This time of year, commencement season, inspires me to share what little wisdom I have, as I know that this time might be the last time that I have to speak to you, students, who are moving forward with your lives. With that in mind, I want to share with you what I think has to be a priority for you at all times: take full advantage of this moment, live in the moment, prepare for your future. There are so many tempting times that you will want to dwell on the past or imagine your future—and it is appropriate to do both—but you will find your success and your happiness in living in the moment.
And, with the weather improving in New England, focusing on the moment grows infinitely easier to do, as we cherish each budding flower, each sea spray, each cool breeze that makes living in the Ocean State such a blessing, such a joy. If you can focus your energy on making the most of this moment, finding joy in this moment, and preparing for the future, you will attain a kind of peace un-afforded to those busily looking longingly backwards or too far forwards.
Now, know that healthy reflection can be instructive. Taking the time to think and reconsider what you have done is not only salubrious, but also helpful. Set aside time in your day—usually at night, before turning in—to consider what has been best about your day and how you might improve. Take those notes, and let them guide you. But don’t hold on to the past too much. If you do, like a cancer, regrets will eat away at you. Let the past go, stop carrying it around with you, as this delightful Zen story reminds us:
Tanzan and Ekido were once travelling together down a muddy road. A heavy rain was still falling. Coming around a bend, they met a lovely girl in a silk kimono and sash, unable to cross the intersection.” Come on, girl,” said Tanzan at once. Lifting her in his arms, he carried her over the mud. Ekido did not speak again until that night when they reached a lodging temple. Then he no longer could restrain himself. “We monks don’t do near females,” he told Tanzan, “especially not young and lovely ones. It is dangerous. Why did you do that?” “I left the girl there,” said Tanzan. “Are you still carrying her?”
Let go of the past. Giving it place and space in your mind only takes away room and opportunity to enjoy this moment. And, planning for your future is exceedingly sagacious. Having a one year, five year, ten year, and even 15 yearplan shows wisdom. Be flexible enough, however, to know that present circumstances can alter plans. Create the roadmap—where you will travel and how you plan to arrive there—for yourself, but know that there will be opportunities to take the road not taken—and that will make all the difference.
The best advice, however, is to focus on this moment, live in the now. Give full attention to the person with you, give full self to the experience right now. We are neither promised nor deserve anything in this world, so what we have before us, right now, may be the greatest moment of our lives. Don’t miss it. Another great Zen story illustrates this fact:
When Master Shinran was nine years old, he had already decided to become a monk. He requested Ch’an Master Jichin to tonsure him. Master Jichin asked him, “You are so young. Why do you want to become a monk?” Shinran answered, “Although I am only nine years old, both my parents have already passed away. I do not understand why people must die. Why must I be separated from my parents? I want to become a monk so that I can find the answers to these questions.” Impressed, the Master said, “All right! Now that I know why you want to become a monk, I can take you as my disciple. It is getting late now. Wait until tomorrow morning, and I will tonsure you then.” Shinran disagreed, “Master! Although you have just promised to tonsure me tomorrow morning, I cannot guarantee that my determination to become a monk will last that long. Besides, you are so old now, you cannot guarantee that you will still be alive tomorrow.”
Master Shinran understands that no moment is promised, so take advantage of what is right here, right now. Finally, I leave you with this fairly western idea that what really counts is today:
Imagine there is a bank that credits your account each morning with $86,400. It carries over no balance from day to day. Every evening the bank deletes whatever part of the balance you failed to use during the day. What would you do? Draw out every cent, of course! Each of us has such a bank. Its name is Time. Every morning, it credits you with 86,400 seconds. Every night it writes off, as lost, whatever of this you have failed to invest to good purpose. It carries over no balance. It allows no overdraft. Each day it opens a new account for you. Each night it burns the remains of the day. If you fail to use the day’s deposits, the loss is yours. There is no going back. There is no drawing against the “tomorrow.” You must live in the present on today’s deposits. Invest it so as to get from it the utmost in health, happiness, and success! The clock is running. Make the most of today. To realize the value of ONE YEAR, ask a student who failed a grade. To realize the value of ONE MONTH, ask a mother who gave birth to a premature baby. To realize the value of ONE WEEK, ask the editor of a weekly newspaper. To realize the value of ONE HOUR, ask the lovers who are waiting to meet. To realize the value of ONE MINUTE, ask a person who missed the train. To realize the value of ONE-SECOND, ask a person who just avoided an accident. Treasure every moment that you have! And treasure it more because you shared it with someone special, special enough to spend your time.
Each one of us has the opportunity to live in this moment, drink life to the lees, to enjoy what is with us at this moment, to be prepared for the next delicious moment. As Hamlet opined, “Not a whit, we defy augury; there’s a special providence in the fall of a sparrow. If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it be not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come: the readiness is all. Since no man knows aught of what he leaves, what is’t to leave betimes? Let be.” The readiness is all, friends.