Fighting Poverty with Passion
A theme of my life in recent months has been mindfulness, or staying present. Books on meditation and de-stressing your life of course mention this idea, but other media hints at it as well. I’ve been slowly working through Eckhart Tolle’s famous The Power of Now, in which he writes at length about the concept that we only exist in the present.
“Have you ever experienced, done, thought, or felt anything outside the Now? Do you think you ever will? Is it possible for anything to happen or be outside the Now? The answer is obvious, is it not?
Nothing ever happened in the past; it happened in the Now.
Nothing will ever happen in the future; it will happen in the Now.”
Tolle breaks down this hidden, but obvious concept in a variety of ways, but they all amount to the same conclusion; you cannot alter the past through your thoughts and actions, you only think and act in the present. Subsequently, altering the future or stressing about what is yet to come is purposeless; you only can make decisions in the present time, and what you do in the present builds the future, which, again, can only be accessed in the present.
This calendar year, I have challenged myself to read 50 books as a way to reconnect myself to the fantastic activity of reading. Reading so much has exposed me to many great ideas, but none is as important as the concept of mindfulness and staying present. Applying this idea to the challenge of reading 50 books has been important, too, because what good is reading so much if you retain or enjoy so little in the present moment of your reading? Mindfulness is helpful in every area of life, and it has also been important to surviving, succeeding, and thriving in my VISTA term.
Often during my year I have been plagued by many questions dwelling in the impossible domains of the past and future, such as:
“When we get a new Executive Director, how will their decision making impact our work?”
“It’s a shame some of my colleagues were let go, how will we compensate for their absence moving forward?”
Because my term is nearly completed, I have of course been dwelling on questions like,
“Where will I work next?
“What will I do for a living in the long term?”
All of these questions are purposeless and only serve to compound stress and anxiety. In any work role, and especially in an organization embedded in a large bureaucracy like Tulane University, it is crucial to stay present. Things are always changing in the non-profit world so there is no point living in the future. Holding out for a better tomorrow ensures that you don’t appreciate the present day as much as possible. In a role such as mine, the work changes frequently as well, so focusing on what is on your plate now is the best way to be productive and to stay sane.
Anxieties about long time-scale concerns are similarly distressing. Worried about your next job? Aim to do your best work in your current role, and start today at planning for what’s next. Realizing that the only piece of time you can manipulate is the present is one of the simplest, yet most profound changes in thinking I’ve come across.
I have had a life-long bad habit of trying to recapture the past, and attempting to perfect the future. I will tell you first hand that this way of thinking does not lead to happiness. While I still worry about what’s next, I have come to accept that the past is out of my hands, and the future is not in my control. The best thing I can do is to channel awareness of the present, and take things one today at a time.