At first glance, it seems contradictory. How can we live in the moment if we think about the future? After all, by thinking about the future, we fill our minds with endless worries about things that we cannot control. In the process of planning, are we not likely to miss the moments? But does living in the moment mean giving up total control of our lives to external events? Does it mean we go through life in a reactive manner?
In my opinion, living in the moment and planning for the future are not contradictory ideas. I believe that we can plan for the future and live in the moment as well. There is a time and place for both. In fact, it is by planning for the future that I can live in the moment. When I plan for the future, I clear my mind of worries so that I can focus on the present. After all, if I have done all I can to ease my worries, what else is there to distract me from the moment?
Our minds can only focus on one thing at a time. Sure, we can multi-task, but few of us are good at doing different things at a go. Thus, if we focus on the future, we miss the moments. This is akin to thinking of the destination when driving a car instead of focusing on the road. We are unlikely to reach our goal. But if we live solely in the moments, we lose sight of the big picture. This is akin to driving a car without knowing where to go. In reality, we need to know where we want to go, but it is by focusing on the moments that gets us to the future. To illustrate my point, let me use a game that I enjoy playing.
Dungeons: Be Evil and Feel Good
I enjoy gaining insights from many sources and one of them is by playing PC games. A few weeks ago, I discovered the game Dungeons. It is a strategy cum simulation game where I get to play as an evil dungeon lord. Even though the setting is in a dark maze like dungeon, it has cartoonish characters and dark humour. The game is actually a satire that allows me to look at things from the point of view of a baddie.
1. The Objective
The premise of the game is simple. My evil girlfriend overthrew me and took over my domains. My goal is to reclaim my rightful position as prince of the underworld and take my revenge. But I lack the power to do so because I lost everything and have to start from scratch. Thankfully, there is a way to build my power and that is to absorb the soul energy of heroes to become stronger while expanding my domains. How do I go about this? I have to design an elaborate dungeon to satisfy the needs of heroes before I can trap and harvest them.
Now heroes, being the goody two shoes that they are, enjoy killing monsters and finding treasures. These are their basic needs. As the lord of the dungeon, I have to fulfil these needs by providing them with monsters and treasures. When heroes fully satisfy their needs, they max out their soul energy. At this point, I have to capture them before they leave my dungeon with my treasure. If I fail to do so, I lose my treasure and my reputation as an evil genius. But if fully satisfied heroes falls into my evil clutches, I can put them in my specially designed prison cells and suck their soul energy to increase my power. *mandatory maniacal evil laughter as thunder sounds and lightning flashes*
2. The Characters
For simplicity’s sake, there are two classes of heroes in the game. They are the fighters and the magic users. While both types of heroes enjoy finding gold and killing monsters, they also have specific needs. Fighters appreciate weapons and armour. Magic users enjoy reading books on magic and spells. Thus, I have to let the former into my armoury and the latter into my library. Here, they can fulfil their specific needs to their hearts’ content.
But that is not all. A staple of dungeons is evil monsters. These minions are pawns that I have to sacrifice to fatten up the heroes for the capture. (Honestly, I rather breed and take care of my monsters, but that is not how the game goes.) If I capture the heroes too early, their soul energy is too little for me to absorb. Thus, my monsters must not be strong enough to overpower the heroes, yet they must provide a reasonable challenge. Luckily, I have an endless supply of different monsters. I just have to place them in strategic positions to give the heroes the challenge they need.
Of course, no evil dungeon lord is complete without his army of goblins to carry out his menial tasks. These servants of mine carry out the construction and mining of my dungeons. They help to refill the treasures that the heroes steal and slack off when there is nothing to do. It is so hard to find good help these days.
3. Designing My Dungeon
As you can tell by now, this game requires a lot of thinking ahead on my part. I have to design the dungeon so that I can capture satisfied heroes. This means I have to place monsters and treasures strategically. If I kill the heroes too soon, there is nothing to harvest. If I fully satisfy the heroes, they head for the exit and escape from the dungeon. There is no problem, if I am only dealing with one hero at a time. I can focus all my attention on him or her. But if word spreads about the treasures in my dungeon, I have to deal with ten or more heroes at once at different stages of the process. To manage, I have to pre-empt the actions of the heroes as best as I can. I must lead them on, fatten them up and know exactly where to swoop in for the capture. Once I have done that, I can focus on the moments as I pick off the heroes who are ready.
4. The Actual Process
I have no control over the heroes or their actions. They have free will to act and choose as they please. This adds an element of uncertainty to the game and my plans. But I can guide their choices based on what I know about their natures. This is where planning is important. Because this is my dungeon, I know the layout better than the heroes do. I can see the big picture and even though I cannot control everything, I am more or less in control of the situation with my strategy. By keeping a close eye on matters, I know the strategic locations to capture the heroes when they are satisfied.
