Turning Old Clichs into New Maxims:
Live For Today. If it Feels Good, Do It.
By Richard Eyre
It was a business associate who used to tell me that this was his motto. And in the context that he meant it, it had a certain appeal and validity. He was committed to living only in the present, enjoying the moment.
The problem was he took it a step farther to where it meant, “Don’t be bound by any convention or standard or even by any consequence.” His goal was pleasure, which, by definition, made him selfish.
Too often in our society we are attracted to things that sound new rather than old, individualistic rather than conforming, and experimental and exciting rather than traditional and time-tested.
The problem is that many of us keep rediscovering an age-old wheel of folly. We end up learning, by trial and error (and by pain) things that millions of others have learned the same way and that philosophers, sages, prophets, and God have told us all along.
There was an interesting incident in our ward, where the bishop was a laborer by profession. He was sincere and dedicated by was neither educated nor articulate. One of the members in the same ward was a highly trained (and very expensive) psychiatrist-therapist.
It so happened that several people from the ward were going to both the bishop and the therapist for advice and counseling. Some of them felt that they were getting more help from the bishop, and they told the psychiatrist so. He was a little professionally troubled by this, so he went to the bishop and asked him was his secret was. What methods or teachings or counseling or therapy did he use which were so effective in helping people to improve their mental and emotional health?
The bishop took the question very seriously and gave a typically blunt answer: “Well, I just ask them questions until I figure out which commandment they are breaking, and then I tell them to stop it.”
The word commandment sounds so authoritative and restrictive that we sometimes pull away and have the instinct to rebel, to “do our own thing.” Yet scriptural commandments, for those who believe, are best described as “loving council from a wise father” ? profound advice from a Supreme Being who wants us to be happy and has outlined the best behavioral ways to be so.
The simple fact is that there are absolutes. There are universal values that qualify as such through the collective human experience if not by their divine origin or source. And living by those ageless standards does not threaten or diminish our freedom, it expands it. There are consequences for selfish, indulgent behavior, and the consequences are usually in the form of limits ? limited health, limited relationships, limited options and potential ? in short, limited freedom.
My business associate’s philosophy of instant gratification, living only for the present and doing whatever felt good at the moment worked well on some very important things, such as enjoying a pretty day or a current conversation or on feeling grateful for an unexpected opportunity of a serendipitous circumstance. But it worked terribly on things from the very temporal (credit cards and financial management) to the more spiritual (character, empathy and conscience).
The problem with his motto is that it pitted the enjoyment of the present against the wisdom of the past and the prudent planning of the future. It was a choice of the one at the expense of the other two.
A Sanskrit poet saw things very differently. He believed that the present should be well lived, but with both the past and the future fully in mind: “Yesterday is but a dream and tomorrow only a vision, but today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of joy and every tomorrow a vision of hope.”
People who value the past, both for its memories and for the wisdom its experience, tend to understand and appreciate the present more and to have a clearer idea of where they want their own future to go. And minds that spend some time focused on the future usually have a clear enough sense of where they are going that they can worry less about it and thus enjoy the present more.
The new maxim represents a paradigm that has always been important ? but never more so than today.
LIVE IN THE PAST, THE PRESENT, AND THE FUTURE,
AND DO THE RIGHT THING
In the long run, this is what feels good.
2005 Meridian Magazine. All Rights Reserved.