The Present and the Future

On Wednesday, when Ejike, eighteen years old, woke, he weighed his young life against that of others. Disappointed, he pushed aside a book he was supposed to read, so it almost fell off the circular table next to his bed. He would have preferred the book to fall off the table, and it pained him that it did not.

Irritated by the stubborn book, Ejike found a bump on his right leg, where a mosquito had chewed him last night, and he scratched the rash until a little bit of blood stained his fingers. Satisfied with the scratch, he hummed under his breath, “Could this day please pass.” When the day didn’t disappear, he began to think of Thursday and the days to come.

“The days to come hold the key to my future,” he said to himself in a loud, forceful voice, as if he were arguing with another person somewhere in the room. Not that Ejike did not like Wednesday or his books. He did. The problem was that both Wednesday and the book represented the present moment, with all its murky routine processes, which Ejike, like so many people, did not want to deal with. Why bother with today when tomorrow holds allure and fascination?

Today, the young man had nothing; but when tomorrow came he was sure he would have something, if not everything his young heart desired. Ejike thought about the great future that lay ahead in the coming days and months and even years. In that mindset he saw himself plucking a mango from a tree whose seed he had not planted. He also saw himself holding a child whose mother he had not yet married. Toadies surrounded him and sang hymns of achievements yet to be gained. Far beyond, like dazzling stars in the sky, the thought of what tomorrow would bring held Ejike with irresistible charm and magnetism. Who wouldn’t want to extend their hands and grab the bright future, rather than bother with the everyday rigors of the present day? He looked at the book again, thumbed through some white pages, and shut it down for good.

Before you blame Ejike, please understand that he is not alone. Like Ejike, a lot of people suffer from “the nose and the eye problem.” Because the nose is very close to the eyes, the latter cannot see the former, unless the eyes deliberately search for the nose. Similarly, the allure of tomorrow prevents people from noticing the passing day, or the present moment.

There might be an evolutionary component to the tendency of people to look outward into the far distant future rather than inwardly, at the moment of today. In the primitive stage of man’s existence, food was probably scarce and men most likely had to make long-term plans, such as hoarding food in order to prepare for “rainy” days when there would be nothing to eat. This ancestral practice of continually thinking of tomorrow and days to come has rubbed off on today’s man and woman, preventing them from focusing on the present day.

Do not be under any illusion: living for the present is not easy to do. We are always torn between the present and the future. Our habit of trying to reach for the moon makes it hard to live for the present. However, in going for the future, we lose consciousness of the present, which is the foundation for the future.

In teaching his disciples how to pray (the Lord’s Prayer), Jesus counseled them to ask for “today, our daily bread.” It could be interpreted that the idea of focusing on tomorrow and the future, instead of focusing on the day and the present, was a common behavior during the time of Jesus.

In conclusion, this article is not to say that we should not plan for tomorrow. We should. The point made is that we should not make tomorrow the very center of our existence. Patience, practice, and dedication are the tools needed to maximize the gift present in today’s moment.