I’ve recently been thinking about all that we take for granted.
We think our family will still be around, healthy and happy by the time we will have ‘made it’ in our careers. We abuse our health working over-time and stressing out constantly in the quest of achieving financial stability. We take our current job for granted, for we suppose it to be nothing else but a stepping stone toward a more reputable job that offers a higher pay and gives a sense of having ‘made it’. And the list goes on endlessly.
This perpetual craving for more and more has induced high levels of anxiety in our lives. We think more in terms of ‘where we ought to be’. It has got us pondering more and more about the future than being present in the here and the now. This leaves us highly prone to perpetual dissatisfaction since firstly, what we want is always elusive to us, and secondly, much of what we are seeking is beyond our control. Discontentment grows in us and we seek more and more distractions to keep us from facing this very fact that we have come prisoners to the rat race that once disgusted us.
This essay is definitely not about encouraging aspiring people to let go of what drives them. If everything happens only in the present like Eckhart Tolle says, how can we find more contentment in the here and the now, whilst marching on toward our aspirations?
In Stoic philosophy, there’s a term called ‘negative visualization’, which is a mind hack offering us ways to cultivate a sense of contentment with what we have. Just like the term suggests, we visualize a life without all the privileges that we are already fortunate to have. Instead of just visualizing, I want to suggest another step in this process. Personally, I’ve been occasionally giving up on these privileges to cultivate a greater sense of appreciation for what I already have. Almost everyone talks of how we should count our blessings. However, the challenge really is to inculcate a sense of gratitude rather than becoming preachy about it. So instead of just thinking about how grateful I should be for my scooter, once in a while I ride a local bus instead. I do this not on days when my scooter is away for servicing, but when it may well have been just another day for me to overlook the convenience it adds to my life. This practice has helped me (even if just for a day) to experience life without it so that I can see the goodness of having a scooter rather than complaining about how old it has become. This also relates to turning into a vegetarian recently (initially for a month) and contemplating about how privileged I really am to have enjoyed delicacies at will until this point of my life. What might it be like to have to later give up on these delicacies purely because of health issues? Although not intended, missing my mentoring session for a day made me realize how much I love what I do, and how lucky I’m to make a living from something I consider to be my true calling.
If we always live with a sense of forward gap, we will almost always never find contentment. However, letting go of what we’ve become accustomed to can trigger a greater sense of reverse gap and thereby, help us appreciate the here and the now. We must be willing to let go of what we have in order to create space for appreciating what we had but often took for granted.