One of the themes in Terrence Malick’s ambitious art film Tree of Life:
The way of nature or the way of grace - you have to choose which one you will follow.
This binary view is interesting, because it becomes thus: you can do either this or that. You can not do both. You can not do neither. You have to pick. Embracing one, you distance yourself from the other. It’s simple in theory, difficult in practice.
Similarly, a recent article in Psychology Today, “The neuroscience of mindfulness” outlines two ways to exist:
You can experience the world through your narrative circuitry, which will be useful for planning, goal setting, and strategizing. You can also experience the world more directly, which enables more sensory information to be perceived. Experiencing the world through the direct experience network allows you to get closer to the reality of any event. You perceive more information about events occurring around you, as well as more accurate information about these events. Noticing more real-time information makes you more flexible in how you respond to the world. You also become less imprisoned by the past, your habits, expectations or assumptions, and more able to respond to events as they unfold.
The narrative is our default. We are planning, telling ourselves the story of ourselves, thinking ahead, rehashing. We do this all the time. When we pause this activity, we get to experience the full immersive power of the stream of sensory information coming at us. This makes us experience life more richly. The platitude “live in the moment” isn’t about neglecting to plan, it’s about choosing to really be here, so you get the most out of right now.