I have within my soul faculties. My memory tells me who I am. My intellect tells me what I am. And my will tells me what I shall be. You must watch your memory and control it because it feeds your intellect, which in turn influences your will.
Self-control is a necessary but unpopular quality. It is usually associated with negativity in our culture because it can mean denying oneself things one wants or what feels good. We can run our lives by what “feels good” and satisfy our senses and emotions but that completely excludes our intellect and will. Putting our intellect and will into play requires self-control in several areas.
First, we cannot permit the past to rule us – especially the reliving of the past which is that endless rehashing to the point where it affects you at the deepest level. That is different in kind than recalling things that will help us live better in the present moment. For instance, the drug addict who knows from previous experience he or she cannot use at all is both necessary and helpful. However, it is wholly different when we continuously live in a moment that is already gone forever. Then we are, in effect, denying the present moment that is the true reality. Focusing on the past – whether it is a good memory or a bad one – and allowing it to take over moment by moment in the present warps the present. We are not, then, LIVING any longer because everything that we are in the moment is shaped by moments that are done and over. For instance, I cannot possibly finish a marathon because when I ran it before I couldn’t finish it. I cannot do well in math because as a kid I never did well in math. Now you have defined yourself concretely and there is no present – there is no chance for change – there is no room for intellect or will.
We also make the mistake of looking into the future and living with the anxiety of moments that have not yet come and giving up the beauty of the moment right now. Oh my, when I practiced law I suffered so much with living in the future. Future hearings, trials, motions due, etc. weighed on me so heavily they literally choked the present out of me. For several years I lived solely for tomorrow. I lived all the anxiety of the future in a capsule. It made me sick physically, empty spiritually, and mean, nervous, and unhappy.
People tell me that you have to face reality! But the reality is living moment by moment now with a knowledge of the future but not a doomed reality. It reminds me of my aunt who is an internist and often she is telling someone they have cancer and she must deal with the issue of life expectancy. She tells them, however, that medical research says that two months is maybe what the research says however, you are alive right now. You have a choice. You can live each day with the knowledge and use your will and intellect to live every moment to the fullest or you can die every day.
During my practice as an attorney, I watched people in heated disputes carrying baggage from the past or being weighed down by a future that had not yet happened to the point that these attitudes literally drove the dispute. Part of the mediation/facilitation process for us is to get people into the present moment and to get people to become conscious of their own will and intellect in the present moment. It is empowering. It changes people’s way of thinking and leads them to more productive thinking. It also changes how they relate to each other and often progress can be made. With their minds open and focused on the present moment and living each moment instead of the entire future or some rehashed past event that is eating them alive, they become masters of their lives and solvers of their own problems in ways they did not think could happen.
For the Christian, living in the present is fundamental to problem-solving and life itself! We are expected to live in the moment, on the “faith” level. We are expected to know and believe that God is in that moment with us and that with Him all things are possible.
Remember the story in the Bible of the apostles and Jesus being on a boat in a terrible storm with waves crashing and breaking causing the boat to seem like it would tip over? Jesus noticed how frightened the apostles were. The Lord said, “Why are you so frightened, you men of little faith?” (Matt. 8:26). They were so afraid because they began to live on a memory level. Their previous experience told them that this type of storm would sink the ship. But what about God who is there in the present moment? Peter comes over and says, “Master, do you not care? We are going down!” (Mark 4:38). This attitude causes us to lose out on one of the most important aspects of our Christianity.
As Christians, we look past our own will even to the will of God and the strength of God and the belief that He can perform miracles even where, perhaps, our memory tells us that this situation is impossible. I love being a Christian because that faith which I draw on as much as possible and for which I pray for an increase of every day, is key to the movement for me and key to me living in the present. With that belief, I can let go of the past and know that each moment is new and in each moment is a chance for a different result.
I do not worry about the past or the future because the now is all that matters. I release anxiety because after prayer and appropriate effort I give the rest to Him and TRUST that His result is the best for me at that moment. I do not always understand. I am not always emotionally happy with the result. But when I am able to sustain this attitude I have a peace that truly surpasses all understanding. And I find that I am using my faculties – my memory, my will, and my intellect to their fullest.
The present moment equals a new sheet of paper all the time. Stop scribbling the same miserable thing on it. Stop scribbling the future that did not happen yet on it. Start scribbling your right now on it and see what happens. It takes courage my friends to live that way. I find that courage in Christ my Saviour. Where do you get yours?
This article was adapted from Mother’s Theresa’s Chapter on Living in the Present Moment from the book, Mother Angelica’s Little Book of Life Lessons and Everyday Spirituality cited above. She is insightful and funny and spot-on so much of the time.