Living in the moment is espoused because the moment is the only reality. Patience is a virtue, and has been proved by The Marshmellow Experiment. Those are two ideas that each hold value, but they create a tension, especially when I am trying to pay my bills.
Living in the moment is “zen”, or at least what many people interpret as zen. For a true definition, ask a zen master. I ain’t one. The moment is the only reality we can prove. There’s a head trip. The past is merely memories. The future hasn’t occurred yet. The only thing we know for sure is what we are experiencing now. Philosophers have written libraries of proofs that we can’t prove that the past existed. Memories aren’t perfect, so what really was in the past? The future may never happen. We can agree on the now. (Of course, fatalists and physicists with closed form solutions to every dimension might argue that everything exists and we are merely limited by our perceptions which seem to only see sequential slices of time. Ain’t philosophy fun?)
The virtue of patience has a long lineage. Slow and steady wins the race. Be the tortoise and not the hare. Some folks at Stanford even tested the value of delayed gratification by teasing children with marshmellows. A child was left in a room with a marshmellow. (I’m sure some furniture was present too.) The child was told that they’d get another marshmellow if they didn’t eat the first one. Then they could eat two. Some kids ate one. Some kids waited and got to eat two. Years later, the kids who waited were measured to be better adjusted and also found to get better grades.
Stereotypical retirement is a life-long sequencing of the two: patiently work, act responsibly, and save for retirement at which time you’ll be able to live in the moment. A generation or three lived with such a life model. That was better than the previous model which was to work until you died. Recently, as a country we’ve become rich enough to work, save and then play.
I semi-retired at 38. There was more than enough money, so I was reasonably confident leaving my job to work on other aspects of life: home, family, arts, vacations and play. As most of my friends and regular readers know, various potholes have altered that plan. (Check my Triple Whammy post for some details.) More than a decade after leaving a regular paycheck I am applying for jobs. (Check my personal web site for links to my resumes.) Throughout the intervening time I’ve spent more time planning for and anticipating the future than I spent living in the moment because I was waiting until I had “enough”. Bicycle rides and hikes became books. Photography became art. I even taught karate for a while. Enough people came to me for advice that I started charging consultation fees, which I did because of their advice to me. I took longer vacations when I had a regular job.
My main monetary occupation has been investing. Long term buy and hold with an eventual sale has paid my bills for years. The majority of my time has been devoted to efforts which are just beginning to bear economic fruit. In both cases I’ve employed patience, a long term view, and a constant concerted effort. Considering my portfolio and my bills though I wonder if I should have spent the intervening time living in more of those moments.
Living in the moment can sound frivolous, hedonistic, and irresponsible. There’s no plan for the future, merely an enjoyment in what the senses deliver and the mind can imagine. But, that enjoyment is real and tangible, not anticipation of some theoretical but uncertain future.
Currently, I am delaying some gratifications even more than I have over the last few years. I believe that the stock market and the real estate market will recover. My business is growing. I have many lines in the water and therefore many ways for my economic life to dramatically improve. If I could simply sit in meditation (being very present in the moment) until the money returns then patience would be all that was required.
Unfortunately, something else lives in the moment: bills. I can delay many gratifications because I can enjoy much of what the world offers every day. Nature delivers beauty and abundance constantly. But I can’t delay the mortgage, utilities, food, insurance, and those others that are equipped with due dates and penalties. Within the next few days, unless money arrives from some unexpected source, I’ll have to sell the last significant shares of stock that are outside my severely shrunken IRA. After that, sales from within my IRA will come equipped with their own penalties and taxes. Each share sold delays personal gratification while I absolve my obligations to the various companies from which I’ve received aspects of my basic needs. If my stocks don’t recover or if sufficient money doesn’t arrive from another source, then many gratifications are postponed far longer.
Someone recently said that they were glad to hear I was having a rougher time now because I had easier times before. As another friend said, he was glad that I was willing to chronicle the ups and downs because so few are willing to do so. I took those two comments as two more reasons to continue blogging because I anticipate writing about the climb back up and out of delayed gratification.
Stocks sell quickly. Houses usually take longer. My home is my only other major physical asset besides my body. I called in a friend who is a real estate agent so we could begin the long conversation and process for selling a house. Her main advice was to wait. I should wait for the market to recover before I sell. The longer I wait the more living expenses I’ll be able to clear from the sale. If zillow is any gauge, my house value is increasing by about two months living expenses every month. That’s an incentive for waiting that’s more appealing than a second marshmellow.
I don’t know how this will play out. Someone speculated what would happen if the United States government (We The People) had spent $700,000,000 bailing out mortgages instead of banks. It would have freed up a lot of discretionary spending, allowed people to stay in their homes, maintained housing values, and may have relieved a lot of stress. Such things are still possible, but I won’t sit around waiting for it.
Within these several moments, I’ll finish this post, pour a cup of tea or go for a run, and then decide how long I can wait before selling some stock to pay the mortgage. After that, and I am eagerly anticipating this, I get to go hang out at a book signing, and then go dining and dancing, activities that are truly in the moment. It’s all part of my waiting game. Stay tuned.