Being Present

By Ken Wells - 08/01/2021


Series Two; Blog Fifty

The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubborn persistent illusion. Time is an illusion”. Albert Einstein

My bed was next to the upstairs window on the south side of our house facing our neighbor’s home. While lying in bed I could also see the traffic passing by on 18th street which was U.S. Highway 45. In the summertime I would watch the 18-wheelers pass by, wondering where they were headed. I would fantasize what it would be like driving one of those big rigs. I learned that some had sleepers and I wondered what it would be like to drive and pull over to a rest stop and crawl into the sleep compartment. I thought about packing all the tasty goodies I would want to take with me. In my young, naive mind it sounded like an adventure. This fantasy was particularly persistent when I knew that the next morning I was going to get up and go hoe beans or detassel corn for some farmer.

Many years have passed since those days of childhood fantasy. Long ago the interstate replaced U.S. Highway 45 as a main transportation artery for truckers. The highway now is a lonely lane of travel that is no longer used for cross-country trucking of goods and services. I haven’t lived in the house I grew up in for 50 years. The romance and adventure of being a trucker has long since lost its appeal.

Einstein was helpful in pointing out the illusory aspect of time. Some people live life by fantasizing and wishing they were always somewhere other than where they are presently. The past is romanticized.

I recall in high school days there was a Friday and Saturday night ritual in my hometown to cruise down Broadway east to 12th street and north to Gill’s Drive In at 12th and DeWitt. The idea was to circle through the parking lot and then retrace the same path, doing it over and over, honking at your friends and listening to Led Zeppelin or whatever hard rock was playing on WLS radio from Chicago. Of course, you were cool when you had a pack of cigarettes rolled up in your tee shirt sleeve. I never owned a car and could only ride with someone else. It was something to look forward to in an Illinois Midwest town.

Well, I was recently visiting my hometown and took the journey in my own car that I could never take when I was in high school. It wasn’t the same to say the least! First, half of downtown had been razed and was hardly recognizable. As I made my way towards Gill’s Drive In, the streets seemed so narrow and inconspicuous. Then, Gill’s Drive In was gone too! Where once there was a hub of activity there was now an empty lot! I felt disappointment and emptiness. I could only think of the good-old days! I wanted to reminisce. The truth was those days were not any better, and clearly not nearly as good as the here and now. Certainly the streets were not any wider! It’s just that it is tempting to look back and think that yesterday was better than today. Yet, to go back and live out the economy of yesterday would be absurd. There would be no internet, no cell phone, no audio subwoofer systems booming base that rattles your bones, and no Tesla quietly smoking every other car off the line when the stoplight turned green! We are just tempted to want to live out yesterday once more.

“The distinction between past, present and future is only a stubborn persistent illusion”, Einstein said. It is a common tendency to want to think that the best part of the party is always somewhere other than where you are. Einstein is right, it is an illusion. No matter how much you hurt, how bored you may be, or how much you wish the current crisis of your situation would disappear, the best part of the party is right where you are.

No kidding! Yet, how could this be? Too often addicts want to be anywhere other than struggling with emotional pain, craving, or boredom. How could this be the best part of the party for me? How do I transform this moment of misery into one of meaningfulness? Consider the following suggestions:

  1. Recognize that everyone struggles just like you:

This is not to say that everyone has your struggle. It’s just that when you listen and experience the realities of those you envy, most likely you would  choose to be satisfied with your own burdens and adversity. The old adage “life isn’t greener on the other side of the fence” is most often true. It helps to ground reality, to know that your struggles are not unique, and that trials are common to us all.

2. Find meaningful wisdom in your current crucible of suffering: There is divine insight for all who search for it in adversity. It requires that you hold your feet to the fire when you experience discomfort and emotional pain. Listen to what your heart is telling you. Share what comes up with others who are doing the same as you. Recovery meetings are a place to do this. What will emerge is wisdom that will transform your misery into meaningfulness. This requires disciplined training and conditioning. It will add richness to every moment of your existence.

3. Slow things down and be present in the moment: Much has been said and written about this. Yet, it cannot be overstated. Many addicts are like myself and struggle to be still in order to experience their own presence. To suggest that you practice presence doesn’t mean you should be a master in this art. Most addicts like me can obsess about doing more to keep from being less. The disease of “more” prevents presence, which destroys meaningfulness in the moment. Trying to do more to keep from being less is a trap and illusion that robs you and me from the sacred present moment.

As human beings, we are always tempted to nostalgically want to live in the past. It’s true that past days seem so much better than the present when we view them through the rose-colored glasses of sentimentality. Yet, Einstein reminds us that through a 20/20 hindsight view, “the distinction between past, present and future is only a stubborn persistent illusion. Time is an illusion”.

Meaningfulness in life can only be right where you are, in the moment you are experiencing in the here and now.

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