second grade saying my name, and I’m going to say “Present.” I might even say it in my second-grade ornery voice, because if I do, she’ll have to say “Just say present, Mr. Forehand!” Then, I will chuckle to myself and focus my attention on the situation I am in and not the places I tend to go.