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Do you live in The Present, and enjoy it?

Randy West, Editor

I’ll admit it: I’m a self-help junkie. I can’t walk by that section at Hawley-Cooke Booksellers without reaching for my credit card. So much support, so little time. John Bradshaw’s “inner child” stuff’s better than Freud, and, I think Yung is yummie. When Melodie Beatty talks on tape about co-dependency, the world begins to make sense. Oh, that sounds sooo familiar. I can get high on the subject of depression. Been there, done that.
So I was intrigued when Sarah Turpin of the Chamber of Commerce of Harrison County asked if I’d like to sit in on a seminar called “Priorities and Possibilities: A Lifetime of Choices.” I immediately said yes.
The presenter was Bob Ash, a former school superintendent with a sense of humor. He said he’d do three things: give us information we could use to improve our lives; challenge us to turn off the rest of the world for 2-1/2 hours (that was kind of nice, in a way, although I actually like my world), and enjoy the time.
Ash caught our attention right away. He said normal four-year-olds laugh 400 times a day; adults laugh maybe four times a day. A very recent study said kids are now laughing less — down to 385 times a day — and adults have dropped, too, to 3.8. Now that is a terrible indictment of our culture. Something’s wrong with us if we can’t laugh a lot. I know people who look like they haven’t laughed aloud in several years.
Ash’s statement reminded me of an article my mother gave me a long time ago by Saturday Review editor Norman Cousins. In a famous essay, “Anatomy of an Illness,” he described some of the things he did when doctors said he was dying from a mysterious, incurable disease. One thing he did was laugh. Laughter is good for you; it has a healing quality. Cousins watched Charlie Chaplin movies in the hospital, if I remember correctly.
Ash said humor is all around us. “Start with yourself,” he said. “You’ve got enough material for life!” Amen, brother!
One morning before he was scheduled to speak in Canada, Ash got on an elevator with seven other men. He immediately alienated everyone by saying, “Morning, gentlemen. How’re we doin’?” What nerve.
Six men looked down. Ash strained the situation even more by declaring, “I’ve got a new pair of socks!” He held up his pant leg to show them. Six men backed up with fear on their faces in that little elevator.
The seventh man smiled but backed up, too. Later on, he met Ash at the seminar at which Ash was the main speaker! Ash said the man listened well and read the hand-outs!
Yes! Way to go, Bob! Shake ’em out of their lethargy.
The points were, I think, that a lot of people are trapped in a rut, and you can easily influence other people — you just may not know how. I’m reminded of the occasional times when former students come up to me and say, “Mr. West (that title’s always a shock), do you remember back in 1968 when you told our English class … ”
Oh, no. Did I say that? Whoa, I have a hard time remembering what I said 25 minutes ago, but it’s true, you can influence people in big ways, so be careful what you do and say!
Little things mean a lot. Ash said he was a go-getter, a workaholic until his eight-year-old daughter asked, “Daddy, why don’t you spend more time with me?” His pitiful answer: “Honey, I’m real busy.”
Then he thought about what she was really saying. “That’s what changed my life,” Ash said. He started concentrating on creating a balanced life and less on ego satisfaction, money and material things. His priorities changed. His daughter’s comments became even more poignant later when she and her sister were killed by a drunk driver. And his wife was killed one year after that, by yet another drunk driver.
In a real example of recovery, now Ash crisscrosses the country giving talks to people on things like “Priorities and Possibilities: A Lifetime of Choices.” His advice has real authority, the authority of experience. He asks his audience: Are you living the life that you want to live now?
How does he strive for a balanced life? Three approaches:
1. Time management, which is actually life management. It’s all about making good choices about what’s really important in your life. 2. Workplace flexibility. If you have that, you’re lucky. 3. Economics. It’s all of these, he said, but it all goes back to setting priorities.
He asked us to take a few minutes and make a list of what’s really important in our life. Have you done that recently? Really thought about it? Try it. You might be surprised at what you think is really important and what you spend most of your day doing. They probably won’t match. And then try writing a mission statement for your life. That’s revealing, too.
If you knew when you were going to die, would it make a difference in your life? he asked. Would we live differently? You betcha.
Everyone’s priorities are different, and for some people, they change daily, but we’re all looking for peace, sanity, comfort, and love, right? If we concentrate on making the best of each day, especially this day, this moment, right now, we’ll be on the right track, Ash said. It’s a choice we make, each day
Ash said, “Enjoy life’s journey. Don’t live in the past — it’s history. Don’t live in the future — it’s a mystery. Choose to live in the present because it’s a gift. That’s why they call it the present.”
The person next to me, a successful businesswoman, said after the 2-1/2 hours flew by, “A lot of this was just a refresher because this is what I believe in.”