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Living In the Moment or For the Moment?

February 29, 2016

On a recent trip to the South Island, we picked up a hitchhiker.  He was a young guy from Germany who was taking a year off between high school and college and spending six months in NZ.  His budget was such that he had to rely on hitching for transport and he was actively seeking out the lowest cost accommodation wherever he stayed.

Nevertheless, he informed us, he had spent a sizeable amount of his budget on extreme sports such as sky diving and bungy jumping.  His strategy confused me.   Why spend big bucks for an experience you measure in seconds when you are on such a tight budget?

His response to the question—and I know this because I asked—is that he’d always wanted to come to NZ and he never knew when he’d be back so he had to “live for the moment.”

In fact several extreme sport activities were being marketed as “Live for the moment,” and that seemed to be the mantra for the tourists.  So I had to stop and think when I saw a poster in a shop that had a quote attributed to Mother Teresa which said “Be Happy in the Moment.  That’s Enough.  Each Moment Is All We Need, Not More.”

That got me thinking – when we live for the moment do we necessarily live in the moment?

I started to think that the universe was trying to tell me something when a few days later I decided to live for the moment and do a (mildly) extreme sport. Like the hitchhiker, I didn’t know if or when I’d be back this way so why not indulge in the experience.

It’s always highly amusing when I do touristy things like that because extreme sport attractions are operated by, and marketed to, an entirely different demographic from mine.  The twentysomething Alpha males who operate those attractions always size me up with a look and tone of voice that say they’re not sure if I’m crazy, confused, or just hopelessly uncool.  Or maybe the Undercover Boss so they better be nice to me.

As I was being strapped into the (alarmingly well worn) harness that would prevent me from tumbling hundreds of feet as I “flew” over a raging river, I was definitely not “in the moment,” because I was wondering why all those straps were necessary and what might happen if one of them failed.  But as soon as the ground man told me “launch when ready,” I was totally “in the moment.”  I savoured the sensations and the sights.  I didn’t think of anything but how good I felt and how amazing the view and the sounds and the feelings were.

Because it was a composite of sensory experiences, it was impossible to describe the ride to other people when I landed.  I didn’t even try.  To do the stunt I’d just paid more than the price of a nice dinner in a good restaurant.  Was it worth it?  Yes!  It was a fantastically unique and amazing experience and I was totally immersed in it.

I had another interesting experience a couple of days later while on a harbor nature cruise in which it was possible to see dolphins and seals and penguins.  I was definitely not “in the moment” on that trip.  You sail around and the captain tells you where you will see dolphins and seals and penguins.  That is a signal to try to take as many pictures as you can as quickly as possible because catching a dolphin jumping out of the water is really hard, even if it is right next to you.

The cruise was very enjoyable and interesting.  And we saw lots of dolphins and other marine life.  But instead of being immersed in the actual experience of seeing birds and animals in their natural environment, I was immersed in taking photographs of the experience.

Would I have enjoyed the cruise more if I hadn’t been focusing so much on trying to get good pictures—and as you can see, largely failing?



I believe true enjoyment lies in experiencing and being in the moment, but there is also much enjoyment derived in the remembering the moment later.

Which then raises the question—what if I had been stricken with amnesia after the two experiences I described.

While doing the ‘superman’ ride, I had no camera on me and with no documentary proof of my thrilling sensory experience, was it money well spent if I can no longer remember the experience?

But since I have pictures of the dolphins to “remind” me of the fun cruise, would I be happier about having spent the money?

What do you think?

11 Comments leave one →
  1. February 29, 2016 4:38 pm

    Hm. I am actually inclined to say none of the above — though if you had a gun to my head, I’d say go for the bungee jump or whatever resembled it, because it was yours and not altogether a marketed experience (here, record this).

    As for Mother Teresa, I align with Christopher Hitchens in regarding her as an extreme bullshitter

    so you need not feel chagrined if you fell, in practice, short of her alleged aphorism. (Doesn’t “aphorism” sound like something that happens in a fusty schoolroom anyway?)

    • March 1, 2016 9:43 pm

      I hadn’t heard of that Hitchens book and the truthfulness of whether MT actually said that quote is material for another post altogether!
      I agree it’s not always an either/or proposition. Mostly I was questioning the value of living life at the end of a selfie stick.

      • March 2, 2016 2:14 am

        Do you know when I first heard the term “selfie stick” I had absolutely no fecking idea what it was and it was weeks before I figured it out? But then I only just got my firs smartphone.

        I have had no urge to use it to photograph myself, so far. I have too much to do. Never mind immediacy of experience, when do these people who are always posting selfies and updating Facebook do their laundry?

  2. March 1, 2016 3:17 am

    I think that death will come as the ultimate amnesia, at which point we won’t remember anything we ever did in our lives. Therefore, the amnesia test strikes me as a poor guide to whether or not we ought to engage in a particular activity.

    • March 1, 2016 9:47 pm

      True, but are you sure that death = amnesia? What if you are able to reminisce about all the fun times you had while strumming your harp in the afterlife? Or repenting all those dubious activities you undertook on Earth while roasting in the fires of hell?

      • March 2, 2016 2:23 am

        If we’ll be able to reminisce about our lives on earth in the afterlife, we’ll be able to do so even if toward the end of our earthly existence we may have suffered from amnesia. In other words, upon our death, all the memories we’d been temporarily unable to access due to a neurological condition would come back. Either way you turn it, the specter of end-of-life amnesia should be a non-factor in deciding what activities to engage in.

  3. March 1, 2016 4:35 pm

    BTW: since reading this I have perused a chapter by the late great neurologist Oliver Sacks about a man who had always dreamed of catching a Prodigious Trout, and who ultimately did so — in the middle of a bout of Transient Global Amnesia.

    There were, in fact, pictures of him holding the Prodigious Trout, so that he had incontrovertible proof and record of the experience; he just could not remember a thing about it. Certainly he was glad and proud he had caught the Prodigious Trout, and yet… it was one of those kick the wall things.

    You gets what you gets.

    • March 1, 2016 9:41 pm

      That is an amazing story. Like getting in a car wreck while trying to fasten your seatbelt or something.

  4. March 2, 2016 1:47 am

    Living FOR the moment in a way that prevents living IN the moment: selfie-sticks etc.

    But does it have to be extreme? Glass of wine, sound of daughter practicing piano….

    Other barriers to living in the moment: Fear (of the future), anger (about the past),…. ie, almost everything

  5. March 2, 2016 7:01 am

    I think it’s a bit of both really. I attend a lot of events and visit loads of places, and enjoy a lot of experiences. I always feel as if I’m in the moment and yet my camera is an extension of my hand and I always come home with dozens if not hundreds of photos. More often than not I find the images reveal more than what I saw in the heat of the moment and I love looking back at that particular sunset or see the smile on the face of The Queen as she rides by at Trooping the Colour….something I wouldn’t have seen as they whizz by. I relive my experiences through my photos but never feel I’ve missed out on the moment. Bravo for going for what I presume was a bungy jump! My limit so far has been zip-lining but I aim to change that in the future 😉

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