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October 6th, 2018
What percentage of thoughts during any given day are actually useful and lead to positive action? While this is certainly an impossible number to ascertain, we can make a reliable estimation of which way the scale tips. Most likely most thoughts are useless.
And what are these thoughts that we find the majority of our day lost in centering around? Do they center on the present? Unless we spend the majority of the day performing brain surgery, chances are good that the majority of our days is not spent centered on the present. This leaves either the future or the past to think about. With either, there are only two general dispositions that we can take. Either we are yearning for or resisting. We might yearn for a better future that is better than both our past and our present, or we can dread the future, and simultaneously yearn for some kind of nostalgic past. Likewise, we can dread the past, obsessing in a circular rut about some embarrassing instance. We can even dread both in flip-flop fashion. Disliking where we’ve come from, where we’ve gone and feeling pessimistic about what tomorrow might bring.
Spending more than a little time in any of these islands of thought do little to no good. Regardless of how much we wax poetic about some wonderful past or wan over some idealized future, we get to experience neither. The present is all that is ever available to us.
It is all too easy to imagine someone with comfortable resources being miserable on some island vacation get-away. When we juxtapose this with a group of barefoot children smiling while playing a game in squalid conditions, it’s plain to see that our internal disposition dictates our experience, not our external circumstance.
Easily described in theory, difficult in practice.
A single decision to focus on the present is a trap door for failure.
We must build a trend of like decisions to focus on the present. Every time we catch ourselves lost in thought about the past of the future, we must remember our singular condition of being solely planted in the present. Other thoughts new and old will arise and wash away our focus, but if we continually build, like a child building sandcastles in the surf, we can achieve a lasting impression.
Vacation, for example is often seen and utilized as a pressure release valve for the monotony of the workweek. Perhaps we will read a book, but often the desire and goal is to indulge in a languid infinity. Retirement is likewise seen as the pressure release for most of life, and those who do not plan on retirement being plump with new and different activities often find their physical and mental health on a much quicker path of atrophy.
A vacation would be better spent in thoughtful contemplation about the wider scheme of life. If the need for the pressure release of vacation is so constant, perhaps this is a comment on our daily workweek, and a break is not needed, but a levelling-up of the work we do.
Such a thoughtful contemplation requires a mindful understanding of what the present moment feels like across many of our like moments. This requires looking in the rearview mirror at some kind of set of data points of mindful moments during our work week, where we can genuinely ask if our abilities are being used at their cutting edge. If not, then our priorities need to shift in order to slowly transform the present into a more fulfilling pattern of activities. Executing a shift of priorities might involve eschewing certain habits and ways of living and clawing at the introduction of others. Success in both these fields is determined by how well we can walk the tightrope of the present. We will fail, constantly, perpetually and find ourselves lost in the ruts of old, habitual thinking, but if we spend enough time building sandcastles in the surf, we may realize that when the tide finally goes out, it is not a time to sit back, order a margarita, and let thoughts melt away into a stupor. It’s time to put our practice of the present to work and build a castle that cannot be washed away by the next tide.
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