There's nothing wrong with memories, nor with anticipations -- which basically are imaginings of future events which could become memories.
If we couldn't remember the past or envision the future, we wouldn't be fully human. I've read about people who have a brain defect that leaves them almost totally in the present, and they can barely function.
But as I wrote about yesterday on my Church of the Churchless blog, I'm trying to be more attuned to the present moment.
Partly this is because I've developed a chronic health problem that makes it tough for me to travel. So for about fourteen months I haven't journeyed more than a few hours from where I live.
So when I remember how much I used to enjoy going to Maui on a vacation, or flying down to southern California to visit my daughter and her family, I can feel sad about my current situation.
That's one reason I try to remain mindful of the present moment.
Another reason is I've found that paying close attention to what is happening right here, right now, makes time slow down for me. And since I'll be 70 in a few months, it makes sense to suck as much time as possible out of the years I have left to live, rather than having them speed by in a blur.
(I realize that it can sound sort of strange to speak of manipulating time. However, while clocks in everyday life run at a constant speed, leaving relativity theory aside, our subjective sense of time does vary considerably.)
In the past I've blogged about the interesting differences between our experiencing self and our remembering self. I put it this way in "Do you want life to be experience, or memory?"
The thought experiment is this: consider a vacation that you're planning. Then imagine that after your vacation is over, all of your photos and other mementos of it will be destroyed. Not only that, your very memories of the vacation will be obliterated through an amnesiac drug.
Would you still go on the vacation? If you have trouble answering this question, this points to a need to adjudicate a conflict between your experiencing and remembering selves.
In a milder sense, my wife and I face this conflict whenever we go to our habitual vacation spot on Maui, Napili Bay. Mostly we sit on the beach, not doing much of anything except enjoying the warmth and people/ocean watching. I boogie board, as I've done many times before; my wife snorkels, as she's done many times before.
When we return home, we don't have many travel stories to tell. No adventures to relate, no "you won't believe what happened..." tales.
However, we hugely enjoy our not-much-of-anything experience while we're on Maui. The lack is when it comes time to answer someone's question, "How was your vacation?" If it was important to us to entertain our friends and relatives with a fascinating slide show of our travels, we'd head somewhere that would buttress our remembering selves.
As it is, we favor our experiencing selves. So probably we'd be more likely to take a pleasant vacation that ended in amnesia than people focused on memories, photos, vivid stories, and such would be.
Now, in my current difficult-to-travel condition, I'm not even able to take my experiencing self to Maui.
So my experiences are going to be even less appealing to my remembering self, which seems to bear a close resemblance to the narrative self, that chatty part of our mind which takes direct experiences, adds interpretations to them, and tells stories about them to both ourselves and others.
Most days I don't have a whole lot to say in response to a question like, "Have you done anything exciting lately?" My honest answer would be, not really, unless you call going to my Tai Chi classes, grocery shopping, walking the dog, exercising, watching TV, reading, working in the yard, writing blog posts, and such to be exciting.
But I try to keep in mind that even when I was able to travel, those trips didn't take up much of my life each year. Most of the time I was doing just what I do now, unexciting stuff.
What's changed, really, is that now I don't have recent memories of traveling here and there, nor do I have anticipations of future distant travel, because that isn't going to happen given my health condition. Thus my experiencing self hasn't changed all that much, while my remembering or narrative self has.
It's a hard habit to break, recollecting pleasant memories and envisioning future enjoyable experiences. I've been doing this my entire life, so focusing more on the present moment is a challenge for me.
However, this feels like something I need to do.
Otherwise I'm going to have regrets about what I'm now unable to do -- travel easily, or far. My present moment experiences are fine. As I said in yesterday's blog post, echoing a Sufi saying, my new adage is I'm a child of the present moment, who finds delight in small things.
Obviously at 69 years old, I'm not really a child.
But I aspire to being able to take childish delight in the ordinary things of life that surround me. My experiencing self can enjoy these small things. My remembering self, or my narrative self, won't have much to say about them. No big deal.
I'm already wordy enough. More present moment experiencing and less mental chatter about the past or future is what I need right now.
(Here's a link to someone else's well-written words about the experiencing self and the remembering self.)