Home » Archive » Observing our moments instead of the future

, written by Jeremy. Read the commentary.

Today my son is 568 days old. He runs like a champ, throws a mean pitch, and can jump clear off the floor. Just barely approaching two-years he already opens doors (and slams them), can tell you everything that’s hot in the house, has favorite foods which he demands by name and he knows trucks, planes, and heavy machinery by sound which he exuberantly mimics. He can climb stairs standing, recognize his reflection, spot a plane at 300 feet, call dogs, put simple puzzles together, empty a box of raisins in seconds, and understand almost every simple verbal phrase.

We haven’t intentionally taught him any of this. He just figured it out. And almost every single one of these achievements is a consequence of observation.

While I trot blithely through life, he is paying attention.

Any long-time (or omniscient) reader will have noted by now my love for the thoughts of Henry David Thoreau. The same reader would spot a growing aversion for our regular way “becoming” (goals, next steps, chief ends) and a blossoming affection for “being” (right now, this moment, that’s all).

The drivers behind these interests are not clear – not to me anyway (though they must be apparent to the omniscient). For now I let them rest on two personal suspicions. First, that few people are truly observant. And second, seeking a future seems increasingly futile and short-sighted.

Among Thoreau’s unique ways of being is his deep attention to minute fragments of time. There is a striking originality to the things Thoreau saw in those moments. And I wonder if this was the foundation of his wisdom.

I wonder if Thoreau spotted things we miss because he paid attention to now while we pay attention to later. I wonder if we need to count the cost of ignoring our moments?

In Siddharta, Hermann Hesse wrote:

“When someone is seeking, it happens quite easily that he only sees the thing that he is seeking; that he is unable to find anything, unable to absorb anything, because he is only thinking of the thing he is seeking, because he has a goal, because he is obsessed with his goal. Seeking means: to have a goal; but finding means: to be free, to be receptive, to have no goal. [A] seeker … striving towards [his] goal, [does] not see the many things that are under [his] nose…”

Isn’t seeking a future futile because it is always in front of us? It must, by its definition, remain just-out-of-reach.

Might seeking a future be short-sighted if it keeps us from seeing where we are? If our eyes are always away, there’s a good chance we’ll miss what we already have.

But there are more practical reasons to care about this difference. I think it might be the differentiator between those that seem “awake” and the majority of us that float through life. There is something vigorous, engaging, and powerful in those few that live in their moments. I actually think its one of the aspects of young children that so completely capture us adults.

Very young children aren’t aware of the future. The future doesn’t complicate their worlds. And this leaves them free to care deeply about their moments. Though most adults can’t define why this grabs their attention, I think we are stopped by the recognition of someone awake – someone who is here and not away.

What do we give away while we gaze so diligently at the future? What have we stopped learning when we move our eyes from our feet to stare up into the sky? What slips by unnoticed while our fragmented attention lies scattered across time?

It’s impossible to ignore my son’s giant capacity for learning and it’s also evident that the single largest vehicle for that education is observation.

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