16 February 2015

the trouble with time.

In the immortal words of Hootie & The Blowfish, "Time, why [do] you punish me?" Seriously though, the more I think about it, the more I realize that time is nothing but trouble.

I recently read the book The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle and it resonated with many thoughts that I've been having lately. In fact, the concept of living in the present moment has been frequently on my mind since moving to Tanzania. Why is that?

In a conversation with Ashley over dinner, we both realized something. Before Tanzania (or B.T. as I'll call it), we almost always lived in the future. Of course we didn't actually live in the future, but our minds dwelled on it. But now that we are in Tanzania, that tendency towards the future is fading. What gives?

Growing up in the United States, it is impossible not to be obsessed with the future. Everything you do has implications for the kind of school you will go to, the kind of job you will get, the kind of lifestyle you can afford, etc. It has gotten so bad that American parents cannot even send their children to pre-school without worrying about the ramifications for the kind of university their children will attend or the career they will pursue two decades later. Face it: as Americans, our culture traps us in the future.

After graduating from Boston College, Ashley and I entered the workforce. It was perhaps the first time in our life where the next step was not so clear. Up until that point, everything we did or thought about was related to the kind of job that we would get. Once we were working, what would come next?

But it didn't go like that. The little voice (or many voices) inside kept thinking ahead. "Where is all of this going? Am I content? Is this what I am supposed to be doing? And is it for the rest of my life?"

Well, no surprise, but that inner stirring propelled us down a path that eventually led to here: us - right now - living in Tanzania. So while we were in our old jobs, we kept thinking about this next chapter (the one we are in right now) and wondering what it would be like. Again...living in the future.

And then we got here - Mwanza, Tanzania - and things began to change a bit. Suddenly we found ourselves less consumed by the future and instead more focused on the past. "Remember when we lived in Dallas, hanging out with friends, and all the good food we ate? Remember how we always spent Thanksgiving and Christmas with our families? Remember what it was like having electricity, running water and high-speed unlimited internet 24/7?" In other words, now we find ourselves stuck in the past. What gives?

For one, we are no longer living in the American culture being bombarded with thoughts, experiences and people that force us to think about the future. Tanzanian culture is very much about right now because, heck, we could all be dead tomorrow, so why worry about it? On top of that, for the first time ever, we truly have NO idea what will come next. How long will we stay in Tanzania? If we left, where would we move to and what kind of work would we do? We don't have answers to these questions and we don't even want to have answers to them right now. Everything we have done in life feels like it was gearing up for this moment right now - today - so that's all we are trying to think about. Our future has never been less clear, but we live in a culture that just doesn't dwell on it, so we are trying to learn from that. But as Americans, it's tough.

The fact of the matter is this: the present can be painful. (And I would like to add "especially in Tanzania.") But really, the present is only painful when we are not living in it. The present feels painful because we are recalling good times from the past or obsessing over where the future will take us. But here's the irony: the past is dead and the future doesn't exist. Our only freedom lies in embracing the present moment, because it's the only moment that we have. And that applies to life in Tanzania just as much as it does to life in the good ol' U.S of A.

I'll leave you with some words from Eckhart Tolle, whom I mentioned at the beginning of this post. "Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now."


  1. I'm the type who has to have something to look forward to. When we were back in Dallas with new job and new baby and life was difficult, I would live completely in Budapest. I used to sing Oscar to sleep with the names of Budapest streets (to the tune of "If you're going to San Francisco"). What's kept me sane has been having some project that I could invest myself mentally in and get excited about, like restoring a house out in the country or trying to learn the Russian language. Something to make me excited about a future point in time.

    1. I can relate. Always said that I am very good at inventing work and projects for myself. Have this need to always stay busy by working towards something new to keep me motivated.