The Precious Present
 
Spencer Johnson

  
Once there was a boy. . . . Who listened to an old man.  And, thus, he began to learn about The Precious Present.  "It is a present because it is a gift," the contented man explained.  "And it is precious because anyone who receives such a present is happy forever."

"Wow!" the little boy exclaimed.  "I hope someone gives me The Precious Present.  Maybe I'll get it for Christmas."  The boy ran off to play.  And the old man smiled.  He liked to watch the little boy play.  He saw the smile on the youngster's face and heard him laughing as he swung from a nearby tree.  The boy was happy.  And it was a joy to see.

The old man also liked to watch the boy work.  He even rose early on Saturday mornings to watch the little laborer mow the lawn across the street.  The boy actually whistled while he worked.  The little child was happy no matter what he was doing.  It was, indeed, a joy to behold.

When he thought about what the old man had said, the boy thought he understood.  He knew about presents.  Like the bicycle he got for his birthday and the gifts he found under the tree on Christmas morning.  But as the boy thought more about it, he knew.  The joy of toys never lasts forever.

The boy began to feel uneasy.  "What then," he wondered, "is The Precious Present?  What could possibly make me happy forever?"  He found it difficult to even imagine the answer.  And so he returned to ask the old man.

"Is the Present a magical ring?  One that I might put on my finger and make all my wishes come true?" 

"No," the old man said.   "The precious present has nothing to do with wishing."

As the boy grew older he continued to wonder.  He went to the old man.  "Is the Precious Present a flying carpet?" he inquired.  "One that I could get on and go any place that I like?"

"No," the man quietly replied.   "When you have the precious present, you will be perfectly content to be where you are."

The boy was becoming a young man now, and felt a bit foolish for asking. But he was uncomfortable. He began to see that he was not achieving what he wanted. "Is the Precious Present," he slowly ventured, "a sunken treasure? Perhaps rare gold coins buried by pirates long ago?"

"No, young man," the old man told him. "It is not.  The richness is rare, indeed, but the wealth of the Present comes only from itself."

The parable of
The Precious
Present
is a quiet
one to muse upon
and sit with, and
finally to take
into your heart.

The young man thought for a moment. Then he became annoyed. "You told me," the young man said, "that anyone who receives such a present would be happy forever. I never got such a gift as a child."

"I'm afraid you don't understand," the old man responded.  "You already know what the Precious Present is.  You already know where to find it.  And you already know how it can make you happy.  You knew it best when you were a small child.  You simply have forgotten."

The young man went away to think. But as time passed, he became frustrated, and finally angry. He eventually confronted the old man. "If you want me to be happy," the young man shouted, "why don't you just tell me what the Precious Present is?"

"And where to find it?" the old man volleyed.

"Yes, exactly," the young man demanded.

"I would like to," the old man began. "But I do not have such power.  No one does.  Only you have the power to make yourself happy.  Only you.  The Precious Present isn't something that someone gives you.  It's a gift that you give yourself."

The young man was confused, but determined.  He resolved to find the Precious Present himself.  And so he packed his bags.  He left where he was.  And went elsewhere.  To look for the Precious Present.

After many frustrating years, the man grew tired of looking for the Precious Present. He had read all the latest books.  And he had looked in The Wall Street Journal.  He had looked into the mirror.  And into the faces of other people.  He had wanted so much to find the Precious Present.  He had gone to extraordinary lengths.  He had looked for it at the tops of mountains and in cold dark caves.  He had searched for it in dense, humid jungles.  And underneath the seas.  But it was all to no avail.  His stressful search had exhausted him.  He even became ill occasionally.  But he did not know why.

The man returned wearily to the old man's side.  The old man was happy to see him.  They often laughed out loud together.  The young man liked to be with the old man.  He felt happy in his presence.  He guessed that this was because the old man felt happy with himself.  It wasn't that the old man's life was so trouble-free.  He didn't appear to have a lot of money.  He seemed to be alone most of the time.  In fact, there was no apparent reason why he was so much happier and healthier than most people were.  But happy he was.  And so were those who spent time with him.  "Why does it feel so good to be with him?" the young man wondered.  "Why?" He left wondering.

After many years, the once-young man returned to inquire further.  He was now very unhappy and often ill.  He needed to talk with the old man.  But the old man had grown very, very old.  And, all too soon, he spoke no more.  The wise voice could no longer be heard.

The man was alone.  At first, he was saddened by the loss of his old friend.  And then he became frightened.  Very frightened.  He was afraid that he would never learn how to be happy.  Until  finally he accepted what had always been true.  He was the only one who could find his own happiness.  The unhappy man recalled what the happy old man had told him so many years ago.  But as hard as he tried he could not figure it out; he tried to understand what he had heard:

THE PRESENT HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH WISHING. . . WHEN YOU HAVE THE PRESENT YOU WILL BE PERFECTLY CONTENT TO BE WHERE YOU ARE. . . THE RICHNESS OF THE PRESENT COMES FROM ITS OWN SOURCE. . . THE PRESENT IS NOT SOMETHING THAT SOMEONE GIVES YOU. . . IT IS SOMETHING THAT YOU GIVE TO YOURSELF. . . .

