I've been on quite the Alan Watts kick lately and as a result I'm currently reading his book The Wisdom of Insecurity, which was written after he left the Episcopal ministry. One particular concept in it has really been forcing me to revaluate my perspectives. The concept can pretty much be summed up in this quote, "If happiness always depends on something expected in the future, we are chasing a will-o’-the-wisp that ever eludes our grasp, until the future, and ourselves, vanish into the abyss of death." I've come to realize just how much I've been basing my life on future hopes, as well as past memories. I rarely seem to be satisfied with where I'm at in this particular moment...I'm always wishing for things in the past or looking towards things I expect or hope will be in the future. I rarely seem to just enjoy the present for what it is. I will give an example of this:
In the two and a half years between graduating from college and joining the Navy, I perceived the good majority of my life to just plain suck. I had a degree in what I wanted but was still living in the same boring town, with a boring job, making crappy cash and an erratic social life; I felt like I was going through a midlife crisis twenty years earlier than expected. So, despite never having any previous desire to be in the military, I began to daydream about joining the Navy. I heard about so many exciting stories and places and developed an absurdly romanticized view of joining simply because I yearned for something (or anything) to give my life some renewed meaning. It seemed like the perfect escape route out of my increasingly mundane existence and so my mind lived in this hopeful reality for several months on and off.
Since joining the military, however, I've had a few hard-hitting life revelations. One of the most important of those revelations being that my previous life really wasn't that bad. In fact, it was pretty good. Of course, things were far from spectacular but I had a lot freedom and key relationships that I regretfully took for granted. The first time I realized this was at some point in boot camp and it almost felt like I had died and my soul was unable to move on because of all I had left behind. The experience of being cut off almost entirely from your old life and old joys is an extremely painful experience that leaves you no choice but to view life differently. Anyway, the moral of the story is that my refusal to live in the present caused me to focus on a future that, once reached, only made me yearn for that present that had now become the past.
I have been bewitched by this cycle of wanting things past or future for as long as I can remember and I suspect most people are to one degree or another. Watts did well to point out, however, that neither the past nor the future actually exists; only the present exists. All that is exists in the present, not the past or the future. So, to be anything else other than mentally and emotionally focused on this moment is to effectively be disconnected from reality. I don't take that to mean that all thinking about the past or future is inherently bad, but to be constantly taken by those ideas is to miss the full experience of life and that is something I want to avoid.