I often think about the day that has just passed – in the evening as I sit in the quiet and remember things recently past. It is during those times that I come closest to understanding what it means to live in time – a time that keep on passing with or without my permission. We all have this experience because we can’t avoid it. Life itself is the experience of passing days – and months – and years. It is during these quiet times that the memory of what was – what might have been – and the irrevocable loss comes to mind. And the immediacy of ‘now’ takes a back seat to a time of reflection.
Each day brings untold opportunities – to learn – to be kind – to understand – to connect with others. Each presents itself like an expectant puppy – eager for attention and wanting so much to find a world in which it is accepted and cherished. And I find myself – in those quiet hours – wondering why I sent this puppy away – why I didn’t realize that this other one was there at all.
Maybe you have had similar experiences. The people that you meet – the chances you are given – the gifts they bring to you – represent the county of living – the true reason to be alive. Wealth is there all the time – incredible richness flows all around you – it is a matter of recognizing and accepting the opportunity to partake.
But there is most surely a trap in such remembrances. Living in the recent past is still living in the past. When I find myself thinking about such things and wondering about lost opportunities, I take a breath and remind myself that this moment – this very quiet time – is yet another opportunity – and that the present is the place to be living – even in these moments of quiet reflection.
Each day begins with opportunities to do something that you can be proud of – to touch another fellow human being – to understand their concerns and needs – to contribute to their lives – ease their pain – help them understand and cope – and let them teach you to understand. The afterglow of a day well spent is in the presence of those opportunities that were well used – a cause for reflection on the wonder that ‘I really did that and made a difference’ – ‘the world is a different place because I lived through this day in this way’.
When I am living in the present I reach out to people – extend a hand – try very hard to understand the world as they find it and the life that they are experiencing. For the most part it is not so very different than mine. But the details make all the difference. At the end of a very good day I end up feeling that I have lived several lives through several days. Several lives through several days – and all in the same twenty-four hours!
Maybe you’ve met someone who seemed old beyond their years – I certainly have. Truth be told, I collect them – they are some of my most favorite memories. But it was just recently that I came to understand how they were able to manage such a thing. Most of them live forty-eight to sixty hours in any given day of their lives.
An old friend was fond of saying that ‘its not the years, it’s the miles’. Strange that it took so many years for me to understand what he was trying to tell me. Being alive in the present brings the exquisite benefit of living and experiencing more hours – and living more deeply – than the simple and mechanical march of the sun around the earth would seem to offer.
I call this ‘making time’. When I was younger I thought that time made itself but now I know that I was wrong. We each make time – we are its creators – to the extent that each day is more than the minimally allotted twenty-four hours. And you can do the same – you can be a ‘time lord’ and create the most precious commodity that any human possesses – more time.
Sure, at first this is going to sound very strange to you. I can hear the literalists now – ‘there are only so many hours in the day and nothing can be done about that’. But spend some time with the thought – let it seep into your consciousness and settle into your understanding – and you will see that the literalists are gravely mistaken. They are intent on stealing the very thing that makes you most human – with all the possibilities that that implies. Learn to make time – and watch your s grow. Leave the literalist to wonder at your creativity.
Right now that suggestion may sound a bit daunting but I can give you a couple of places to start. First, make use of those quiet times at the end of each day. Use them to replay the day and look for opportunities that you missed – gifts that you refused – puppies that you ignored or missed altogether. But don’t take this as an opportunity to beat up on yourself for being less than you might have. Think of yourself kindly and with compassion as a person fallible and capable of unintentional mistakes. It’s not the apportionment of blame that wealth – it is the growth that self-knowledge can produce.
Take a bit of time to make notes about those things that you would have liked to have done better or at all. Write them down in a journal. Then promise yourself to be more aware – more alive to the moment – when they come by again. You see the exercise is not to place blame and generate shame – it is to create awareness and preparedness for the gifts that the next day will surely bring.
Only by honing your senses – by learning from your mistakes and missteps – can you become tomorrow the person you were not able to be today. And that is because of the most precious gift that any of us ever receive – the ability to be more tomorrow than we were today. In a very real sense, every day is a ‘do over’ of the last. No, you don’t get to go back and remake yesterday – but you do have the very real opportunity to make tomorrow different – and yourself very different in the process. So learn from yesterday – let it help you improve tomorrow.
Every day should be a masterpiece that you are proud to have authored. Each hour should contain within it all that is the best in you and what you have to offer. Doing means reaching out to others and adding to their lives in ways that they couldn’t on their own but it also means reaching into your own life and becoming someone that does things that the ‘you of yesterday’ couldn’t do as well.
Every person who you meet in the course of your day has a different experience of life. Think of the incredible diversity that surrounds you and the varied understandings that abound. This is truly abundance in its highest form. Each day you come in contact with those who have figured out what it is that confuses you most – overcome the challenges that you find most daunting – met and slain the demons that are bedeviling you the most. They are all there right in front of you.
But you also come into contact with those who are confused where you are not – who need help to overcome what you have overcome – and are still struggling with the demons that you have slain. You see you are not only a student but a teacher – and your day is going to find you in both roles. You gain confidence during a day well spent – but you also help others gain confidence.
Your journal can become either a bludgeon or a guiding light. It’s your choice. I regularly go back and read the entire thing. If you do this with kindness and a gentle understanding that you are, after all, only human, the experience can be very therapeutic. Here and there are missteps that you are still making. But every now and then there is one or two that you no longer make. You see your journal is a record of the person you used to be – being read by the person that you have become. And, in being that, it is a reflection of the progress you have made and a monument to your intention to progress.
Your goal needs to be that during those quiet times at the end of each day to be able to look back on your day with pride – to be able to say ‘I’m glad that I lived it that way’. None of us ever get completely to that place – but, with effort and awareness, we can get a lot closer than we are today.
Finally, try to see yourself, the people around you and the gifts that the day brings as they really are – not how you would like them to be. Living authentically means accepting what is a richer and more abundant world than you could ever imagine or insist into existence. Living authentically also means being present in every moment of your day – living it directly but gently – and living as much of it as there is to live as possible. When you do that you will also understand that ‘it is not the years, it’s the miles’ that really count.
I provide mentoring to those who have both the courage and determination to make a truly transformational journey. My approach is heavily influenced by core principles of Zen Buddhism. I don’t offer quick fixes or follow the latest fads. If you are willing to make the long journey – if it’s time for you to come to know the person you really are and can become – if you intend to finally find the path you should be following – if you want to start living life you were truly meant to live – then perhaps we should talk. Send me an e-mail and we’ll arrange a time to chat.
© Earl R. Smith II, PhD