The unhappy man was now tired of looking for the Precious Present.  He had grown so tired of trying that he simply stopped trying.  And then, it happened!  He didn't know why it happened when it happened.  It just. . . happened!  He realized that the Precious Present was just that:  THE PRESENT.  Not the past, and not the future, but THE PRECIOUS PRESENT.

In an instant the man was happy.  He realized that he was in the Precious Present.  He raised both hands triumphantly into the cool, fresh air.  He was joyous--for one moment.  But then, just as quickly as he had discovered it, he let the joy of the present moment evaporate.  He slowly lowered his hands, touched his forehead, and frowned.  The man was unhappy--again.

"Why," he asked himself, "didn't I see the obvious long ago?  Why have I missed so many precious moments?"  "Why has it taken me so long to live in the present?"  As the man remembered his fruitless travels around the world in his search for the Precious Present, he knew how much happiness he had lost.

He had not experienced what each special time and place had to offer.  He had missed a great deal.  And he felt sad.  The man continued to berate himself.  And then he saw what he was doing.  He observed that he was trapped by his guilt about his past.

When he became aware of his unhappiness and of his being in the past, he returned to the present moment.  And he was happy.  But then the man began to worry about the future.  "Will I," he asked, "be able to know the joy of living in the Precious Present tomorrow?"  Then he saw he was living in the future and laughed--at himself.

He listened to what he now knew.  And he heard the wisdom of his own voice.  "It is wise for me to think about the past and to learn from it, but it is not wise for me to be in the past, for that is how I lose myself.

"It is also wise for me to think about the future, and to prepare for my future, but it is not wise for me to be in the future, for that, too, is how I lose myself.  I lose what is precious to me."

It was so simple.  And now he saw it.  The present nourished him.  But the man knew it was not going to be easy.  Learning to be in the present was a process he was going to have to do over and over, again and again, until it became a part of him.  Now he knew why he had enjoyed being with the old man.

The old man was totally present when he was with the younger man.  The old man was not thinking about something else or wishing that he was somewhere else.  He was fully present.  And it felt good to be with such a person.  The younger man smiled at himself, the way the old man used to smile.  He knew.  "I can choose to be happy now, or I can try to be happy when. . . or if. . . ."

The man chose NOW!  And now the man was happy.  He felt at peace with himself.  He agreed to savor each moment in his life. . .  The apparently good and the apparently bad. . . Even if he didn't understand.  For the first time in his life, it didn't matter.  He accepted each of his precious moments on this planet as a gift.

"I know that some people choose to receive the Precious Present when they are young, others in middle age, and some when they are old.  Some people, sadly, never do.  I can choose to receive the Precious Present whenever I want."

As the man sat thinking, he felt fortunate.  He was who he was, where he was.  And now he knew!  He would always be whom he was where he was.

He listened again to his thoughts.  "The present is what it is.  It is valuable.  Even I do not know why.  It is already just the way it is supposed to be.  When I see the present, accept the present, and experience the present, I am well, and I am happy.  Pain is simply the difference between what is and what I want it to be.

"When I feel guilty over my imperfect past, or I am anxious over my unknown future, I do not live in the present.  I experience pain.  I make myself ill.  And I am unhappy.

"My past was the present.  And my future will be the present.  The present moment is the only reality I ever experience.

"As long as I continue to stay in the present, I am happy forever, because forever is always the present.

"The present is simply who I am, just the way I am, right now.  And it is precious.  I am precious.  I am the Precious Present."

It was as though he could hear the old man talking.  And then he smiled.  And his smile widened.  And he laughed.  He felt great joy.  He knew he was listening, not to the old man. . . But to himself.

It felt good for him to be with himself--just the way he was.  He felt he knew enough.  He felt he had enough.  He felt he was enough.  Now.

He had finally found the Precious Present.  And he was completely happy.

Several decades later, the man had grown into a happy, prosperous, and healthy old man.  One day a little girl came by to talk to him.  She liked to listen to "the old man," as she called him.  It was fun to be with him.  There was something special about him.  But she didn't know what it was.

One day, the little girl began to really listen to the old man.  Somehow she sensed something important in his calm voice.  He seemed very happy.  The little girl couldn't understand why.  "How could someone so old," she wondered, "be so happy?"  She asked and the old man told her why.

Then all of a sudden, the little girl jumped up and squealed with delight!  As the girl ran off to play, the old man smiled.  For he heard what she had said:  "Wow!" she exclaimed.  "I hope someday someone gives me the Precious Present!"
  
   

The parable of
The Precious
Present
is a quiet
one to muse upon
and sit with, and
finally to take
into your heart.

  
   

To a large degree, the measure of our peace of
mind is determined by how much we are able
to live in the present moment.  Irrespective of
what happened yesterday or last year, and
what may or may not happen tomorrow, the
present moment is where you are--always!

Richard Carlson

   

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