On the other hand, the heroes live in the moment. They focus on finding treasure and killing monsters. Most of them do not realize there is an “evil genius” behind the scenes pulling the strings. They cannot see that it is part of my diabolical plan to harvest their souls. As a result, they take the path of least resistance and fall into my evil clutches. When the heroes live from moment to moment, there is no escape. Only those who are smart enough to group together to destroy my dungeon heart will stand a chance of breaking the cycle. But to do so, they have to consider the big picture and naturally they have to get past my hulking guardian and me.
Life is pretty much the same. Treasures are akin to wealth, success, status, power and glory. Monsters are like adversities and problems we face. If we only focus on what is in front of us without seeing the big picture, we will end up reacting to events as they happen. We can live in the moment, but unless we make an effort to see the bigger picture from time to time, we may well be rats in a maze. When we lack awareness, we are likelier to take the path of least resistance and make bad choices that could upset our lives. In the process, we may succumb to needless problems and not even realize what hit us. If we think of the big picture, life is like my dungeon lord preparing the heroes.
I am not suggesting that someone wants to harvest our souls, neither am I saying that we can control everything. Even as the evil dungeon lord, I did not have complete control over the heroes and their actions. All I could do was to guide them along. But to do so, I had to plan. Only then, could I adapt my actions, as I needed. If I did not have a plan, I would have ended up reacting to events and failed to capture the heroes.
I believe that life gives us problems and lessons to shape us. Yet we have to steer our lives right with the choices we make. As we attain success and overcome problems, we become stronger and more capable than before. Only then will we be able to manage greater things and survive to reach our goals. But to get there we have to survive our challenges first. This involves having clear goals and a flexible plan. The plan is more of guidelines than fixed rules that will help us to adapt to changing circumstances. Yet to get to the future we want, we have to live in the present. This is why we need to balance living in the moment with long term planning.
The Harmonious Balance
If I live too much in the moment, I might lose sight of the big picture. Instead, I end up focusing on the details and neglect the greater scheme of things. I react to events instead of pre-empting them. Like the heroes in Dungeons, I might be lucky if I manage to escape the dungeon with the treasures I loot. Yet without a greater awareness, it is only a matter of time before my luck runs out. But if I live too much in the future with planning and worry, I might neglect the moments and miss what is important.
I believe that the way to resolve the now and the future is a matter of balance. We have to plan for the future so that we can appreciate and focus on the moments. But where the balance lies differs from person to person. How then do we achieve that balance? Here are two points I can think of.
1. A Plan to Clear the Mind
Making plans clears the mind. In the process of listing our worries and the possible actions to counter them, we clear our confusion and create the conditions for inner peace. When you have a clear idea of what you want and need to do to get to your goals, you are less likely to spend time and effort thinking about it. It is when you are uncertain that the issue will keep on weighing heavily on your mind. Plans allow us to adapt with greater ease to changing circumstances. With a clear plan in mind, we can appreciate the moments with fewer worries to distract us. The key is to plan as best as we can and go with the flow.
2. The Journey of a Thousand Miles
Lao Tzu once said that the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. We have to live in the moment to get to the future. But unless we know where we want to go and how to get there, it is better not to begin the journey at all. A balance of the now and the future is not easy. After all, there is no standard course of action in life. Each moment has different needs and requirements.
When parents are at work to provide a better living for their children, they must focus on work. When they are at home, they should focus on their family and kids. This is the ideal for how to live in each moment. But while they are living each moment, they must also have a longer-term idea of how to provide for and protect their family. If they neglect the big picture, they will be unprepared for disasters. Only by planning ahead will they have ample preparation to deal with problems and have peace of mind.
3. Acceptance and Balance
It is true that we cannot prepare for everything, but not planning at all is not prudent. On the one hand, the unknown can cause us needless worries. On the other hand, we are more vulnerable to surprises. The key is acceptance and balance. If we have an idea of how to manage and what to do, it is easier to adapt to the situation as needed. Plan as best as we can, but do not let the outcome affect you too greatly. What matters is that you have done what you can to take the needed precautions. As long as you are steering your life, things will work out for the best.
Sandra’s comment inspired this article. In a way, it is complementary to my earlier article on preparation and a follow up of sorts. I believe that we can blend living in the now with planning ahead. There is a time and place for both types of thinking. While we live in this world, we have to balance the long term and the short term. Each moment has its challenges and we have to adapt as needed. But as long as we are prepared, we will make better choices instead of reacting impulsively.
What are your views of living in the now and planning ahead? Do share your thoughts and comments below.
Disclaimer: All the images in this article are screenshots taken from Dungeons. They are copyrighted by Kalypso Media Group and are not of my making.