In the 1st post on this topic dedicated to the 10 kinds of healthy love, we have seen that they all involve somebody as the subject and object of love: ourselves, family members, or people and things within or beyond our immediate environment. In the 2nd post, we have seen how we can improve our relationship with ourselves or others because it is only natural to ask what we can do to improve something once we have noticed we are not quite happy with its current state. Be it our love life, health, career, financial or social status, athletic or artistic performance, we all know at all times that things can always get better, especially when we see that they already are for someone else we entitle with the honor of our "role model." But there is a difference between perfectionism and sustainable improvement. Learning to avoid the former and hold on to the latter is the common thread that ties all 10 kinds of healthy love together, and it is called love for the present moment NOW.
*Before you continue reading next, I'd like to note that I am not arguing in support of Cartesian dualism or any Platonic dichotomy that would suggest that thinking and feeling are isolated from each other. On the contrary, I see the mind-body connection as a two-way street. In the text below, the two processes are separated for the sake of clarity based on the predominant process taking place (feeling or thinking), even though they inevitably occur simultaneously but in different measures.
How much room we give to the present moment depends on how it feels.
We started the first post on the topic by assuming that love is not a word or thought but a feeling. Let's see now why it lives only in the present: While it is impossible to exist and move on in the world without contemplating the past (and learning from its mistakes) and strategizing about the future (so we can avoid the past mistakes in our next attempt at conquering a goal), the enjoyment of the present is not guaranteed, especially when it is so tightly squeezed in between past and future that it can easily be nihilated and sacrificed to their analysis and strategies. This could be suicidal, as it is precisely the feeling for the now (enjoyable or not) that fuels with reliable material the next analysis of the past and fulfills the strategy for the future we had mapped out previously. We tend to eliminate the present when it is painful and feels bad and give it more room when it feels good. In the first case, we dedicate the present time to thinking a thorough examination, analysis, and strategy so that the unpleasant sensations do not repeat. In the second case, we do not need all that much effort because things are going fine, and there is nothing wrong with the present situation that needs to be outsmarted. We then gladly give in our time to feel in the present: smell the roses, feel the heat of the sunshine, marvel at the colors, touch the grass, taste the food, breathe deep the fresh air, and dance to the rhythm of the music that feels so otherworldly only because we are in sync with the rhythm of life. We are, metaphorically speaking, enjoying the ride.
We can think about the past and future but only ever feel the present.
As past and future exist only in our imagination, we cannot feel them; we can only think about them while feeling love/ happiness can only be experienced in the present. Even when we feel nostalgic for the past, we think about it. We cannot re-live and re-feel the past. We can only feel somehow about it now. Retrospective thoughts might provoke a feeling, but that feeling is a secondary unexact copy of a previous feeling, which is always an incomplete and distorted reproduction of a pre-previous feeling, and so on. Curiously, we prefer to return to the unique emotions we have experienced in the past rather than the replicas. For example, we would prefer to recall a particularly happy moment, not a moment similar but not quite like it. Unfortunately, returning to a moment when we have felt happy is not completely possible as, with time, our history of experiences "records over" it by adding or removing interpretations about the past situation. As unreliable as it is, we still try to travel back in time to derive from it meaning, consolation, comfort, understanding, and so on. However, getting lost in reminiscing about the past, digging or burning its skeletons, and being caught up in fantasies about the future is dangerous because it detaches us from the reality of the present - the only safe source of new and healthy joy! Only new sensations can satisfactorily trigger the memory of how we have felt in the past. Thought alone cannot make us, and thinking about feelings is just a thought experiment. No one says I am thinking happy, but rather I am feeling happy. The provoking of feelings with our minds rather than leaving ourselves to the present environment and its creatures to stimulate our sensations is self-isolating and encapsulating us away from experiencing new feelings and sensations in the actual present. The second-hand feelings provoked by reminiscing past experiences are reserved for and adequate only in old age when we physically cannot do as much as before, and we are forced by nature to think more (about the past) than we can do things in the present. Conversely, in the first third of our lives, we are predisposed to dreaming about the future. It is adulthood when we are most busy doing and less busy thinking, for we have no time for that among the many demands on us from younger and older who depend on our physical and mental strength for their survival. At the same time, we depend on them to give away our love to them, and this way, we learn about it in practice rather than in theory.
What keeps us away from the present moment? - Perfectionism.
