When did I first hear those words? I’ve heard that phrase my entire life. I’ve said it more times than I can count. Whenever I’ve had a student, one of my children, or my wife unraveling into a tangled mess of anxiety, I’ve often said, “Take a moment.” But I’ve never really thought about where they’re supposed to take it or what they’re supposed to do with it once they arrive at said unknown destination.
I was recently watching The Book of Eli again for an upcoming project for Molten Universe Media. Starring Denzel Washington, Gary Oldman, and Mila Kunis, this movie is one of my favorites of all time. The worldbuilding is stunning, the performances are brilliant, and the twist at the end (no spoilers here) is nothing short of genius.
I found myself immersed in this brutal, violent, fictional world and yet, felt drawn to it with an almost unthinkable logic—wouldn’t it be cool to live in a postapocalyptic world, fighting for survival and not worrying about the golden handcuffs of modern civilization?
In Duncan J. Watts’ book, Everything Is Obvious: *Once You Know the Answer, he cites a 1980s’ study by Philip Tetlock. Tetlock asked 284 political “experts” to make predictions about future elections and here’s what he discovered:
“For each of these predictions, Tetlock insisted that the experts specify which of two outcomes they expected and also assign a probability to their prediction. He did so in a way that confident predictions scored more points when correct, but also lost more points when mistaken. With those predictions in hand, he then sat back and waited for the events themselves to play out. Twenty years later, he published his results, and what he found was striking: Although the experts performed slightly better than random guessing, they did not perform as well as even a minimally sophisticated statistical model. Even more surprisingly, the experts did slightly better when operating outside their area of expertise than within it.”
If expert predictions are almost always wrong, what does that say for the average person trying to make reasoned, informed decisions about the future? It says that we all suck at predicting the future. We’re wrong almost every single time.
I’m a fan of heavy metal from the 1980s because I was a teenager at that time. Before the Internet, music defined who you were and what you believed in. The way you dressed, what you listened to, and where you hung out, showed your peers who you were in much the same way social media does for kids today.
Metallica, Dokken, Tesla, Guns N’ Roses. These bands shaped my perspective on life, helping to mold me into the antiestablishment, antiauthoritarian outlier I’ve become. In 1985, if the mainstream wanted it, I ran in the other direction. So now when I listen to “Master of Puppets,” or “Back for the Attack,” I’m swimming in a warm sea of nostalgia. I’m returned to the time of big hair, acid-washed jeans, and Swatches.
I enjoy lying to myself, recalling that lost decade of excess as if it were some sort of adolescent nirvana when, in fact, my teenage years (like everyone else’s) were some of the most challenging in my life. While cranking “Sanitarium,” I forget about the hormone-fueled turmoil I’d experienced at that time. I conveniently dismiss the loneliness, isolation, and feelings of insecurity that I’d experienced.
Would I want to go back and live in 1985? In a heartbeat. But if I was transported back to that time and place, I know it wouldn’t be quite as red as the view through my rose-colored glasses.
So then what? If we’re almost always wrong about what the future holds and if we filter our memories of the past through a comforting blanket of nostalgia, where should our thoughts live?
Here. Now. This moment.
Without sounding like a Zen Buddhist monk, now is all we have. It is the only thing that is real. The past is gone, and the future is a mystery. I’m not advocating a nihilistic existence filled with violent self-indulgence because what is done now will impact our future, but worrying about it or trying to predict it is as useless as trying to return to 1985 unless you have 1.21 gigawatts running through the flux capacitor of your DeLorean.
If you have a moment, where should you take it? Maybe the answer isn’t a location in the time/space continuum. Maybe “taking the moment” means grabbing the now and living in the present, snatching it and holding on. Maybe we shouldn’t be transporting the moment somewhere else, but we should be grabbing it out of the ether and squeezing it as hard as we can.
How? The key to unlocking the present is through mindfulness fostered by meditation. Discarding the religious or cultural intonations, meditation allows the mind to slow down. The act of mindful thought keeps us from looking ahead and stops us from turning around and looking back. Reflection, solitude, silence—these are all ways to “meditate” without a prescribed mantra or method. Once you’ve developed meditation as a habit, mindfulness follows.
I’m sure I’ll continue to say, “Take a moment.” However, I think now it might be worth taking my own advice, on a daily basis. The author life is nothing but a series of moments strung together with a thread of gratitude that knits the past to the future.
Go ahead. Take a moment.
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