I could totally be a contestant on any ridiculous game show or competition that requires contestants face their fears, because I don’t have any. No seriously, I am not afraid of snakes, spiders, heights, water, falling, small spaces or antique furniture(ehm Billy Bob Thorton). I don’t cringe at weird foods or textures- though don’t get me started on how I feel about Mushrooms. I don’t even have rational useful fears like catching foot fungus in a public bathroom or washing my hands all the time- seriously my children eat food off the ground. I don’t fear the tornadoes that hit near my house, I don’t worry about spontaneous human combustion or California dropping off into the ocean and a giant tsunami claiming our Western seaboard. Nope not me, I am fearless.
Except for one small, tiny, infinitesimal thing… seriously, no biggie. It’s hardly worth mentioning actually. I’m afraid of the unknown future.
Crap. Ok, so maybe not such a small thing, but I defy any game show to come up with a scenario that scares me even half as much as my own future does. I have been doing a lot of reading and research on happiness and peace, contentment and the secrets to living a fulfilled life. The two most common themes so far are living in the now and not worrying about the road ahead. That’s easy to say, but difficult to do. I mean for all I know there is a giant monster living under my bed just waiting for a future date to jump out and grab me. And by monster I mean life tragedy and missteps, and by grab me I mean impact me in a way I can neither foresee nor change.
I love having control, making plans and laying out steps and goals. I love feeling like I can impact my life by making smart or informed choices. I love the feeling of a day going off without a hitch because I executed a master plan of skillful preparation. What I don’t love is the unknown happening, the phone call in the middle of the night, the gut wrenching fear of not knowing what is wrong or how I can help. What I don’t like is the regular, usual, not all that unique happenings of life that defy planning or even expectation. It never fails that as I am moving through life I seem to always get smacked by things I didn’t see coming, or worse things I can’t change. But probably the worst part, according to the research I’m doing, is that I am never able to just enjoy the now. I can’t turn off the fear of the monster under the bed, so instead of just experiencing a moment and finding peace in the now, my brain is busy at work thinking ten steps ahead and trying to piece together how that moment 10 minutes or 10 days from now, is just as uneventful as the moment I’m in but not enjoying.
This line of logic doesn’t even make sense. If I can’t relax and just enjoy the now, then what does it matter if I am able to create a future series of nows that are perfect, blissful, and grand if when I get there I still won’t be able to enjoy them? Did you follow that logic? In essence, what I’m saying is it doesn’t matter what the moment is, when it happens, if I planned it or it was a surprise, I am not living in that moment, I am worried about the next moment. So I’m not enjoying what I have, no matter how great, because I’m stressing about the possible chance that I may lose it. As Britt Reints tells me in her book The Amateurs Guide to the Pursuit of Happiness,(free on Kindle btw) it’s all temporary, the good and the bad. So worrying about it is unnecessary since it will only be temporary.
This past weekend we took our boys for their last trip of the season to the outside pool at our gym. It was also their first trip of the season because up until now they were too afraid of the crowds and water fountains to venture outside. My husband and I each grabbed a kid and headed to the water. The boys squirmed and begged to be let go, they needed their own time and their own moment to figure out the situation and their place in it. Ok, the hubs and I are nothing if not flexible so we put them down and let them just splash around in the shallow end jumping in fountains and blowing bubbles. It was a great now moment. All of the people I care about most in the world are right there, right with me, smiling and laughing. The sun is shining. We are healthier than we have been in so many ways. Right in that moment my world was at peace. I almost missed the moment because I was already thinking of how we would execute a clean get away when pool time was over. How we would get the kids changed without crying and get them home before nap time. I was thinking about how I wished I’d brought my camera and what would we eat for lunch-damn that non gluten free BBQ at the gym smells good. But that is when it hit me, like a brick upside the face. Wendy! Stop the planning, enjoy this moment, enjoy the now! I almost looked around to see if any other pool goers heard the voice in my head it was so loud and angry.
I think all my recent reading about happiness and finding Zen really helped. It brought me back to a moment I didn’t want to forget. I crawled through the shallow water and grabbed ahold of Jay’s back and just leaned my face against his shoulder as we watched the boys playing in the water. I kissed his neck and really felt his skin on my lips. I really saw the smile on his face, I really heard the giggles of my children in vibrant tones and colors and textures I don’t usually get to experience because my brain is elsewhere. “I love you” I told my husband. “I love our life”. That moment will probably be one of those moments I remember when I’m 70 and senile, because I chose the now over the next.
It was amazing, but I won’t lie to you, it was scary as hell. Ridiculous? You bet! But before you judge, let me tell you of another pool time memory I will never forget and then maybe it will be clearer why I am so afraid of the next, and why the now is so hard to live in. This memory is so alive even 3 years later that I can hear the song on the radio that my husband danced too. I can feel the humidity on my skin of that stifling Virginia day. I can taste the macaroni salad we ate by the pool. It is all so vivid.