Perfectionism is the attempt to transform low self-esteem into healthy self-esteem that has gone too far and overdone. It is the uncontrollable desire to excel in all things at all times just to make sure that none of the side effects of low self-esteem will ever spoil our lives and the lives of those we love. But the virtue of humanity is not comprised only of love; it is also kindness and forgiveness. It is particularly these last two that we need to be equipped with to prevent the unavoidable burnout perfectionism heads to. A perfectionist would strike for what they consider to be perfection at the expense of more than what they can afford to invest (time, energy, money, or other resources). This over-functioning brings about exhaustion, fatigue, irritability, jealousy, and further self-hate that can never bring them love or happiness whether they achieve the targeted perfection or not. The calculation of the mental, emotional, and physical bankruptcy the sacrifices in the name of perfection have caused us is deeply embarrassing, shameful, and guilt-inducing. When/ if achieved, the sought-after perfection becomes a symbol of our naivety that has chosen the idea/ the promise for love/ happiness when x,y, and z are accomplished over the feeling of love/ happiness now. Being stuck in a blind chase of perfection (as we imagine it in a fixed idea) makes us unable to change the focus from the targeted future to the actual present; it creates rigidity that makes us fragile and prone to injury - because our perfectionism denies the flexibility of compromising, circling around, or giving up our fantasy goal, we break. The most notorious outlet of perfectionism is time-framed transformation programs. Think of 2-month weight loss programs, 30-day workout marathons, 10-year investment programs, and so on packages for sale to our drive for more and better somewhen down the road in the name of the predictable and safe progress we'd like to ensure. And that's only natural because we humans are ambitious creatures in every sense of the word. Nothing is ever enough if understood as a final destination; station "happiness/ perfection" never comes. This postponement of the carrot, for we always set for a bigger carrot, carrot after carrot, makes us subject ourselves to all kinds of sticks: diets, routines, regimes, any old or new experiment with ourselves we could find in a self-help book. But is our objective "improvement" against a measurement scale always leading us to our subjective self-approval? - The short answer is No.
"The one who is not satisfied with what he has will not be satisfied with what he would like to have." - Socrates.
Why do transformational programs rarely work?
They preoccupy too much with goal setting when we can never be 100% sure that what we think we want will really make us feel better later. This is just as much a gamble as tossing a coin. And if you think now, Well, I know myself perfectly well to know what I want, you've been rigid because you cannot fortune-tell about the future circumstances that may distract you as appearing to be more appealing/ worthy/ satisfying. Remember that all targets imaginable are just promises of unguaranteed feelings as outcomes, but we cannot access a future feeling from where we are at the planning stage. Whatever we might be thinking is our path to destination love/ happiness - we will always be on the wrong track until the day we fall in love with the day. Love and happiness are the feelings that nothing needs to be learned from the past (to make peace with it) or changed in the future (to make it less frightening). The word transformation acquires then a neutral rather than a positive connotation because we love everything/ everyone just as it is/ they are. We will not be afraid of transformation as it comes regardless of ourselves because time and space change constantly, or so they seem. In any case, we will not initiate forceful transformation because we have surrendered ourselves gladly to our days as they are at present. The key to love and happiness is not to get what you think you want; it is to feel that you want what you get by letting it come and go through you like a breeze off the pond!
*I recognize that harsh environments make us seek transformation, and comfortable ones do not. Our desire to transform our lives in any way speaks simultaneously about us and our environment. The problem is that sometimes we think we don't need to transform anything (about us or our environment), but we want to, and sometimes we think we need to transform something (about us or our environment), but we do not want to. No one but your inner authority can judge your particular situation correctly. It is the inner authority and strategy of your human design that advise you best on what to do moment-to-moment to stay true to yourself so you can stay true to the world. Any self-betrayal also leads to betraying our environment as we are all one with it, and any separating borderline we might be visualizing is an optical illusion.
Love and happiness reside only in the present, keep you there, and sustain your real progress.
The problem with the carrot-stick and target-track approach to love and happiness is that our focus gets split between examining past experiences by registering our progress down the track and figuring out what needs to be adjusted in the future strategy to achieve (a modified/ updated version of) the target. We run away from the stick towards the carrot, but while running, we do not enjoy the landscape we go through; we are shut down by it, and the more we do not pay attention to it, the more artificial our motivation to keep moving on becomes. By artificial, I mean dependable on our mind being seduced by a mirage at the horizon rather than the rejuvenating effect of drinking water in the oasis we are in. So we die of thirst while chasing hallucinations. Examples of mirages are all ideas foreign to your core being you adopted (unconsciously) from TV, books, movies, poems, and all other sources of intense and enjoyable vicarious living. The more we fall into the tender trap of pleasant fiction, the more our motivation to act out in the real world pales into insignificance because feelings and emotions based on present interactions with reality are the driving force behind our actions and motivation. Still, we have spent the time for first-hand experiences for second-hand experiences. The intensity of the condensed, saturated knowledge and vision provided by fiction is so uplifting that it renders occupation with reality, the choice-making, responsibility-taking, and being mindfully present utterly unattractive and deprived of the fictional charms. Paradoxically, this is the only way to transcend and arrive at the "better" future you never get to when you chase stubbornly without the element of surrendering to the given situation with love and all of the fortitude of your character. For example, if you cannot find a way to make a habit emotionally satisfying, you will not stick to it. You will only if you find a way to fall in love with its practice!
