“Western civilization places so much emphasis on the idea of hope that we sacrifice the present moment. Hope is for the future. It cannot help us discover joy, peace, or enlightenment in the present moment.” (p.41–Peace is Every Step by Thich Nhat Hanh)
I came across this quote in the middle of a hectic week in which I was convinced I might go crazy at any given second. Every once in a while my three kids will throw a wrench in my perfectly tuned schedule. The stars align just so to make it impossible for me to have any “me time.” Somebody is always awake. Somebody is sick. Everyone seems to have needs that are greater than my need write.
After a few times of forfeited “me time” and a growing to-do list nagging the hell out of me, I start to feel anxious. I want to write. I want to finish the novel. I want to work, work, work on my list of things to-do so I can be productive and accomplished and feel like my life has been a success. There’s always something more to do. I’m always kicking myself for not squeezing more productivity out of myself. I’m never quite “there” yet. If I just worked a little harder…
When I read the quote, I applied it to so many different moments in my life when I chased after a goal, or “hope.”
As a small child I wrote on a poster (I still have it!) that I wanted to be 17. When I was 17 I just wanted to graduate and be in college already. When I was in college I wanted to graduate and have a career. When I had my career I couldn’t wait to get married and have kids. I’m like the book “If You Give a Mouse a Cookie.” After the cookie, I want the milk. Then I want the napkin, etc.
My life has been a race from one goal to the next, and every time I accomplish something I never feel satisfied for long. I always lack that “filled to the brim” feeling, the contentment I imagine one might feel if they’ve done everything they’ve ever wanted to do.
The thing is, when you race from one thing to the next, at the end of the day, or the end of your life, what does that really mean?
What would have happened if I enjoyed my time in high school and college more? Slowed down to join extracurriculars that opened new doors for me. Pushed myself to try new things. Go beyond my comfort zone.
Can’t we find balance between too slow and too fast? Isn’t there a moderate pace in life that allows us to stop and smell the roses while staying on track to finish the marathon?
I’ve always been a planner. I wanted to live on my own and travel extensively before marriage and children. I did both. I can’t say that I’ve wasted my time. They’ve been jam packed with things I’ve loved doing. I don’t have many regrets, if any. However, I have gained some perspective that will change the way I live the rest of my life. Perspective that will change how I play the game.
This morning I lingered in bed a little longer than usual with my 3 month old, smelling his hair, kissing his chubby cheeks as he smiled at me, still in his blissful milk coma. I had writing to do. My house needed to get cleaned. My to-do list started to nag in my head and the longer I stayed in bed the sooner my other two kids would wake up and then I’d have no time alone to finish work.
I remembered the quote and I remembered everything about the importance of being present and I decided to allow myself thirty extra minutes in bed with my baby. In a few months I’ll be back at work yearning for this time. The time is here right now. I won’t remember the times I jumped out of bed early to start the laundry. I will remember that chubby baby in my arms looking at me like I’m the most important person in the universe.
I can only do my best each day, strive for growth, learn new things, be better than I was yesterday, and focus on what I’m experiencing right now. There is a precarious balance that must be sought after in the game of life. The balance between right now and prepared for tomorrow.
I’m reading Brene Brown’s “The Gifts of Imperfection: Let go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.” Crossing my fingers that it gives me new ideas.