Jessai Flores

What do you have to do tomorrow? 

Maybe you have to double-check a p-set or put the finishing touches on a paper. Maybe you have plans with friends and/or loved ones. Perhaps you’re momentarily satisfied with your progress in classes but need to take care of some household chores. Or, maybe you’re one of the fortunate few at this effervescent, busy university who has managed to wipe their schedule completely clean.

The free day — so coveted, yet so fleeting. If only it could last forever. Despite all your best efforts, the bullet points on your to-do list stack back on top of each other, your G-cal returns to maximum capacity, and every article of clothing you own finds its way back to the laundry hamper. It’s all cyclical — the menial responsibilities of life. What a shame.

I call these Tasks, defined as any class of repetitive, personal maintenance-associated activities. 

Nobody would ever say that they enjoy Tasks. They are mindless and monotonous, a clear truism. However, entirely neglecting the Task is like rejecting life itself. Think about it — if you spontaneously decided to reject all your Tasks, the foundation of your life would inevitably collapse. Whether we like it or not, the Task is the scaffolding on which we construct our lives; a Task-less life is akin to anarchy.

But Tasks still suck. And they suck a lot. This begs the question: how does one deal with the reality that the necessary and the monotonous are often one and the same?

I want to set aside the material considerations of the Task (i.e., why we do them, what they accomplish, etc.) and zone in on the metaphysics. Amid the volatility of student life, the Task provides a consistent anchor to the present and to reality itself. In an environment like Yale, where many of us have lofty goals and an even loftier workload, such an anchor is necessary to reach and maintain a state of contentment. 

At first, this seems pretty abstract, but hear me out. Personally, I often find myself using a lot of brainpower thinking about anything that strips me away from the moment, either in recollection of the past or anticipation of the future. This feeling, this constant state of recollection and anticipation, is something I think many of us can identify with. It’s natural to worry about what you have planned tomorrow, next week or even next year; it’s natural to regret or miss the past. The human condition is characterized by constant cognition, and sometimes, our mind wanders off without our permission while our bodies remain planted firmly in the present. 

Try and think of a specific instance when you felt lost in the moment. In other words, when have you been in absolute harmony with the present, with no temporal concerns whatsoever? Maybe you can pinpoint an example, but that isn’t the point; notice how challenging it is to identify such a time. The moment that you are thinking of, are trying to think of or are neglecting to think of at all (shame on you!) is now the past. 

Life, especially life at Yale, is chaos. Before we know it, the moment we cherish is swallowed up in the tempest of society and exiled to our memory’s depths. For most people, these moments are few and far between. The storm rarely quells for long enough to fully bathe in the splendor of the present. 

I believe that within the Tasks lies a refuge from the anxious, whirlwind-esque onslaught life smacks us silly with. It is self-evident that the state of contentment we all long for is founded on “living in the present.” It’s impossible to be truly content when your body is on Earth, but your mind is on the Earth-that-was or the Earth-that-is-yet-to-be. The completion of the Tasks is imperative to life itself, and with so few opportunities to bask in the present, why not repurpose boredom into introspection? After all, is the Task not just the moment reified in the form of dutiful action?

The Task is the opportune time to live in the moment, but habituating a proper attitude toward the Task is, no doubt, easier said than done. It would be foolish of me to present a specific method to accomplish what I speak of. I can, however, offer some insights. First, the next time you find yourself completing a Task, get rid of all external distractions. Let yourself be alone with your thoughts. Second, evaluate how you presently feel. If you aren’t in a place where you have (relative) control over your mind, maybe try achieving quasi-Nirvana another time. Finally, and most importantly, question why you feel the way you do. Metacognition is the key to restructuring your thoughts.

I am far from the first person to emphasize the importance of the Task. It has been stated countless times in countless ways by countless people. But at a university where there is a seemingly infinite number of things prancing around our minds at any given moment, we all need a regularly occurring mechanism that enables us to recognize the beauty of the present. This is what I posit the philosophical nature of the Task to be — oneness with the moment. The past is gone, and the future is yet to come, but the present is always here.