There is an American Indian saying that a traveling warrior should spend five percent of the time looking back to see where he came from, five percent of the time looking forward to see where he is going, and ninety percent of the time looking at where he is going to put his foot down.
If a warrior forgets to look back while walking through the woods, he will get lost on the way home, because every tree and every mountain will look different when viewed from the opposite side. If he never looks to the horizon and beyond to set his course, but simply follows the path of least resistance, he is not likely to get to his destination. Yet if he is too preoccupied with where he has been and where he is going, he is in danger of stepping off the cliff that suddenly appears before him.
Applying this formula to modern life, we should spend 5% of our time reviewing the past, 5% setting our goals for the future, and 90% of our time focused on what we are doing in the moment. Our past is a good predictor of our future, as is illustrated by the following story.
A wise man sitting on the road to Damascus was approached by a traveler, who said "I am moving to Damascus. Is it a nice place to live?" The wise man asked, "Was the last city you lived in pleasant? Did you have many friends? Were the streets beautiful?" The traveler replied, "Oh no, it was a filthy place, and the residents were lecherous thieves!" The wise man looked him over and answered "You will find that Damascus is not such a nice place to live and the residents are most decidedly unfriendly.
A few hours later, the wise man was approached by a second traveler who posed the same question. The wise man again asked "How did you like the last city you lived in? Was it dirty? Were the citizens unpleasant?" "Oh no!" responded the traveler. "The city was beautiful and the people very friendly!" The wise man looked him over and said, "You will find that Damascus is a very nice place to live and the residents are most friendly."
Examining our past helps us to understand who we are in the present, and to glimpse the momentum that is carrying us into the future. The more we understand how our habits shape our lives, the more empowered we are to make different choices that are more aligned with the future we hope to create for ourselves. And what is our vision for our future?
In "Demian," Herman Hesse writes, "Each man had only one genuine vocation -- to find the way to himself.... His task was to discover his own destiny -- not an arbitrary one -- and live it out wholly and resolutely within himself. Everything else was only a would-be existence, an attempt at evasion, a flight back to the ideals of the masses, conformity and fear of one's own inwardness."
The art of shaping the future revolves around goal setting, yet this skill is seldom taught in our culture. Not having a conscious goal leads to listlessness, and setting your sights on an inauthentic goal wastes precious time and energy. An impressionable child might fixate on a life's goal in an instant, like owning a Mercedes convertible, and then spend 30 years attaining that goal, only to realize the Mercedes does not deliver the fulfillment the child assumed it would. So committing 5% of your time to assessing and realigning yourself with your highest goals is time well spent.
And how do we focus fully on the present, as this formula would counsel us to do 90% of the time? Thich Nhat Hanh spoke on working meditation. "To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren't doing them. I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to go and have a cup of tea, the time will be unpleasant, and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. Each bowl I wash, each poem I compose, each time I invite a bell to sound is a miracle, and each has exactly the same value. If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of drinking the tea joyfully. With the cup in my hands I will be thinking about what to do next, and the fragrance and the flavor of the tea, together with the pleasure of drinking it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment."
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