Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Why Not Live in the Present

  1. Human beings have the capacity to remember and learn from the past, and to anticipate and plan for the future.

  2. Human beings are rational as well as emotional.  Our memories are of data as well as of feelings.  A memory of having had an ankle sprain can make us walk more carefully on an uneven surface.  This "carefulness" coexists with a mild anxiety.

  3. Emotions and feelings are rough-and-ready mental responses to situations.  They may be imperfect, but they evolved to serve a purpose, and they do serve a purpose.  That purpose is: to steer us towards behavior which has over the millenia proved to be advantageous for our genes.

  4. One of the fundamental qualities of a human adult is his/her capacity to delay pleasure, or to plan for pleasure while engaging in relatively less pleasant activities.  Delayed Gratification, in other words.  Instant Gratification cannot lead to outcomes which require planning, drudgery and boredom.

  5. Being comfortable with Delayed Gratification is a mark of adulthood.

  6. Due to various reasons, some humans might be maladjusted and will not find it easy to delay their gratifications and work towards meaningful goals which provide long-term fulfillment.  A modern malady of this ilk is the Attention Deficit Disorder.

  7. These human beings, who are not able to patiently endure boredom or drudgery, can be said to be living in an infantile state of mental effort-reward cycles with a fast turn-around time.

  8. This burden of being human has led to untold benefits in terms of our survival advantage over other species, and our prosperity and progress.  Of course, there is the grave risk that we might be exhausting the planet with our insatiable appetite for growth and further comfort.  But to solve even that, the full power of the human mind, with its capacity for looking into the future, is being used.

  9. To want to live only in the present, is to find the burden of human civilization and of enduring delayed gratification, too heavy to bear.

  10. Living in the present is to abdicate the use of some fundamental human faculties, and thereby also some fundamental human anxieties.

  11. The danger of the solution being perpetrated by those advocating "Living in the Present" is this: That instead of marketing it as temporary stress-relief, they are marketing it as a way of life.  We all need unwinding at times when we want to relax and when we don't want to think about the past or worry about the future.  But to never want to be "wound up" is an unrealistic expectation encouraged by self-help teachers.

  12. In other words: To want to live in the present is to want to be on vacation forever.

  13. It is to offer someone a cognitive relief from a problem, rather than to help him solve his problem.  While being high on cocaine, one is oblivious of a looming bankruptcy.  But oblivion is not a restructured loan.

  14. It is true that the constant cognitive and civilizational stress in many advanced human societies might be too much to bear for a large number of human beings.  But to want to live in the present is to admit total defeat.  Much more reasonable would be to adjust one's emotional involvement in stressful pursuits (and to accept the thereby lower rewards) and to undertake a calming/detaching practice a few times a day.

  15. Spiritualists talk in absolutes.  And that is why they are so dangerous.  They ask you not to modulate, but to "let go", to "surrender", to "live through the heart", to "live in the moment", etc.  Modulation advice ("see if you would benefit from moving to the suburbs") sounds less glamorous, authoritative and divine.

  16. Stress, and sorrow and suffering and regret and fear and worry, are to be managed, not to become "free of".  To want to live a stress-free life is to misunderstand life.  It is a desire to go back to the womb (now only couched in more divine terms: nirvana, timelessness, etc.).  To be born is to implicitly accept the burden of life: of competition, of heartbreak, of an uncertain future, of an imperfect past, of mortality, of worry, of losing, of shame, of ridicule, of jealousy, of randomness...

  17. To want to live in the present is perhaps a symptom of not having meaningful goals beyond oneself.  And for that, the whole momentum of the last two hundred years of rationality, breakdown of the community and of religion, is partly responsible.  We are lost in the absence of given meanings, and to create our own is easiest when the meaning is here-and-now, not in the past or in the future.

  18. Religion is not about living in the present, spirituality is.  Religion can be best understood as a code of ethics with a divine authority figure.  Spirituality is less about meaning and ethics, and more about "me", "my feelings" and of "living from the heart".  In other words, religion (though fake) creates a meaning beyond oneself while spirituality (while also fake) aims to make one feel good.

  19. Living in the Present is about "me", and little else.  It is the unending focus on "me" which creates the lack of meaning, and which creates the need for a solution as spurious as living in the present.

  20. It may be cliched, but to find happiness within yourself, try to focus on something other than either happiness or yourself.

  21. Spiritualists will ask you to go "deeper" into yourself.  Beware.


Dr. Venkat said...

Brilliant! The human brain hasn't evolved to live in the present. Trying to focus, making an attempt to concentrate (while performing surgery, for example) and getting one's priorities straight are worthwhile; "living" in the present isn't.

Renaud OPQ said...

Mr Harmanjit !

Its sad to see that you are investing so much of your energy to be anti-something.

Forget the word spirituality, and the content is only common sense.

Who said that being in the present means .. 'not planning for the future' , 'not remembering the ankle pain'. When it is said, 'Be in the Present' , it does not mean 'think about the present in terms of material time and try to avoid everything else'.Its plain stupidity.

I do not see anything wrong in being 'me'centric either. Its all very fine by you if you one is using this 'me' to do everything in life.. career, knowledge.. etc. So.. why not go a step further and know a little more about this 'me' ?

I agree with one thing that you say though. to label yourself a spiritualist and follow these gurus in order to be a better 'me' is plain stupidity. Its no different than joining a 'personality development' class. Pretty Fake !!

Anonymous said...

"Of course, there is the grave risk that we might be exhausting the planet with our insatiable appetite for growth and further comfort. But to solve even that, the full power of the human mind, with its capacity for looking into the future, is being used."

And what does that future look like? What is the real problem here? It is our insatiable appetite not the limited resources of our planet, not that the planet can't cope up with our whims and fancies. Yet the full power of the human mind can't see this. Because it looks into the future and it can be too optimistic, it can bring about catastrophic changes.