‘No valid plans for the future can be made by those who have no capacity for living now.’
British philosopher Alan Watts said that. And he wasn’t lying.
There’s a grain of truth in that statement, and we all know it. Most of us seem to carry this notion that life is about planning and preparing for tomorrow. I, too, have been guilty of thinking the same way:
When I turned 18, I began writing down my hopeful bucket list. Long story short, it was a list of all the goals I wanted to achieve before I turned 20. I made a solemn vow to myself that I would achieve every single goal on that list, no matter what.
I crossed off many goals during this process, but there was one problem: I was constantly planning for the future, micromanaging every single hour of my days, never resting from the climb towards my goals.
I was constantly thinking about what I wanted to achieve ten months, five months, two years down the line.
I was not living for the moment. I was a sucker living for the future.
Whenever I conquered one goal, I would instantly be on the hunt for the next goal. I never gave myself time to appreciate the moment. I was constantly thinking about the other goals I wanted to achieve down the line.
And, perhaps, that’s our problem right there.
We take all of our moments for granted. Our eyes are so focused on what’s to come, that we forget to look around at what’s already here.
We go out in search for those firefly sparks of good moments, and whenever we do catch one spark, we never hold on to it. We just drop it and run out in chase for other sparks:
Let go of the climb
To let go of the future, you need to first let go of the climb. Because the truth is that the climb will never end.
Life can sometimes feel as though it is a ladder. In life, we’re always climbing upwards, rung by rung, obstacle by obstacle, until we reach a higher level. When your eleven years old you need to climb your way up to secondary school. Then when you graduate secondary school you need to climb your way up to University. And then, of course, when you’re done and dusted with University there is still a great climb that lies above you:
You need to tussle and compete with other candidates for the most desirable jobs.
There’s always a climb, but when will it ever end?
The only finish line is death. When you arrive at that last checkpoint, you’ll feel cheated if all the time you had was spent focusing on the future, and ignoring the present.
‘There is no use planning for a future, which when you get to it and it becomes the present, you won’t be there. You’ll be living in some other future which hasn’t yet arrived’ — Alan Watts
Escape the trap of worrying about tomorrow
‘Although we might be quite comfortable and happy in our present circumstances, if there is not a guarantee, not a promise of a good time coming tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow, we are at once unhappy, even in the midst of pleasure and affluence. And so we develop a kind of chronic anxiety about time . . . We want to be sure more and more that our future is assured. And for this reason the future becomes of more importance to most human beings than the present’ — Alan Watts
We want to be sure that our future is assured. We want to be promised security. That is why we constantly worry about the future so much and plan our lives way ahead of schedule.
The unknown is the scariest monster under our beds, and we want to be prepared for it.
You don’t know whether or not you’ll lose your job tomorrow. Whether or not you’ll be able to pay your rent and bills. Whether or not you’ll be able to come home safely. In life, there are many blank canvases, and with that terrible uncertainty comes anxiety.
The antidote to his worry is to let the future be.
By all means, we should plan for the future, but we need to also remember to come back and settle in the present.
There needs to be an equilibrium, a balance, a counterpoint. I don’t believe that we should out rightly disregard the future. It’s good to have a solid life plan, a blueprint which you can follow, so that you know roughly where you are and where you are headed.
But, I also believe that we should not spend all of our time and mental energy worrying about the trivialities of tomorrow. That will only deprive us of today’s joys.
‘For unless one is able to live fully in the present, the future is a hoax. There is no point whatsoever in making plans for the future which you will never be able to enjoy’ — Alan Watts