Overrating is overrated

April 2nd, 2008

Now for something completely now.

I’ll admit I was a tad off-put, mildly aggrieved and recklessly endangered by a glib comment made recently by someone (who, like me, can be forgiven her off-the-cuff pronouncements) lecturing along the lines of living in the now is overrated . . . something that only monks and yogis can do . . . and that the key to happiness lies in having fond memories of the past and plans for the future.

Huh? And from a “spiritual” memoirist?

Let me go on record as saying I am all for happy memories and titillating trips. I’m all for champagne wishes and caviar dreams. Pile up my pasta bowl. Save me a first-class seat. Fill up my glass and pour me a second. In a certain way, there’s nothing quite so happy (or sad) as a memory, and nothing quite so invigorating (or agitating) as the future.

But the comment plays to the conventional misunderstanding about time and how it can be fully lived. The past and the future aren’t real and no matter how many times we stamp the passport, we can’t live in imaginary places. No, we have to stay right here. And for some of us, with full houses and real lives, with crying, whining kids that we love and even hate sometimes; gimpy dogs with diarrhea; husbands we haven’t left; broken bones; busted bank accounts; and all-day laundry to do, the facts of life are not something that we need to detour around. Again.

Life isn’t always a day in Polynesia, that’s for sure. You can keep sneaking out the back door and racing out the front door and squeezing past airport security but you’ll never end up anywhere else but now.

You know where I’m heading, but I’ll say it again anyway. The only place we ever live is now! There are no other options whether you’re a monk or a millionairess, a yogi or a bear. You can’t underrate or overrate it. When we call it “the” now it suggests a certain kind of now, a different now, a better, special edition now that is attained, as one fan cynically dismissed, “by the old idea of meditating on a rock and wishing for enlightenment,” or by what someone else testified against, “living in a vacuum.”

Oh the dust we do indeed stir when we live in a vacuum which I haven’t yet tried but I suspect with my new slimline Dyson to be that much more impossible for me to attain.

No one has to master living in the now. It’s impossible to live anywhere else, rock or no rock, wish or no wish! Just as you can never leave now, no one will ever take away your past or withhold your future. Effortlessly, your past accumulates. Instantly, your future arrives. What matters is that you notice your life while you can still call it “alive.” That’s called now.

Or at least it matters to me and my still-beating heart.

There’s really nothing more to it. For your own peace of mind, get rid of any three-letter word that you might automatically insert before “now.” As in “the.” Or “not.” Take those out and put nothing else in. Get rid of the idea that now is anything else or anywhere else or anyone else.

You are now. There! Life just got easier still. “Now” may not be all it’s cracked up to be, but the real problem with it, I suspect, is whether we think it’s enough.

And special thanks to Liz. Because she inadvertently prompted this awakening, along with many hours of hedonistic reading, she is to me what we rock-sitters call a bodhisattva. We should all look that one up while we have the eternity otherwise unaffectionately known as now.


Hoppity Dog Update: Thank you for being Super Dog’s duper best friends! Although we’ve been assured it’s not an emergency, and we could leave it untreated and expect our girl to heal to at least half her former self, we’ve opted to award Molly with the most expensive medical treatment our money can’t quite buy. (Thank you home equity!) She will have her surgery next week, while Daddy and Piddly Dog are in Kansas City and Mommy Dog is in Orange County doing her doggone best to speak, girl, speak at this parenting conference. Come down and join me in a romp. I’ll be off-leash, which I seem to be already.


  1. I immediately thought of you when I read the “living is overrated” comment on another blog. There is indeed nothing wrong with the past or future but you are correct, now is all we’ve got.

    And I must say that I am terribly pleased that in the very near now Molly will repaired. I love you for loving your dog.

    Comment by Shalet — April 2, 2008 @ 7:11 am

  2. YES! I love it!! You say it so brilliantly well, the exact choice of words! So simple, so true, there is nothing else to be said.
    I send my doggie wishes too…
    xo m

    Comment by Mika — April 2, 2008 @ 2:08 pm

  3. YES! I love it!! You say it so brilliantly well, the exact choice of words! So simple, so true, there is nothing else to be said.
    I send my doggie wishes too…
    xo m

    Comment by Mika — April 2, 2008 @ 2:09 pm

  4. oops, don’t know how that happened. sorry.

