MapQuest was a technological marvel. In the early days of the internet you would. . .
- Visit mapquest.com,
- Enter your departure address,
- Enter your destination address,
- Print the turn-by-turn instructions produced by the system,
- Take your printed directions and find your way to your destination following the directions.
Remarkable as MapQuest was, its limitation was clear: it was on paper.
If you took a wrong turn or were just really bad at following directions, you could still get hopelessly lost; perhaps even worse off than you would have been following your Uncle Steve’s verbal directions scrawled hastily on a napkin.
The functional limitations of MapQuest in its early years are a good parallel to life. We make plans — sometimes sketching them out in painstaking detail — only to be derailed by the unforeseeable: changes in employment opportunities, health, or family circumstances.
Alan Watts offered a revision on the tired refrain “life is what happens when you’re making other plans” when he said:
They fail to live because they are always preparing to live.
It hits a bit different, doesn’t it?
Never and always are dangerous words. No one always does or never does something. The only safe rule is that there is always an exception; always a circumstance when we do something a different way.
So, for Mr. Watts to say, “always preparing to live,” is not accurate. It is, however, evocative. His statement, as you’ve probably gathered, is about being present.
What does it mean to be present?
In its simplest, it means not being mired in the past or the future. It means keeping your focus on the here and now in a natural way. It doesn’t mean abandoning lessons learned from the past or planning for the future, but it does mean holding onto those things lightly.
The gurus are fond of illustrating this idea with an object lesson: take a ball and grip it in your hand with your palm facing down. If you grip the ball as hard as you can, your arm will tire…