serene ambition™

transforming the culture of aging

One Day at a Time

Posted by Jim Selman on 11/17/06

As long as I can remember, people have been teaching me to relax, enjoy the moment, smell the roses and just take it easy—to live life one day at a time. This wisdom is at the center of Alcoholic Anonymous’ prescription for living a sober and sane life. I wonder why it is so difficult—even rare—to live in the moment and why I find it easier to do so as I grow older?

I suppose, when we are younger, we are more goal-oriented and don’t have a lot of history under our belt. As we age, we realize we’re not going to accomplish everything. So we become more selective about what we want and appreciate it more when we get it. I think we also learn to live without expectations, which also helps us to ‘be here now’. If we are lucky, we get the opportunity to pass these maxims on to our children and grandchildren.

Obviously, we can’t be present while we’re living in the future or living in the past. Even as a matter of logic and common sense, the present moment is all there is. Tomorrow isn’t here and yesterday has disappeared. Today is all there is. So if we are really aware and conscious of what is real and who we are, the only choice is to live in the present—to surrender to the moment and just BE. Our only alternative is to resist being present, which we do in a thousand ways—from trying to control everyone and everything in sight to suffering, struggling and falling into a labyrinth of moods and internal conversations about everything.

In my experience, my ‘ego’ (or what I call my ‘internal conversation’) is really a time machine whose primary job seems to be to remember stuff (real or imagined) from my past and project it into the future in the form of expectations and predictions. My mind’s idea of the future, in turn, informs my thinking and decisions, which results in my doing more variations of what I have already done. This, in turn, produces the results I expected and, when my expectations go unfulfilled, gives me the opportunity to make up reasonable explanations for why things didn’t work out.

Most people ‘expect’ old age (which is relative to however old we are at the moment) to be an undesirable state. We can hear a thousand examples of people talking about “I don’t look forward to getting older, but…” Since we will get old whether we want to or not, the choice is between accepting and embracing that fact OR resisting it, in one way or another, and living in the past or fearing the future. If we are not living our life in the present, decline in old age becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

My career has been about coaching leaders to create the future, not to simply cope with the circumstances they encounter. I suggest that everyone has the capacity to create their own reality through commitment and action consistent with a vision or possibility that is larger than the predictable future (what I call the ‘circumstantial drift’). There is no question that this capability is available to everyone and we have all experienced breakthroughs and profoundly creative moments in our lives.

Why not apply these experiences to our lives and our communities as we get older? Why not be leaders after we retire, and create a future that is as enlivening as any other time in our lives, perhaps even more so? Why don’t we take on old age with enthusiasm and live it one day at a time?

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I can live it is my privilege to do for it whatever I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no “brief candle” to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment, and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.
—George Bernard Shaw, Man and Superman

© 2006 Jim Selman. All rights reserved.

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