Planning for the Future—in the Present
Don’t Miss Today While Dreaming About Tomorrow
Posted March 3, 2013
Thoughtful planning for the future is essential, and the damage done when we fail to take a hard look at the possible consequences of today's actions is familiar to us all. Financial planners have jobs for good reason! Personal and national debt point out the harm caused by an alarming lack of anticipation. Bullying, gossip, greed, procrastination, and unchecked anger guarantee harmful results. Philosophers from Epicurus and Aristotle in ancient Greece to John Stuart Mill in nineteenth century England proclaim the absolute necessity of contemplating future consequences. But!
Plans and goals can constrict us if we are not careful, however. The concept of flexibility enlivened a philosophy group recently and they tossed around my definition as I listened in: “Flexibility is the ongoing practice of moving with life. Just as the sails of a sailboat catch the wind as the vessel glides smoothly through the water, accepting change as an inevitable aspect of being alive allows us to flow more easily with life’s movement. If I know deep down that the world renews itself in every moment, I learn to expect change as a natural part of life. Serendipity keeps me on my toes.” Several people gave examples of their burdensome worries about the future—others spoke of the benefits of agility in switching predetermined courses.
Two individuals came immediately to mind. Danish philosopher Soren Kierkegaard and his portrayal of the “unhappiest man” always scares me! Living in a future world that does not exist, and lamenting or longing for a past that has indeed passed, this sad person never shows up—the present moment, the only one that is real, is missed completely. Mark her or him “absent” from their lives. On a happier note, my former student Erin, who came to introduce herself before our first class in Eastern Thinking, asked what I expected of her—and I asked what she expected of me. “I want you to be present,” she stated. Erin had goals which she achieved both academically and professionally. How? By being open to opportunities, to changing circumstances, to chance, and by living life fully right smack in the middle of the moment.
Plans are like signposts that help us envision the road ahead, but they shouldn’t rule out a wondrous detour nor should old goals prove a roadblock to a new, more fulfilling direction. I think of these lines from Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I- / I took the road less traveled by.”
How about making flexibility a trusty ally?