    Comment by Mika — April 2, 2008 @ 2:10 pm

  5. Today is one of those days that I wish I was still living in Orange County. I would be at the conference in a heartbeat (after I found a babysitter, of course!)Grateful to hear that Molly will be fine. And so will you.

    Comment by Kristin H. — April 2, 2008 @ 2:22 pm

  6. I found a lot of inspiration in Elizabeth’s book, but I have to admit I was a bit put off by her comment when I heard it. It made me wonder if she even believed her own story.

    Comment by Shannon — April 2, 2008 @ 5:17 pm

  7. You said we are always living in the now and can’t avoid it, but I find myself physically present and mentally somewhen else. It makes me irritable and I get annoyed when my kids try to pull me back, mentally, to their now. We may not have to master being in the now, but I sure need to work on keeping my mind and body in the same time zone. It’s one of those so easy but so hard but so easy things in my life.

    Comment by Mrs. B. Roth — April 2, 2008 @ 5:18 pm

  8. Oh, and I have to say I support your decision for the surgery. The quality of life is worth it. (It doesn’t take long to pay off…lol) Happy doggie day.

    Comment by Shannon — April 2, 2008 @ 5:19 pm

  9. The same comment felt inauthentic to me, too. It read as I though before motherhood, not as I think now

    “What matters is that you notice your life while you can still call it “alive.” That’s called now”

    You say what I’m trying to live, perfectly.

    Thank you.

    Comment by Becky — April 2, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

  10. Brandy,
    Everything is easier to say than do. But from now on, just do what your kids say!

    With love from one grouch to another.

    Comment by Karen — April 2, 2008 @ 7:01 pm

  11. Karen, I often think of similar comments you made in your book, about living in the now. You’ve expressed them so fully and elegantly again, “now,” thank you.

    I think of it in those moments when I’m holding my 2 yr old son, and he is actually holding still for the moment to be held, and I’m just glad for this “now.”

    One addition to your comment about the past: It is enriched by the memory of the “nows” we remembered to cherish. Our memories can be saddened by the “nows” we let slip away. I try to walk that fine line between trying not to regret missed moments, it is useless to live with those regrets, and just make up for when I do remember to cherish “now.”

    Comment by Anonymous — April 2, 2008 @ 7:16 pm

  12. I have experienced living fully in the moment occassionally –how can’t I with a 20 month old? Ha ha! No way around it w/ a babe–and I do find perfection in those simple moments–but I kind of get where the author (?) is coming from. I’m not sure if the “now” is over-rated–haven’t been there for any long period–just brief flickers–or if I’m lucky when I’m in nature or writing I lose the self from time to time for longer periods–but I’m reading Eckhart Tolle’s Oprah book now and read his *Power of Now* long ago. He’s a big proponent of living in the present.

    But sometimes, I feel like what he’s asking in this new book is so beyond me. It seems to me to be the opposite of our human nature–and I wonder if it’s even attainable. So the part about yogis and monks seems a reasonable doubt to have when considering these promises of what’s to come when you live completely in the moment. I get the doubt. I’m not that sure how possible it is to lose the ego, or to forgo nostalgia or dreaming of the future.

    I enjoy all of the human experience–the dreams, the memories, the ego even. Am I nuts? But I do agree that the simple moments rise above it all–and make the frustrations of being human worth it. A good question that I ask myself is should we approach our experience w/ equanimity w/out even rating the present moment as one thing or another? I’m not sure. I also fail miserably at forcing the moment. I end up in the present most times by accident.

    Comment by Anonymous — April 2, 2008 @ 7:31 pm

  13. Yes, absolutely don’t judge or rate yourself. It is you, entirely you, no need to lose your ego or nostalgia or dreams. No need to run away or fix. No problem. And if you encounter a problem, recognize that is only in your judgment.

    All of this is far simpler than we think. You fail at nothing. Waking up by accident is perfect; in a pinch, a pinch will do the trick every time.

    Comment by Karen — April 2, 2008 @ 7:43 pm

  14. I have learned the thrill of stopping in the middle of a walk or washing dishes or talking to my children or even listening to a story of someone in distress and simply thinking, “Live this, Gail. Breathe this. Right here and right now.”