The path to sustainable improvement:
So, I would suggest that instead of looking around for the next target that promises happiness someday but not today and that seduces your thoughts with fantasies that flatter your ego somehow, give these sweet things up (better house, car, job, spouse, wardrobe, body, etc.) and focus/ channel all of your energy in the quality of your relationships with the people in your life NOW. Train your character strengths and virtues with them and see what happens. Chances are, you will be so proud of the bonds you have created, and you will feel so enriched by the meaningfulness and satisfaction of your connections with these people that there will be no more hunger to change (them, the place, the country, the job, the club, the neighborhood, etc.) because nothing superficial could ever compare with the inner worlds you share with each other with honesty, love, kindness, forgiveness, and so on. These real bonds with people are what raise your "vibration" => situation => and circumstances beyond what your limiting reference points can suggest to you in advance.
Nothing good comes from violence but from surrender without sacrifice.
Every time you force yourself into visualizing a perfect life, you are forcing a picture you create in your mind, and it will not come true, or it will, but you will regret it. But when you decide simply to be a better person NOW for the people who are in your world NOW, "'visualizations" start raining down on you without you spending time in a specially dedicated to the task practice. These are no longer "visualizations of things" = pictures of images, but precognitions that bring the picture into existence because it is the feeling about the envisioned that stands behind it and inside it to fill it with substance. Visualization without precognition is inviting you to a deal with the devil. (= any situation in which you are tempted to spend more than you have, promise more than you can deliver, take more than you can carry, bite more than you can swallow, sleep less than you need, and so on, all leading to getting what you think you wanted only to find out it makes you suffer and you feel more unhappy after getting it than before getting what you were after; your sacrifices were not worth it (a spoiler - they never are.) Sacrifices are stupid, and anyone who promotes them differently is either stupid themselves or is lying to you in an attempt to trick and use you, which is the same thing as trickery and exploitation are desperate acts of a mind that do not know how else to proceed with dignity (= lacks wisdom = is foolish/ stupid) If you happen to be seduced by a promise for a future Eden, you suffer from it like nothing before. The way to move on with your life is to admit your foolishness and give up the chase. All you need is already present - The feelings generated while with others in the here and now will ultimately dictate your visions, dreams, virtues, and visible outcomes anyway. Go for the lead casket; the golden one is empty. By the lead casket, I mean the hard but really powerful NOW, and by gold, I mean the shiny and promising bright but powerless future, for the power of the future is given by the present and robed by our mind - we imagine the future a certain way, we fall in love with an idée fixe of our own making/ fantasy, and then we lose sensitivity for the present moment that tastes boring in comparison with our well-crafter master plan; that's truly perverse. This perversion is fed on ordering and buying fantasies on credit we go shopping for instead of real therapy. Shopaholism for fantasies is hard to quit, but when you abandon the anxiety-provoking idea of the world as a shop window or a "buffet," you cannot decide what exactly you'd like to pick and taste (first/next), you will be able to relax at the table of NOW and be astonished at everything you are served without you even looking at the menu or ordering anything. It only takes the courage to stay at the table, present in the moment with the people around you - experience the full range of emotions with them, and with practice, you wouldn't think of ever leaving. Why would you if everything you'd want will be everything you need - all served on time impeccably? All it takes is trusting the service by trusting the people with you at the table of NOW. The buffet of future promises may be shiny and inviting, just like it is designed to be by the devil whom you pay with your stupidity (= impatience with the inglorious present).
The common thread that links together all 10 kinds of healthy love is the LOVE for the NOW/ the present - the only real thing about life is the way it is right now in this very nano-second; everything that comes before or after is a creation of the imagination of the mind that knows little to nothing about love. Every moment is a matter of life and death, for it alone dictates the direction of our future and the use we make of our past, but nothing should be chased at all costs. Do not be a martyr for your ideas and visions - they are not real. Be a lover of the now - this is the way to transcend beyond it because there could not be value in the sum if there is no value in the parts! Why would anybody expect that some time in self-inflicted misery is the way to get to some happiness later on? It makes no sense, and the end never justifies the means. If you do not love the now, it will kill you faster :) Love it, and you will pass its tests to move on to your better/higher. Separating ourselves from the present moment reinforces the escape into fantasy. It ultimately leads us to the sickness of the mind/ head/ ego - a conflict between the id and the superego we are no longer able to solve. Whenever you catch yourself drifting away from reality (= the present moment) into strategizing your escape from its nasty take on you, remember that "Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced." - Søren Kierkegaard. Be brave enough to be alive (and you will never fear death as a bonus to that!)