One of my personal struggles is being ‘alive to the moment.’ My problem is that I have a tendency to focus on something other than the ‘here and now’ that surrounds me. For example, I can spend more time living in the future than the present. I’m a schemer: I’m always planning some grand next step – my next book (although I haven’t finished my first one), next lecture, next business line, or next whatever.
And if I’m not planning some grand future, then I’m considering the past with a sense of nostalgia. And if I’m neither in my future nor past mode, then I’m problem-solving some current dilemma.
With all of these layers of thought going on, how much focus does it leave for the simple here and now, for the things I see and hear and smell and feel right now? Or taste because, as you know, the air can have a taste to it.
Now don’t get me wrong; I’m not against planning the future, savoring the past, or problem-solving the present. In fact my abilities to focus, problem-solve, and imagine something new in the future are among my greatest strengths. I believe my lack of fear in imagining and implementing a grand vision will keep me active and engaged for the rest of my days. I’d like to die in the saddle, as the saying goes, not fading away in a retirement community. I’m also a good problem-solver and implementer. That is my strength when running American Physician Institute.
No, it’s not that these are bad qualities. Rather it’s that I too often engage in these mental activities to the exclusion of the here and now.
So one of my ongoing resolutions is to be more alive to the moment. I’ve made some halting progress. I now consciously remind myself to focus on the present moment. There is so much more in ‘it’ than I usually realize when I’m lost in my thoughts.
One example: I like to walk and I take a long walk every day. (I’m not a jogger but rather a walker.) And when I walk I’m usually lost in thought. In fact, some great business ideas have come to me when walking. Also, one of my hobbies is songwriting and I’ve had some killer song ideas come to me when walking. At the same time I’ve realized that I usually walk with my head down. I’m looking down at about a 45 degree angle at what’s in front of my feet.
I’ve discovered that being lost in thought and looking down are not unrelated: It is when I am focused internally that I look down. And conversely, when I’m looking down, it permits me to get lost in thought.
I’ve also discovered that the easiest way to break my habit of being internally focused is simply to look up. It’s harder for me to get lost in thought when I’m looking straight ahead and much easier to stay focused on the here and now. So, intermittently I remind myself, “Look up, look around.”
If you also are a person who ‘thinks too much’ you know that too much thinking can be exhausting. Sometimes you feel like a victim of your own mind, always thinking, thinking, thinking. Sometimes these thoughts can have an unrelenting quality to them. You would like nothing better than for them to stop for a moment. Who hasn’t envied a cat at some point for being able to lie in the sun, a picture of repose?
So, perhaps you and I too can find ways of ‘living in repose’ and of being alive to the moment.
I’ll close with an example from my life in which I have been able to achieve that elusive living in the moment. When it’s my turn to put my six-year-old son to bed, we go through our bedtime routine. After he changes into his pajamas, brushes his teeth and washes his face, we sit on his bed and read. He sits with his little body pressed close to mine. I smell his hair and kiss the top of his head and we read for about 15 minutes. I then tuck him into bed, tell him I love him and, before leaving, turn on the Christmas lights he has around his door year-round that are his version of a night light.
Since I remember I did the same (sans the Christmas lights) with my daughter before she grew out of such routines from childhood, I actually remember to savor the moments with my son as they are happening now. In his case nostalgia for the past helps me be alive to the present moment.
Until next time,
“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.”
– A.A. Milne from Winnie-the-Pooh, 1926