Get Authentic by Living in the Present
- Dr. Neil Clark Warren for the eHarmony Research Library
- 2003 4 Apr
Because our society so heavily emphasizes externals-what we can see, touch, and taste-there is not much discussion in the media, at social gatherings, or even around family dinner tables, about what it means to be internally authentic and genuine. Likewise, there is little dialogue about how to achieve a deep level of life satisfaction.
Yet I believe that a true and lasting contentment will never occur for someone until they've learned to be completely authentic with themselves and the world around them. The lack of societal discussion of this issue leaves most people vague and unclear when it comes to the questions surrounding authenticity:
* How do we know exactly what it means to be authentic?
* How can we recognize this quality in others and in ourselves?
* What are the internal ingredients that will lead to contentment?
I believe that one of the core values of someone who is enjoying an authentic existence is a commitment to living in the present. It's all too easy to live life in the future or in the past. When this happens we relive the glories and missed opportunities of years gone by or yearn for the better days ahead. In either case, we fail to experience life as it happens. There's nothing wrong with having fond memories of the past and aspirations for the future, but when they dominate your life focus you miss the joy and richness of life as it unfolds.
The work of Professor Carl Rogers, one of the most influential American-born psychologists, has affected my life enormously. I first learned the power of "living in the now" from Rogers. His therapeutic approach emphasized the present because he was convinced that life is more fulfilling and rewarding when we focus on this moment.
But it was years later-after I had become the dean of the graduate school where I taught-that Professor Thomas Oden of Drew University helped me to understand more precisely the relationship between being present in the moment and being in tune with the deepest and most central parts of one's inner self. Dr. Oden recognized that, primarily, anxiety and guilt keep us from focusing on the present. He argued persuasively that anxiety almost always relates to the future. When we doubt our ability to handle prospective challenges, our anxiety increases. Consequently, we devote more thought and energy to these matters. We worry, fret, and stew over what might happen. And the more we focus on the future, the less available we are to the present.
Similarly, Professor Oden said guilt almost always has to do with the past-mistakes we made, problems we didn't handle wisely, projects we left unfinished, and people we let down. The guilt we experience about past events causes us to continue attending to them, and this preoccupation shifts our focus away from the present.
My experience with the Christian faith made Dr. Oden's principles for dealing with guilt and anxiety extremely helpful. He reasoned that hope for the future is built on faith in God. Our confidence in God is always based on past events-how He has proved Himself reliable and consistent in our lives and throughout history. When faith is well established, we become convinced that He will guide us and help us through any future challenge. This assurance, built on faith, frees us from anxiety and allows us to remain in the present.
A similar principle applies to guilt. The promise of forgiveness enables us to release our guilt. When we truly experience forgiveness we can let go of our concern about the mismanagement of past events. We are no longer bound by the past and are instead liberated to live fully in the present.
What's more, as we endeavor to live in a way that is true to our inner thoughts, convictions, and inclinations, we will increase the likelihood of living in the present. We will manage daily events and problems in a more thorough and thoughtful way, thereby creating less guilt. As we experience our ability to work wisely through each new challenge, we become more and more assured that we will be able to handle whatever our future holds.
Our mastery of the present reduces our anxiety about the future and frees us to focus even more on the immediate. This is the powerful momentum that emotional health tends to create for us. On the other hand, when forgiveness and hope are absent for us, the same powerful momentum is equally likely in reverse.
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