“Plan for what it is difficult while it is easy, do what is great while it is small.” -Sun Tzu
In today’s world there seem to be two schools of thought fueled by division and political rhetoric. The first, would like to carry on as they always have and take any new information with a skeptical view. My trade school chef instructor who told me that the internet was a passing fad comes to mind when I think of these types.
The second type is a bit more twisted, as they take in all the information presented to them and demand change to accommodate whatever new circumstance arises. However reasonable this approach may sound; this type often disregards the lessons of the past and forges ahead fighting for a better tomorrow while falling out of touch with today.
The only thing these two types have in common is their inability to live in the present, one looking backwards with nostalgia while the other eagerly ventures out into the unknown.
Like many people, I’ve oscillated between these two world views most of my life while longing to live in the middle and stay firmly planted in the present. While my daily meditations and reflections have made it much easier to see life for what it is, not as I would like it to be, there is progress to be had for me with living in the present while simultaneously preparing for the future and reflecting on the past.
Sun Tzu’s quote from the Art of War, written over two thousand years ago, rings as true today as when it was written. Hope for the best and prepare for the worst while living our best life in the moment. Take care of a cold before it becomes pneumonia. Communicate with your partner before it becomes a fight. Brush your teeth to prevent cavities. Spend less than you earn to build up savings. Prioritize your health and wellbeing over work. Common sense, right?
The truth is that being present is hard because we as a species are survivors. We’ve risen to the top of the food chain and have maintained our position unchallenged. Our unhinged instincts are what has kept us safe and alive. Can’t find food? Burning down the forest to enjoy a walk-through buffet of charred animals is effective but not a good survival strategy. Raising animals from birth for the sole purpose of slaughter is. To live, we must see past what is in front of us or perish.
The other side is the old sage that has utter faith that everything will work out. That everything is temporary, and that past has provided for us before, so no future action needs to be taken. An animal may wander into our camp and die of old age and so we have further proof that no action needs to be taken to survive. These are the men that die of illness before they know they are sick.
Either side left to their own devices would succumb to their own fears and die. The future focus would discount the immediate needs and lead society down a spiral of progress that ends in suffering. Like the practice of destroying thousands of acers of forest and polluting the rivers to mine for minerals for batteries to power our electric cars so we can use less gas so we can save the earth.
The past focus people are like a toad in boiling water never taking the actions that could save its life but rather is content with the transition of it all based on the unshakable belief that it will all work out in the end. Even when the end is Toad Stew.
But if these two sides can come together in harmony, the future and the past will meet in the present and real change can be made. The large tasks become smaller as perspectives shift and actions taken become proportionate to ability not necessarily the outcome. In other words, the end may be inevitable but journey there can shift drastically.
Today, I aim to be present. I can plan while reflecting on the past. I can listen to perspectives that outside of my own worldview with compassion and understanding. I don’t need to borrow trouble from the future, but I can prepare for its arrival.