NOW or Never: The Art of Living in the Present with Another

A wise man once said that despair is experiencing the present moment through conflating the past and future. The person who despairs life cannot stand living in the present moment because, for that person, the present is, has been, and always will be like the past: riddled with hurt, regret, pain, and disappointment. The future is nothing more than a conveyer-belt of the past, presenting itself second-by-second to the present moment.

While many of us may not be suffering from despair, many people (including myself) struggle with engaging the present whole heartedly. Similar to the experience of despair, our inability to fully engage the present arises from our perspective about the past and future. Here are 5 ways we fall pray to the conflation of the past and future, compromising our ability to engage the present with the passion and enthusiasm it deserves. As we will see, relationships are the first to be compromised when we disengaged from the present.

Expectations and Car Salesmen

When we place expectations on an event or person, we adopt a particular set of lenses, coloring our perception of reality. Instead of encountering the present moment, we encounter the relative difference between our expectations and the actual outcome. It is that difference that occupies our mental space rather than the present moment itself. Lost, then, are the gifts that lay unappropriated in the moment itself.

The solution is to begin approaching all events and people through the principle of discovery. Rather than coming with expectations, the whole hearted person engages the present through inquiry and curiosity. This does not mean that we must abandon intention. The businessman, spouse, son, daughter, mother, father, and friend benefit greatly with such a mindset. The car salesman clearly intends to sell cars otherwise he would be out of a job. The pushy car salesman expects to sell a car to me, and will do anything to achieve this end, including ignoring my wishes. The curious car salesman takes the time to understand why I’m here and my preferences. In the end, his curiosity earns him a sale while the pushy one ends up with wasted time.

  • Question: Where is the tension in my life right now? How might changing the way I approach someone without expectations heal the tension between the two of us?

Highway to the Comfort Zone?

How different the movie would have been if Top Gun’s adrenaline pumping penultimate theme song, “Highway to the Danger Zone” was “Highway to the Comfort Zone.” I imagine Maverick growing up on the comfort of his own couch. Not knowing whether the death of his father and co-pilot was his father’s fault, he absorbs the shame of the family name. The result is spending the rest of his life hiding in life’s shadows so not to bring to light the self-imposed “fact” that he too is a failure. That actually doesn’t sound too far from the original plot, and it is the untimely (spoiler alert) death of his co-pilot Goose that forces him to bring his wounds to the surface.

Unfortunately, the life of comfort comes at the expense of greatness. Instead of risking the vulnerability of the present moment with all its raw emotions and uncertainties, we either under-correct or over-correct to preserve our “fragile egos.” By under-correcting, we live in a state of paralysis, engaging the moments set before us with extreme caution. We blanket every moment with people pleasing gestures, praying to God that our lack of value is not revealed. The over-correctors are equally as fragile although it does not seem that way initially. Rather than treating the present like a porcelain doll, we treat the present like a bull in a china shop. With controlling like behaviors, we go out of our way to judge anything and anyone that may pose a threat to our ego. By diminishing the thoughts and opinions of others, we tenuously maintain our own value through the diminution of others.

Both the over and under corrector wall themselves off from a genuine encounter of the other. The risk of exposure is too great so we wall ourselves off through people pleasing, or power plays. The result is a twisted self-fulfilling prophecy of not being loved. We end up not being loved not because we are unlovable, but because we have walled ourselves off from the opportunity to be loved by another.

  • Question: Who is someone I can practice stepping outside of my comfort zone with? Find someone you trust and personally (face-to-face) open up to this person to the point where it feels slightly uncomfortable. Regularly practice being received by someone even in the murky waters of life.

Judge Lest We be Judged

It is not in our pay grade to judge the hearts and minds of others. The more we become quick to judge, the more we reduce the means by which we can receive “the real” of another. I’m reminded of old latin phrase, Quidquid recipitur secundum modem recipientis recipitur. Whatever is received is received according to the mode of the receiver. Our capacity to receive that which is before us is limited by the mode by which we receive. If judgment is our primary mode, then we severely compromise our ability to receive anything other than what we are expecting to receive.

As we approach relationships, the present moment is safeguarded by assuming the best intentions of the other. This mindset opens our minds and hearts to the person before us, and opens the door to a spirit of discovery, which is opposite to a spirit of judgment. Judgment is not bad but the spirit of judgment that prevents our ability to see what is truly before us, is bad.

  • Question: Who is someone in my life that I have developed a spirit of judgment with? What is one thing I can do this week to approach this person through a spirit of discovery?

No Matter What, It’s Your Fault

There is an overused saying that “curiosity killed the cat.” My best guess is that it was the cat’s curiosity about other cats rather than himself that got him killed. Curiosity is a powerful activity, but when the object of curiosity becomes everyone but ourselves, it becomes a self-destructive weapon. One of relationship’s greatest offenses is being so curious about the other person, that we forget (or deny) our own contributions to the dynamic of the relationship. Our curiosity is too limited to how the other person has wronged us that we fail to ask the most meaningful question: How have I wronged the person?

  • Question: How have I unfairly stacked the decks against someone I love by being too curious about the other person’s flaws, to the determent of my own well being and the well being of the relationship? What is one thing I can do today to lavish praise on the other, and be more curious about myself?