Besides the first four steps of the Anonymous 12 step programs, the one idea of the 12-step program I find most helpful is living one day at a time. This is not a new idea, as both Jesus said this (Matthew 6:34) and Dale Carnegie wrote about it in the first chapter of his book How to Stop Worrying and Start Living, first published in 1948 (Wikipedia). When all the chips are down, I have little faith in God or myself, feel overwhelmed, mostly hopeless, then living one day at a time is sometimes the only thing that keeps me going. I heard in a 12-step meeting, that if a day is too much, live one hour at a time, and if one hour is too much, live one moment at a time. Living one moment at a time sounds like mindfulness, another topic I hope to blog about.
Of course, a person needs plans and goals for the future. I have read in several books or resources, where a person needs to break down big goals into smaller goals and break those smaller goals into doable tasks. SMART goals is a strategy for setting practical goals. Setting goals is usually perscribed to people with mental health challenges, since it gives you purpose, something to focus on, avoid dwelling on the negative in life, and boosts your self esteem. Often, breaking down big goals into smaller goals or tasks is not practical, takes too much time, or I don’t know enough about the task, problem, or goal to do this. In this case, doing the next best thing, or the next most important thing, is the best strategy.
When trying to implement a virtue or teaching of the faith I have never been good at, living one day at a time fits perfectly. I figure out how to practice the teaching the best I can (which is all I can do anyways), put it into practice, reflect on the experience, and then usually come up with a more efficient or mature way of practicing the teaching the next day. At least that’s my goal. In practice, I just do what I can, which is usually less then what I’d hope to do. I have heard that Baha’is in Colombia use this strategy of planning/action/reflection, where the Ruhi method was developed. In essense, living one day at a time is all a person can do anyways.
I think one big challenge of living one day at a time, is letting go of control and ego. Our society teaches us to seek control, domination, superiority, self-aggrandizement, material wealth and power. These values seem to be a bedrock of Western society and are probably responsible to a large degree for the rise in material wealth over the centuries, especially the last two. Unfortunately, over the last two centuries, there have been winners, mainly the elite among the white European culture and colonies, and there have been losers, perhaps just about everyone else.
The middle class in various nations, has benefitted, but this middle class is also at the mercy of many forces and changes they have no power over. The Baha’i Faith teaches that extremes of wealth and poverty is a sign of injustice and corruption in society, as of systemic prejudice also. (provide links) The Faith teaches we are children of One God, who loves us all equally, and like other religions, we need to follow the golden rule, to treat others like we want to be treated, and wish for others what we wish for ourselves. These ego-based values that have characterised human civilization all too often, not only victimizes the weak and vulnerable, but corrupts the powerful. Ultimately, people’s station in the next life might be quite different then their station in this life: “But many that are first shall be last; and the last shall be first.” (Bible, Matthew 19:30)
In order to live one day at a time, I suspect one needs to believe in a benevolent all-mighty higher power which has your best interests in mind. If there is no benevolent omnipotent force directing the affairs of the world, then you can’t let go of your desires and expectations. You have to do it all yourself, if you are going to get what you want, need, desire and aspire to. The problem with this, is that other people also are struggling to get what they need, want and desire, and often you are an obstacle in their path or a threat to what they want or to their ego. It becomes a battle of wills, with the strongest winning out, and the weaker being victimized in one form or another. It becomes ultimately a very unfair, injust, crass, harsh life – an environment where there seems to me to be often an undeclared state of war between family members, friends/frenemies, neighbours, workers, and citizens.
If you trust in an Almighty Creator who has everyone’s best interests in mind, you can let go and let God, putting your life in God’s hands, and following what you understand as His Will for you. It isn’t all up to you whether or not success comes your way, because God’s plans for you are more beneficial for you then your own plans. You even become detached from the whole idea of material and/or career success, in my opinion way too emphasized in North American society. I hope to blog about the proofs of the existence of a Creator. Until then, the book A Case for the Existence of God and the essay The Scientific Proof of the Existence of God are excellent resources for those interested.
I believe detachment is required. If a person is attached to a goal, an outcome, people behaving in a certain way, or attaining one’s desire, these desires and expectations, when excessive, gum up the process of living one day at a time. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things that I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” (The Serenity Prayer) “No man shall attain the shores of the ocean of true understanding except he be detached from all that is in heaven and on earth.” (Baha’u’llah, Book of Certitude)
I also believe one should recognize the transitory, fleeting, unpredictable, even capricious nature of this world and it’s inhabitants – especially the human inhabitants. In the Book of Certitude, Baha’u’llah says in the tablet to the true seeker, “Our purpose in revealing these convincing and weighty utterances is to impress upon the seeker that he should regard all else beside God as transient, and count all things save Him, Who is the Object of all adoration, as utter nothingness.”
Living in these times of chaos, unpredictability, where things can change quickly and situations may be ephemeral. Expecting people or situations to remain constant, predictable, and unchanging is not realistic. A situation that seems solid and certain, might silently vanish away without anyone noticing much, like long-lasting Canadian retail titans like Eaton’s, K-Mart, Future Shop and Zellers. A person or adversary who seems very powerful, overwhelmingly confident, self-assured, even intimidating and threatening, might at a later time, lose all their momentum and self-assurance. Heraclitus said 2,600 years ago, you could not step in the same river twice , meaning that things are always changing. I read in a Sociology textbook, that the more quickly technology changes, the more quickly society changes. Anyone exposed to the technology world, or more so for those working in the technology field, knows how quickly it is changing. I suspect that there has never been a time in the history of humanity where things were so ephemeral or the future so uncertain.
As Baha’u’llah writes: The world is but a show, vain and empty, a mere nothing, bearing the semblance of reality. Set not your affections upon it. Break not the bond that uniteth you with your Creator, and be not of those that have erred and strayed from His ways. Verily I say, the world is like the vapor in a desert, which the thirsty dreameth to be water and striveth after it with all his might, until when he cometh unto it, he findeth it to be mere illusion. It may, moreover, be likened unto the lifeless image of the beloved whom the lover hath sought and found, in the end, after long search and to his utmost regret, to be such as cannot “fatten nor appease his hunger.” (Gleanings)
O SON OF MY HANDMAID! Be not troubled in poverty nor confident in riches, for poverty is followed by riches, and riches are followed by poverty. Yet to be poor in all save God is a wondrous gift, belittle not the value thereof, for in the end it will make thee rich in God, and thus thou shalt know the meaning of the utterance, “In truth ye are the poor,” and the holy words, “God is the all-possessing,” shall even as the true morn break forth gloriously resplendent upon the horizon of the lover’s heart, and abide secure on the throne of wealth. (Baha’u’llah, Hidden Words)