“…25% of our happiness depends on our ability to manage stress,” says researcher Robert Epstein. He bases this conclusion on surveys of “3,000 participants in the U.S. and 29 other countries” and suggests we should be “fighting stress before it even starts, planning things and not just letting them happen. That means planning your day, your year and your life so that stress is minimized.” Mr. Epstein also recommends daily yoga, meditation or muscle relaxation to prevent stress.
Sometimes, however, planning for the future and meditation work against each other. I just finished the book, Devotion, by Dani Shapiro, a memoir about a self-identified, neurotic author’s search for spiritual direction and inner peace. She said, “[When meditating] my mind was consumed either with the past or the future. I became lost in conversations that hadn’t happened and probably never would…Why couldn’t I remain in the present for longer than, oh, say, three seconds!”
Spending much of our time thinking about the past and future is a common experience for most people, not just Ms. Shapiro. I suspect that all of us find ourselves in situations where we give up the present in favor of dreams of what has been or could be. Sunday I drove to the Seattle waterfront. Given road closures, detours, and heavy traffic, you can bet that I kept my attention completely focused on my driving…when I was in the city. But what happened when I hit the freeway? Who knows what I was attending to? Not me. When I was working, I used to divide the evening into two components: assessing the day that just ended and planning for the next one.
Are there reasons to want to stay in the present other than to avoid traffic accidents? Yes. In talking about “life’s inherent fragility and randomness,” Ms. Shapiro describes people who are aware of the transient nature of existence and those who “believed they were exempt.” As one who focused most of her attention on the former, she realized that “there was a third way of being. Life was unpredictable, yes. A speeding car, a slip on the ice, a ringing phone, and suddenly everything changes forever. To deny that is to deny life — but to be consumed by it is also to deny life. The third way — inaccessible to me as I slunk down the halls — had to do with holding this paradox lightly in one’s own hands. To think: It is true, the speeding car, the slip on the ice, the ringing phone. It is true and yet here I am listening to my boy sing as we walk down the corridor. Here I am giving him a hug. Here we are — together in this our only moment.”
And if this scenario doesn’t work for you, consider the instructions you receive when you buy a raffle ticket or enter a drawing: must be present to win.