“…frequently I do drift away from the present by fantasizing about what’s coming up next. I now realize that I have spent much of my life thinking about “What’s next?” While eating dinner, I will start thinking about what book I am going to read or what movie I am going to watch after dinner. Meantime, I am not focusing on my lovely mouthful of mashed potatoes.
In fact, “What’s next:” has been the leitmotif of my life. As a child, I constantly thought about what my life would be when I grew up; later, about what life I would lead when I graduated from college. On and on. Thus have I diluted my life. As Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote, “We are always getting ready to live, but never living.”
Having something to look forward to can make our day and our life an adventure. When with anticipation we can’t wait to get up in the morning to tackle the next activity or challenge, life feels full and exciting. But when author Daniel Klein uses the phrase “what’s next,” he’s not talking about looking forward, but overlooking. He’s not referring to a full life, but to one that is empty do to the failure to be present to the present. If we are too focused on what’s next, we’re not likely to experience what’s happening now. If our attention is on tomorrow, today can slip away without notice.
Pulitzer Prize winning author Annie Dillard writes “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” We may lament the fact that the days pass too quickly, but a more appropriate reason to grieve is that so does life. If we spend our days getting ready to live, we may someday wonder why we never lived.
Because there is often nothing special about today, it is easy to drift into a “what’s next” frame of mind. But what a loss it is not to appreciate a “lovely mouthful of mashed potatoes.” Life is full of simple delights and minor miracles that when entered into with full awareness and appreciation can transform how we experience them. So rather than asking what’s next, we should perhaps ask what’s now?