    Often I allow myself to start rushing from here to there instead of being here. Right here. Thank you for reminding me that, while it is wonderful to remember the past and fun to plan for the future, this is the only moment that is mine to enjoy and pay attention to and live in. Right here, right now.

    Thank you.

    Comment by GailNHB — April 2, 2008 @ 7:56 pm

  15. Awww, what a minute, Boo-Boo! You’re not going to thwart my escape into my rich fantasy life, are you?

    Just kidding, of course. I find the phrase “the now” really annoying. What is that supposed to MEAN? Is “the now” a more NOW now than my now? Maybe that’s THE now only monks, and Yogi, and Boo Boo know about.

    This post is sheer brilliance.

    Comment by Mama Zen — April 2, 2008 @ 9:36 pm

  16. Wow … awesome. You just plain rock.

    And, that’s all I have to say because The Nows are calling and crying for me because APPARENTLY The Other Now– the Big One — can’t be the only one in The Now right now.

    Comment by Shawn — April 2, 2008 @ 11:09 pm

  17. First, I mis-read the title of this post as “Overeating is overrated”.

    Second, an ongoing joke Aviva & I share, except that it’s not really a joke. I finally gave up on replacing watch after broken or lost watch. Now, I ask her what time it is, and she always knows: “It’s now!”

    Comment by Jena Strong — April 2, 2008 @ 11:28 pm

  18. Karen-
    Thanks for this. All I have to say is Amen. Pictures and plans are nice but there is only one time to enjoy them in. I have lost too many minutes pining for the past and too many hours waiting for tomorrow–So when I read what she said on a few other blogs today I just felt all squirrely.
    I get what she must have been hinting at–that THE now is too heady to talk about and what matters is to enjoy/experience or just plan live life as it unfolds. You said it perfectly here. Thank you.

    Comment by Meg Casey — April 2, 2008 @ 11:29 pm

  19. But isn’t dreaming about going on a trip listening to yourself Now as well? Isn’t it all just one and the same thing and its all wrapped up into each breath we take? Maybe the point is to just stop thinking about everything so much.
    At least, that might be good advice for me. Let the plans and the memories take a dip in my personal salsa and then head right back from whence they came.
    I have to admit, I heard her say it too, but I felt more like she was just giving us the big thumbs-up, the okey-dokey, no matter what.
    Either way, I am always grateful for your comments and insights.

    Comment by Holly Lash — April 2, 2008 @ 11:43 pm

  20. Holly,
    You got it! Absolutely it’s all one thing, can never be left, can’t be overrated. “Don’t think so much,” is the most concise spiritual advice ever given, although few would applaud it and no one wants to take it. All that meditation accomplishes is the direct realization that the life in front of us is not at all complicated or difficult to master.

    Comment by Karen — April 3, 2008 @ 12:27 am

  21. I just realized that this post is in regards to the Eat Pray Love author. Okay–that puts it into perspective. I think the reason her book has been such a success is that she has tapped into a deep human longing to escape to an exotic land (in her case 3 exotic land) and come back made anew. She even got a man at the end, which taps into another familiar story, but I’ll leave that one alone. Certainly the worldview set forth by her book is much more hip and exciting than dealing w/ the here and now. No wonder she said what she said. I wouldn’t pay her words too much attention. She’s coming from such a different place.

    Comment by Anonymous — April 3, 2008 @ 1:14 pm

  22. i have to admit, I laughed when I heard this comment she made. I make no claims to know the context ion which it was said or her intention, but I do enjoy when anyone speaks the unorthodox or against the cliches. that is how I heard her words, that it is ok to not get all stressed about living in “The” NOW, that we don’;t have to try so hard. But again, that is what I hear, maybe not what she meant.
    Sadly, living in the now has become cliche, used in ways that make no sense to me. You don’t have to WORK to live here, because you can’t really live anywhere else. 🙂 So thank-you for cutting through the mysticism and just telling it like it is Karen.
    And maybe this is just me, but I guess I don’t see time this way, linear, all separated and divided. Everything, past and future, are always present in any moment.
    but living fully awake? This takes practice.

