Tuesday, December 13, 2011
What's Happening Now?
Helena was a first generation American with an uncompromising attitude towards time. Her father ruled her home with a loud voice and a clock in his left hand. Being late for anything was unforgivable and severally punished. Helena learned from her mother, who had given up her voice years before her daughter was born, how to do things quickly and well - always keeping one eye on the clock. To have a semi-peaceful family outing, mother and daughter knew it was best to be already standing next to the car, when father was still putting on his coat.
Later in life, always being the first one at work and getting more of it done than anyone else, Helena was rewarded for her ingrained habits by receiving generous raises and frequent promotions. Her workload was also raised right along with her salary. Well, after all, she had shown she could do it.
By the time Helena had a family of her own, she was in a real race to do things well for her family and her boss. Quite predictably, she started to experience very frightening anxiety attacks which increased over time, both in frequency and severity. Although she came to realize that her perception of time and terror of “lateness” was seriously hurting her, she lacked the insight or courage to seek professional help. She decided that she would deal with her anxiety by budgeting an extra hour into her travel time for appointments or invitations, in case the traffic was bad or there was an accident on the road. (The extra time was usually spent waiting in the parking lot until it was time to go inside.) To keep from worrying about her family going naked if she got sick, she maintained a habit of having at least seven days worth of perfectly laundered outfits for everyone, ready to wear.
The tragedy of her life, and others like her, is that she was never present to the life she was living at the moment. Her thoughts were occupied with possible scenarios in the future, to remove potential obstacles for being late with, or to, anything tomorrow.
Sadly, many of us live life in an imaginary, sometimes fearful, sometimes hopeful future scenario. Although Helena's case is extreme and she probably would have benefitted from an early intervention, I’m sure many of you can relate to how she felt.
When our thoughts are trapped by worries and frantic plans for tomorrow (Buddhists call this “chasing the monkey,” because it is pointless), we give up the awareness of experiencing our life as it really is, at this moment, in real time. Think of all the arguments you have fought in your mind to be prepared for some future argument that never occurred. All the potential threats to your welfare you lost sleep over for many nights, that didn't happen. Instead, you lost the experience of a warm bed, perhaps a loving partner, good sleep and the wonderful feeling of gratitude for having all that.
When you are not really tasting your food, or enjoying the sweaty smell of your little boy’s hair because he's been battling the bad guys with his deadly plastic sword, you are away in the future and missing out on the treasures that are here and only right now.
Hurrying through life is missing it altogether. Hurrying is both caused by anxiety, and creates more of it. We make more mistakes and have accidents. Caught in this current, we forget the smell of roses, the goodness of a cozy room on a cold day, and the taste of melting butter on fresh toast.
So, save yourself from the race that never ends and has no winner. Make a devoted effort to slow down! Before getting out of bed in the morning, promise your self, “I will not hurry today.” Leave yourself small sticky notes around the house, in your car and in your desk drawer, to remind yourself to become aware of this moment. Look around and observe, really observe, then go back to what you were doing without a sense of hurry.
Remember that you have begun to rid yourself of an old harmful routine. Each time you remind yourself to be present to your life as it is in the moment, you're ironing out the hard-edged crease of a bad habit. Be very patient with yourself, but stay faithful to your efforts.
Make this the holiday gift you give yourself.