Animals operate mostly in two states. They are either content or afraid, either relaxed or ready for fight or flight. They are firmly rooted in what is happening to them and around them right now.
Sometimes they seem as if they could anticipate the future, as when you dish out their supper, or when they spot a potential sex mate. But this excitement is not about an imagined future but about what is clearly in front of them. Except perhaps in their dreams, all animals seem to lack imagination. All, that is except for the human animal. We alone posses the capacity to conjure up unreal situations in the past or the in the future, project ourselves into them and then make ourselves believe that they are real.
This ability adds four more states of mind, purely imaginary variations on the two animal states:
Worry is a state of fear projected from a state of contentment either forward or backward in time. (“I’m alright but what happens if I lose my job?”,
“No way will I do that. I already got burnt once”)
Other names: Pessimism, anxiety, nay-saying.
Despair is a state of fear projected from a state of fear implying continuity. (“My life is a mess. I am doomed to be a failure. I’ll probably end up homeless on the streets”, or,
“I can’t remember my own phone number. That’s it, I have Alzheimer’s”)
Other names: Depression, hopelessness.
Hope is a state of contentment projected from a state of fear. (“It can’t get any worse. It’s got to get better”,
“I know things will get better once I find a decent job”)
Other names: Optimism
Euphoria is a state of contentment projected from a state of contentment implying continuity. (“I love you. I want this to never end”,
“It’s going to be a runaway success, like a meal ticket for life”.
Other names: Mania, delusion
The interesting thing is that humans rarely if ever are in the two animal states and spend their lives almost exclusively in the four imaginary states. A notable exception (which proves the rule) is the shock of a sudden accident. You slip on a banana peel and in that 100th of a second you are in the animal state of fear. But in the next second you glide seamlessly into the imaginary state of worry/despair (No. 3 above), seeing yourself in the hospital or in a wheel chair, possibly for life.
Mystical attempts to “live in the moment” try to regain the animal states and avoid the imaginary human states I just described. Eastern philosophies hold that not living in the moment is the chief source of human misery. This may be so, but no matter how hard you try to become enlightened and live in the moment your attempt will always fail, for three very good reasons. First, you are not a dog. No matter what you do you’ll never be a dog (or a Cheetah or a turtle). Short of a lobotomy you are stuck with your consciousness, which means that you can’t help but imagine things. Second, the striving for contentment, the main goal of being enlightened, ignores the second animal state, that of fear. In the natural world if you are not afraid you are dead. And thirdly, living in our imagination is really what gives a human life its unique quality in the natural world. Purposely curtailing our natural impulse to create imaginary worlds diminishes one of the great gifts of consciousness.
You may meditate to attain eternal bliss, a state of permanent past-less and future-less existence, Nirvana. Among the living I have never encountered any such person. Probably the best you’ll get is a momentary “living in the moment”, a momentary wash of nice feelings. No one can sustain the complete banishment of reminiscences, worries, fantasies, despairs, speculation, and the occasional euphoria. Neither should you wish it to be otherwise, unless being a Zombie appeals to you.
The Kvetching Factory
"Start every day with a smile and get it over with" (W.C. Fields)