In the Not-Now

What does it say about Americans that the public is already starting to talk about candidates for president for 2016?

Eckhart Tolle wrote in his book The Power of Now that mankind is threatened by our worsening inability to live in the moment; that over the last century, countless deaths have occurred in the name of ideologies promising a better future while destroying the present; and that the root of this tendency is our individual minds running the show. We’re not awake to the Now, because we’re avoiding it and letting it be blocked by a racing, out-of-control mind. And as a result, we let our egos tell us what we want, we seek shallow gratification, and are reactive and fear-based.

Though I can’t fully agree with him because I also see plenty of evidence for why things on planet Earth are better than ever, I do agree with this tendency in our population to live in the future, talk about the past, and care increasingly little about what’s happening right before us.

In plainer language, Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love, mentions being on vacation with her mother, and while taking in a gorgeous view her mother expresses that they must come back her again someday. Gilbert’s response was that we’re here right now! Enjoy it.

From our own observations, how many times over the years have people commented on how department stores offer sales on holiday shopping earlier and earlier each season?

On sports radio, I hear talking heads speak more and more about what might be—for example when a new player joins the team. In this capacity, I note the high frequency with which I hear the phrase, “it’ll be interesting to see.”

People are swimming in their minds’ forecasts rather than their five senses’ stimuli.

This theme really struck a chord with me when, over the last few weeks, I saw headlines such as these:

“POLL: Marco Rubio Is The Early Republican Frontrunner For 2016″

“Is Rahm Emanuel considering a presidential bid?”

America just got done with the rigmarole of a strung-out, dramatic, and expensive campaign. And talk resumes immediately about 2016.

This increased attention on the future isn’t the responsible, planning-ahead kind. It’s about soaking in the drama of what might be. And indeed, it seems more important for many to live in a speculative world than in the real one. Following the election in November, instead of going back to their lives, many are continuing in their comfort of what might be rather than what is.

Overall, I think this is symptomatic of a larger issue: living vicariously. Focusing on a potential future is one way of distracting and occupying the thoughts of oneself from their real life. This doesn’t have to happen by imaging the future. People live in the past: the good ol’ days, the regrets, the “I could have been”s. Third, it can happen in the present when we watch too much TV, soak in tabloids, are attached to a sports team, or even when glued to the news.

It all takes away from our presence.

I don’t know if it will destroy the country, but when focusing on what we might experience, what we had (or should have) experienced, or what others are experiencing we sure lose the richness of our existence.

 

This was previously published on New Plateaus.

Read more on Ethics & Values.

Image credit: martingarri/Flickr

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About Brandon Ferdig

Brandon Ferdig is writer from Minneapolis, MN. He shares his personal growth pieces, human interest stories, and commentary at his blog. He is currently writing a book titled New Plateaus in China, a compilation of travelogue, personal experience, human interest, and social observations from China. You can follow Brandon on Twitter @brandonferdig.

Comments

  1. Excellent article, thanks! There are billion dollar industries that profit off of taking people out of the present… advertisers want you to think about how much better your life would be in the future if you had their product; news media plays on fear, outrage, and schadenfreude to get ratings; video games and entertainment provide escapism… I find myself wanting to chronicle every awesome experience (as it is happening) on Facebook, until I realize that I’m not in the moment when I do this. None of this is bad in moderation, but I feel like our culture is becoming consumed by these things. I try to stay mindful and set an example for my kids, and show them the wonder in experiencing the present.

    • Derek,

      Great example with Facebook. I do the same thing with photos–especially when I travel. Sometimes I spend too much time behind the lens–thinking about the people I can share it with down the road–rather than just enjoying the scene. : /

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