On June 13 2010 we took our first-born son to the pool for his first swimming experience. He was just shy of 5 months old. We stopped at Target to get sunscreen and swim diapers. We laughed and told jokes in the car about the posted speed limit being just a suggestion (according to Jay). We had a ring floaty for the baby to float in, we had little baby sunglasses and a hat. We had dogs and snacks and everything else to make a perfect wonderful first pool memory- see compulsive planner from the beginning of the article. It was a great day, it went off without a hitch. We laughed, and swam and ate good food. We spent time with Jay’s mom and sister. It was wonderful and exhausting. and I remember every moment. It is burned on my brain. But not because the day was great and I was living in the now. No, I remember that day and those moments because at the very same moment, almost 25oo miles away, my sister/best friend in the world was planning her last day on Earth and she called my cellphone to say goodbye. A cellphone that didn’t get coverage at the swimming pool.
When I got home later that day and heard her message apologizing for everything in the world I instantly knew that the monster had come out from under the bed. That my life would never be the same, that I had selfishly enjoyed the now of the pool and missed my last chance at stopping a tragedy from happening. There wasn’t anything I could do. There was no planning my way out of what lay ahead, no way of going back in time and foreseeing this moment. No way to stop the terrible now I was in that I felt was a direct result of my enjoying the now since my son had been born months prior. What she did was not my fault. And I know there wasn’t anything I could do, not really. But in my heart I will always wonder what would have happened if I had been sitting at home, near a cell phone tower, when she made her last call to me.
From that moment on I have been unable to be present in the now, I have been unsuccessful at living in the moment and not worrying about the future. I feel like I was sort of punished for just enjoying my now and thinking only of the moment. I have been compulsively trying to avoid any possible future moment of surprise. And its all a little bit futile. Not only can I not prevent the future from coming, or bad things from happening (aka my son’s ongoing health issues and battle we have been fighting for a year to get a diagnosis and make him whole again), but now I can’t live in the moment and truly just breathe and feel peace (aka that he is doing better now and I need to be thankful he doesn’t have cancer). For all I know I don’t have cell coverage and the worst thing in the world is silently happening without my knowledge (aka he doesn’t have cancer but has something else that is life altering or debilitating). Go ahead game show, find a way to simulate that and I promise to be paralyzed with fear while an unseen audience at home judges my weakness.
I don’t tell you the story above to make you feel sorry for me. I tell you to show you how my past has shaped my future and created this inability to experience a now that is swiftly passing me by. I’m completely aware of it, I was even before I started this journey to find peace. I’ve known that I am missing out on time I will never get back. I know I am busy “getting things done” instead of really engaging because one has an obvious satisfying result of accomplishment and the other is just a mystery that may result in crying. I know that my one fear in life is inhibiting and changing my relationships with the people I love and I’d do anything to swap it out for a good old-fashioned fear of spiders or rats, or the number 13.
Yesterday in yoga the instructor talked a lot about facing fear and balancing and living in the now. It was interesting given that my mind was already in that space. The universe has a funny way of bringing things to your door when you are ready for them. I don’t usually consider yoga to be a fearful place, but I also shy away from the postures I am not good at. Anything inverted and the little fat girl inside of me balks. But I promise you will never feel more in the now that practicing yoga; it requires you to be very present in the now with your mind on nothing other than the poses. So at the point in class where she allows the opportunity to practice the things that scare us, I told her I wanted help doing a head stand. I really wanted to banish my fear of falling down or looking foolish. I eventually managed a half head stand with knees bent and as I held the position trying to count my breathes and not fall over, really feeling each muscle doing its part to keep me stable I started to cry. Or rather the little fat girl inside me started to cry, because she had nothing left to be afraid of. It felt good. I faced a fear, a long-held belief about myself and my abilities, and I did it by living in the now.
In the end I have to face my fear of the unknown, like my inner fat child has had to face her fears. I’ll have to sweep under the bed for the monsters and kindly explain that I don’t have time for them anymore and that they are no more scary than JP Sullivan from Monsters Inc.. I know they will be disappointed, but not half as disappointed as I would be if I missed my little boys now moments. No matter what life throws at you, you have two choices; become paralyzed with fear unable to move forward, or stronger and triumphant having survived the battle. I’d like to think I’m stronger, I’d like to think the sucker punches I sustained after my sister passed away have made me a better person and a better mother. I’d like to believe that karma is real and that the monsters that lived under my bed have moved on to more deserving prey (aka the people who kick me when I’m down).
This journey to find happiness and Zen is rooted in my belief that my happiness is a direct result of living an intentional life, one not dictated by society or others but one that is right for me and my family. There is no doubt that living in the now is a key ingredient in finding Zen under pressure; what could be more intentional than choosing to really experience the moment I am in? So my goal for this week is to find a moment every day, at least one moment (shouldn’t be too hard given how much happens in a day) where I can really just be in the moment and experience all that moment has to offer without thinking about the next moment or what might happen later. So whether its stopping my laundry folding to play ball in the kitchen, or its slowing down to really feel my dog’s fur between my fingers and his tongue on my face, I am going to find the now. The future can sort itself out, and it will, even without my participation.
What I’m listening to: Cups- it makes me feel like I need to take the long way round, the one with the prettiest of views- living in the journey now and not worrying about the destination.
What I’m reading: Still reading Manic. I wish I wasn’t though. Not sure why I can’t just put a book down that I am not interested in finishing. Maybe I am hoping the author figures it out and in the end she won’t be bi-polar? Not sure.
Inspirations from the ether: The 4 reasons happiness takes guts Have you got the guts?
PS Just had my moment for the day, at least one of them. Rocking and singing the wee one to sleep and having him sing along… ah… perfect. You are my sunshine, my only sunshine… or rather… you are my sushine