The Problem of ‘Living in the Present’

“These days, many of us would rather not be living in the present, a time of persistent crisis, political uncertainty and fear. Not that the future looks better, shadowed by technological advances that threaten widespread unemployment and by the perils of catastrophic climate change. No wonder some are tempted by the comforts of a nostalgically imagined past.

Inspiring as it seems on first inspection, the self-help slogan “live in the present” slips rapidly out of focus. What would living in the present mean? To live each day as if it were your last, without a thought for the future, is simply bad advice, a recipe for recklessness. The idea that one can make oneself invulnerable to what happens by detaching from everything but the present is an irresponsible delusion.

The beginning of wisdom here is to think about what we are doing. We engage in all sorts of activities: reading an article in the newspaper, reflecting on life, attending a protest, preparing a report, listening to music, driving home, making dinner, spending time with family or friends. Though all these activities take time, there is a crucial difference in how they relate to the present moment.

What would it mean, then, to live in the present, and what do we gain by doing it?

To live in the present is to appreciate the value of activities like going for a walk, listening to music, spending time with family or friends. To engage in these activities is not to extinguish them from your life. Their value is not mortgaged to the future or consigned to the past, but realized here and now. It is to care about the process of what you are doing, not just projects you aim to complete.”

Extract from The New York Times (Opinion)

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