Last week I came across this beautiful thought. It’s an excerpt from the Our Appoinment with Life, a book of Buddhist teachings translated by Thich Nhat Hanh.
Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is in the here and now, we dwell in stability and freedom.
This time of year–fall in general, but the period between Halloween and Thanksgiving in particular–tends to make me meditative. That, in turn, sometimes makes me regretful. I spend way too much time dwelling on the wasted days of my college years, for instance. But it also makes me hyper-focused on the upcoming holidays and all that they entail.
In short, this is the time of year when I’m least likely to look deeply at live as it is. To concentrate on the here and now.
I’ve been working on that, though. As I mentioned in a previous post, I’ve been working with the Calm app to build a daily meditation practice. Thus far, it’s not so daily–but I meditate more days than not. I’m counting that as a victory. Meditation has helped me learn that simply closing my eyes, taking a few deep breaths, and paying attention to that breath (and nothing else, if only for a few seconds) can help me refocus and let go of whatever anxiety I’m harboring.
One of the ideas that comes up again and again in meditation is impermanence. In other words, what you’re feeling at any given moment is not what you’ll be feeling forever. We all know this, of course. Happiness, grief, frustration–they come and go. Life is made up of transitory experiences and emotions. But when you’re in the throes of a negative feeling, this can be hard to remember. (When was the last time you heard someone talk about feeling stuck in a positive moment?)
No wonder we’re tempted to focus on a nebulous future where that negative emotion may not exist. Or a past moment when we know for sure it didn’t.
But when we do that, of course, we miss the present–and it has many things to teach us. Looking deeply at life as it is, here’s what I’m learning:
I need to learn to say no.
I generally don’t have a problem with this in my personal life, but I have a terrible problem with it in my professional life. I’m in a constant battle with the feeling that I need to accomplish more. That I’m just plain lazy. That I could be so much more successful, if I’d just do a better job of managing my time and energy. (This has very little to do with money; it’s mostly about my sense of self-esteem.)
But rather than focus on building opportunities for the future, I need to focus on how much I can reasonably take on in the here and now. The future will take care of itself, after all, as it always does.
I need to make taking care of myself a priority.
I’ve written before about my struggles with weight and body image. But as a 50-something woman, I know regular exercise and a healthy diet are not just the pathway to a particular pants size–they’re crucial ingredients for a long and healthy life. Nevertheless, when I’m crunched for time–and I have been for the last six weeks or so–exercise is the first thing to go. Eating well is the next.
I was fighting off a stomach virus last week, and I’m pretty sure that’s because I was already run down when those germs crossed my path. So I need to make sure exercise moves to the top of my To Do list, since regular exercise boosts immunity. Once I’ve done that, I know from experience that better food choices will fall into place.
I need to make time for connection.
At the moment, I’m living with my husband and our adult son. Both my husband and I are professors–we’re busy people with many commitments. Our son is a college student with a full course load. Generally speaking, the three of us are in the house together only for a few hours a day. And all three of us are introverts, so we value our time alone. But when my son asked me to go to a movie with him one evening last week, I didn’t even consider it before saying I was too busy. Once again, I found myself saying yes to work and no to connection.
I’m working to change that pattern. (My son and I already have a movie date for next weekend.) Because one thing I’m learning from the present is that it won’t be here for long–the time will come when my son has a life entirely apart from mine. My daughter is already in that chapter of her life, planning a wedding and figuring out how to balance time between two families over the holidays.
Life as it is shouldn’t be so easy to ignore. The truth is, given our human nature, it takes effort to be fully present. But when we set aside regrets from the past and worries about the future, we make room to see all the possibilities of the here and now.