Living in Daytight Compartments

Life as it is, Spiritual Journey

Have you ever been exposed to an idea that seemed mildly interesting, but then later helped you grasp something vital? That’s what the concept of daytight compartments are to me. I first heard of them in a Dale Carnegie class, many years ago, and loved the mental image of doors sealing off each day one from another so I only had to worry about today. I was already familiar with the idea of watertight doors on a ship, and always wondered what the doors between days would look like.

Daytight Compartments

Thinking about it now, I imagine there comes a time in many sailors’ lives where the idea of watertight doors stops being an interesting idea and an occasional threat to the skull, and instead becomes a necessary reality. On ships, these doors prevent a leak or flooding in one compartment from threatening the other compartments. What is a disaster in one part of the ship is stopped from being a disaster in other parts of the ship because of these doors.

So in my case, my life was much the same as a ship that is in danger of sinking as crises were overwhelming me. Things in the past would leave me a wreck and before I could recover, there was another disaster approaching fast. I would hear people using the slogan, “One Day at a Time” and try to reach for some sort of serenity about the present day but I could never just force this to happen through an act of will.

And that is when daytight compartments stopped being an interesting bit of wordplay, and became a necessary part of my life. The term “daytight compartments” was first coined by Sir William Osler as a way of describing how the following quote changed his life when he encountered it:

It is not our goal to see what lies dimly in the distance but to do what clearly lies at hand.
— Thomas Carlisle

Sir Osler’s many achievements were attributed by him to this idea of never looking more than 24 hours ahead or behind right now. Dale Carnegie included this concept as part of a strategy of dealing with worry. For me, this is what allows me to continuing jumping through the hoops of a single-father, IT-professional, and artistic life with regrets and fear running off my back like water from a duck’s back.

Most of my fears are about things that have nothing to do with my immediate task of crossing this daytight compartment and making it to bedtime. And most of my regrets are about things that happened yesterday or before. Living in a working space that exists only from now until bedtime is just too small for my many fears to get too large – and yet it’s large enough for me to focus on what is at hand.

Those who know me and hear me talking about my “next right thing” are seeing me working in such a compartment. I can only deal with so much between now and bedtime – the rest I have to leave in God’s hands. And in the meantime, if a disaster has happened or will happen, I am safe in today. And when I am safe in today and can then focus only on the day around me, I can find some wonderful things.

Before IT started me working late-night maintenance windows again, I loved my dawn walks with my dog. I would time them so I was always on the west side of the lake for sunrise so I could watch it reflected in the lake and imagine today’s doors opening, often reciting this along the way.

Salutation to the Dawn

Look to this day!
For it is life, the very life of life.
In its brief course
Lie all the verities and realities of your existence:
The bliss of growth
The glory of action
The splendor of beauty
For yesterday is but a dream
And tomorrow only a vision
But today well lived makes every yesterday a dream of happiness
And every tomorrow a vision of hope.
Look well, therefore to this day!
Such is the salutation to the dawn.
–Sanskrit Poem

What about you? How do you “seize the day” and stay focused in the present? And what does it do for you?


6 Responses

  1. wynk says:

    Honestly, the "living day by day" concept has never been QUITE so relevant to my life as it is right now (mine being more focused on not being laden down with the future, than with the past). It is part of my overall drive to "do what I can do"–in other words, if all I can do today is try to make it through the day, functioning at my job and keeping my emotional state stable, then that's my goal. If I find I can clean a little at the end of the day, I'll add that in. Right now I'm mainly just trying to be realistic about what I'm capable of, and that it's not always going to be this way, and that it's not all going to magically be fixed overnight, so I shouldn't load myself down with expectations of handling it all at once.

  2. Mags says:

    Very good advice that. Too much of my brain matter is often given over to regrets of the past or worries for tomorrow. I like the visual of compartmentalizing today. Dusk to dawn…staying in the present and making the most of the day God has given me. I like it.

  3. Hilary says:

    I LOVE that book… and I, too, memorized the Salutation to the Dawn and recited it daily for a long time.
    I also memorized one of e.e.cummings' poems for the same purpose – greeting each morning with it… "I thank you god for most this amazing day" – it's fabu for that as well –

  4. […] I can endure and do the things that I could never do for the rest of my life. For me, the idea of daytight compartments, like watertight compartments on a ship, helped me get through tough […]

  5. Bill B says:

    I was responding to a business email today. The sender had a line in his signature: "Avoid stress by living in day-tight compartments". That caught me off guard as I wasn't sure what his meaning was, so I googled it and found your blog. Your post about that explained (eloquently, I must add) the philosophy of living one day at a time. I've been striving to do that through 15 years of recovery from addiction. Thanks for putting up this blog. There is lots of wisdom here.

  6. sandyatk says:

    i came across "day tight compartment" in one of Dale Carnegie's book given to me by a friend. I recently had a major life altering situation. To cope with this alone i've taken up working 7 days a week. It's been 2 weeks since i started my new lifestyle but i'm content and sleep well at night with minimum sad moments. thank you for sharing.

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