The Present Trap

Live in the moment. Enjoy the now. And on and on.

These are the admonishments we hear daily from media, pop culture, and the self-helpers. I think by and large, most people follow this advice, especially the young and the youthful.

I know you’re braced for me to lay out a counter-point, a counter-argument, and you’re right to expect it. Before that, however, let me say that this live-in-the-now stuff has a fair amount of common-sense to it.

But I think we take it too far and in so doing over-size the present. When you think about it, of the three tenses of time–past, present, and future–the present, the now, is by far the smallest, the shortest, the most fleeting. Here now, gone now. And yet we’re told over and over again that we need to spend more, perhaps most, and, incredibly, maybe all of our time there, in the present.

By being overly present-minded we take a giant step toward narcissim and self-centeredness. We elevate our importance at the expense of other people and other times. We sacrifice the organic bond and connection between past and future (yes, I chose my words quite carefully there).

Perhaps our excessive present-mindedness is a version of a blood clot. What needs to flow to and fro can’t. The result is an excessive and unhealthy pressure that damages, sometimes permanently.

Keep it in balance and keep the shortest tense of time in its naturally smallest position.