    Comment by bella — April 3, 2008 @ 3:21 pm

  23. sigh…
    i have no idea what’s what…
    maybe the answer is there is no answer.

    memories are lovely but they are gone once they’re made…in the past, but the joy or sorrow from them can still feel very real…very present. yet the only thing that is truly tangible is this fleeting moment…right now…
    before it too is merely a memory…
    the past.

    and can i say that my mind is completely fried by this and that i have no answers…
    only more and more questions.

    the birds are singing, that much i know. xo

    “if you notice anything,
    it leads you to notice
    and more” – mary oliver

    Comment by Wendy — April 3, 2008 @ 4:20 pm

  24. For Wendy,
    Please take your mind off the stovetop because you are done and naturally well seasoned.

    A monk asked his teacher, “How do I enter the Way?” The teacher replied, “Do you hear the stream outside the window?” The student said yes. “Enter there,” the teacher said.

    Comment by Karen — April 3, 2008 @ 4:26 pm

  25. i’ve been struggling with reconciling what truth i get from your statements with what truth i also find in the comments you quoted (which i’ve also read on another blog i frequent). i don’t think that they are two ways of life that are diametrically opposed. or at least should be. they seem to need to coexist like the yin-yang – with a fluid balance (if that makes sense). to live in the now, and be present in the moment of your life is important and necessary for infinite reasons. but in doing so you also create a collection of memories that are precious, beautiful, worthy or telling – good and bad. and those shoudl be remembered and reflected on in a healthy manner. when i’m having trouble focusing on the now, i pull out my husband’s camera and start taking pictures of the now – “to remember it later.” but it’s just as important to have plans, even if loose, for the future. things you’d like to accomplish or experience, save up money for, or sometimes just to reflect or dream on if in the now you’re not so comfortable. in labor, the pain would be so bad that the only thing i could do to preoccupy my mind was focus on what was to come the next day, or the next, or the next – all those days coming with my baby. when i’m gripped with sleeplessness and the sounds of silence in my house are too much, i’ll fall asleep daydreaming about the garden i’ll have someday or decorating the house we’re plannin to buy. the error though is dwelling too much in the past or living only for what’s going to happen tomorrow. in neither case are you truly living. but in focusing on this moment only, you’re only seeing a limited view of yourself and your life. I learned that for God there is no such thing as time – everything from the beginning to the end occurs simultaneously. it’s way beyond our human comprehension or understanding. but we were made in His image, therefore shouldn’t we try to appreciate what total view of life and the world we have, even while LIVING in the now?

    Comment by Sarah — April 3, 2008 @ 6:17 pm

  26. Sarah, do not struggle any longer. The only struggle we ever have is when we try to conceive the inconceivable. The now is you. All of you. As you are, where you are. Impossible to conceive but entirely possible to be. You lose nothing.

    Comment by Karen — April 3, 2008 @ 7:11 pm

  27. I went to the Lamott/Gilbert lecture at UCLA and while I do remember Gilbert discussing her notions of having fond memories and plans for the future, I don’t recall her saying specifically this was the KEY to happiness.

    I took her words as a healthy perspective on the ideal of living fully in the present 24/7, which I think, as human beings with jobs, families, dreams, and passions can be very challenging at times. Yes, the truth is that we only have right now, and this is where we should be focusing our energies. But just like anything else, there is danger in putting so much pressure on ourselves to live according to some perfect standard, that when we continually feel like we aren’t living up to it, it begins to feel like one more thing we are failing at.

    Gilbert’s words, to me, expressed the truth that memories and plans do not have to exist in opposition to living the now, but that they are healthy, normal pieces of the puzzle that create our humanity. Enjoying memories and looking forward to plans do not necessarily negate the experience of living in the present, and I appreciated the gentle way Gilbert reminded us of this.

    Comment by Swirly — April 4, 2008 @ 12:52 am

  28. I love your perspective. And I’m wishing your doggie the best! Hope he recovers quickly.

    Comment by Shelli — April 5, 2008 @ 11:31 pm

  29. mmmmm…i’m just happy to be here with this conversation.
    the variety of perspective is rich and real.
    it is all there is.

    Comment by jessamyn — April 8, 2008 @ 4:20 am

RSS feed for comments on this post. TrackBack URL

Leave a comment

archives by month