“Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin.”
Where did the phrase ‘carpe diem’ ( ‘seize the day’) originate?
Carpe diem is part of Horace’s injunction “carpe diem quam minimum credula postero,” which appears in his Odes (I.11), published in 23 BCE. It can be translated literally as “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.” The phrase carpe diem has come to stand for Horace’s entire injunction, and it is more widely known as “seize the day.” Brittanica
This powerful message is as relevant now as it was then and we can predict that it will be forevermore. It never fails to appeal to us, for it is so easy to forget that life is impermanent.
There is a wonderful online tribute to the film Dead Poets’ Society, with Robin Williams, which has the overall message of seizing the day.
His powerful theme is especially poignant in retrospect, given his own sad demise. Watch the youtube video.
Watch it now!
Robin Williams. Wikimedia Commons.
Below I have selected 5 of the ways of thinking that I feel are important in relation to being able to seize the day. Of course there are many more.
Do let me know if you have discovered others that have meaning for you personally.
1. Learn to appreciate what you have today.
This may sometimes be difficult, but the reality is that the present moment is all we have. Absolutely nothing else is guaranteed.
Things change from moment to moment, from day to day. Nothing stays the same, whether we want it to or not. We cannot depend on tomorrow. Remember Horace’s injunction to “pluck the day, trusting as little as possible in the next one.”
2. Work At Letting Go.
Learn to let go of worries and anxiety. If anxiety feels unmanageable and interferes with one’s ability to enjoy life, pharmaceutical and/or psychotherapeutic help might be needed. Letting go of daily concerns is easier said than done.
The American poet Mary Oliver beautifully captures the futility of worrying in her poem below. I include the whole poem, as I feel it is highly pertinent to the subject of this post.
by Mary Oliver
I worried a lot.
Will the garden grow,
will the rivers flow in the right direction,
will the earth turn as it was taught,
and if not how shall I correct it?
Was I right, was I wrong, will I be forgiven,
can I do better?
Will I ever be able to sing,
even the sparrows can do it and I am,well, hopeless.
Is my eyesight fading or am I just imagining it,
am I going to get rheumatism, lockjaw, dementia?
Finally I saw that worrying had come to nothing.
And gave it up.
And took my old body
and went out into the morning,
Claude Monet. Femme au jardin. Wikimedia Commons.
3. Grasp Opportunities: This Takes Courage
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May. John William Waterhouse. Wikimedia Commons.
Grasping opportunities when they present themselves is important, for they will not always be there. The day will end, the roses will fade and we will grow old.
Opportunities worth grasping do not present themselves that often.
Of course, we need to think and to be discerning, in order to make the right decisions; not all opportunities and risks are worth taking.
Self-Belief and Finding the ‘Rosebuds’ Inside……
It is important, however, to maintain an openness of mind and spirit and, crucially to develop an attitude of self-belief.
Such an attitude is creative and full of promise. It means that ‘internal opportunities,’ our talents and personal gifts, will be developed and utilised.
“Plunge boldly into the thick of life, and seize it where you will, it is always interesting.”
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
“How much I missed, simply because I was afraid of missing it.”
“You’re always believing ahead of your evidence. What was the evidence I could write a poem? I just believed it. The most creative thing in us is to believe in a thing.”
4. Prioritise and Set Boundaries for Self and Others.
Without boundaries, we waste time. Allowing ourselves to wander through the day without any structure can mean that we do very little.
Whilst this may be fine on ‘duvet days’ or at times when we want to ‘be’ rather than ‘do’, it might mean that we achieve little and end up feeling depressed or aimless.
Similarly, allowing others to breach our boundaries can mean that we are subsumed by their needs, with little time for ourselves and for our own lives.
5. Memento Mori: Remember That You Must Die.
“As we reach the crest of life and look at the path before us, we apprehend that the path no longer ascends but slopes downward toward decline and diminishment. From that point on, concerns about death are never far from mind.” Yalom.
It may sound morbid, but we really do need to remember that life is impermanent and that we all will die.
Inexorably, time passes and the clock ticks on for everyone of us. We have to learn to live with this fact. In learning to cope with the inevitability of death, we are, indeed, freer to seize the day.
Yalom practised Existential Psychotherapy, believing that many of our psychological problems are linked, mostly unconsciously, to a deep fear of death.
He perceives that people come into therapy unaware that their symptoms originate in a terror of death:
“Death… is always with us, scratching at some inner door, whirring softly, barely audible ly, just under the membrane of consciousness. Hidden and disguised, leaking out in a variety of symptoms, it is the well-spring of many of our worries, stresses and conflicts.”
In next week’s post, I shall explore Yalom’s sensitively written book, Staring at the Sun in more detail. This book is about coping with the fear of death.
There will be an exploration and explication of how Yalom’s approach can help therapists address their own and their patients’ death anxiety.
‘Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?’