I’ve spent a lot of time looking forward lately. In one sense it’s a great tool to help me stay positive amidst the daily struggle of dealing with my injury. Like, “Oh, in just a few months I’ll be able to…” and fill in the blank with any number of things that I can’t do now. Thinking this way gives me hope and reminds me that my situation is temporary. And then I feel very lucky and grateful.
The downside of all this looking forward is that it takes me away from the present moment and all of the joy I could experience now if I weren’t so focused on what’s next. Over the years I’ve read a lot about spirituality and pretty much every text I’ve studied espouses Living In The Moment. It’s the key to happiness, didn’t you know? I find the practice of Being Here Now exceedingly difficult. My mind is always cranking away, thinking about the past a bit but mostly planning and hoping and just generally focusing on the future. The optimist’s curse. I suppose it’s the pessimist’s, too, but I’m not much for worrying about everything that could go wrong.
In the aftermath of my injury, and now that the long slog of recovery has begun, it’s only natural for me to look ahead to what will undoubtedly be happier times, right? Well, yes and no. I started realizing that I was doing this and it made me think, are my current times not happy? Hmmm, no. They are happy, actually. Very, very happy. Will the future times be even better? Maybe, but who’s to say? In that context, it seems very silly to just toss away the happiness I could be feeling now by concentrating so hard on how much better everything will certainly be down the line.
All these years of trying to push my thoughts out of my head and just Be, with no success (literally, none–the harder I try the worse I fail, and if I don’t try at all I somehow fail even more spectacularly. Wrap your minds around that conundrum, spiritual gurus!), and now, suddenly, I’m enlightened. In the last two weeks, I have spent more time just existing in the present without thought to what’s next than in my whole life prior to breaking my back. I feel remarkably peaceful. It’s weird, and fantastic.
I believe a lot of my recent success with just being in the moment and appreciating it has to do with the very deep sense of gratitude I feel. Maybe you are like me and have spent a lot of your life knowing that you are fortunate and feeling like you should be more grateful and happier than you are, and wondering why it’s so damn hard. I have finally realized that intellectual gratitude is very different from actually feeling grateful. I am not sure whether it was the sudden realization that life can change in an instant (yes, I know this, you know this, we see evidence of it all the time in the paper and on the news, but for me it did take a near-brush with disaster to fully understand), or whether it was that combined with all of the emotions and responsibilities and perspectives that come with being a mother, but I feel so effortlessly thankful these days. Like, I don’t have to try, and that is the trick. I just am grateful, therefore it is easy in each moment to just feel happy.
Perhaps it sounds hokey, but I finally really do understand and believe that every instant is a new chance to choose happiness. I have long believed in our ability to choose our emotions much like we can choose our thoughts, but I’m a fiery one and that sort of conscious choice can be a challenge. In addition, I haven’t ever had much luck with trying to make myself feel one way or another. Sure, I’ve gotten better with practice, but until you really internalize this stuff it’s like putting on a mask and pretending to be someone else. I am not sure what the point of this post is. I don’t know that I have any real practical advice to help you get the place where I am, if you are not there yet. It requires a shift in perspective, and I think that while I was on the path (especially since Dylan was born), it would have taken me quite a while to arrive here had I not had my recent near-miss.
This is not to say that I am now perfect and never feel frustrated or sad, or never think about tomorrow or next week or next year. I still look ahead and feel hopeful because I expect better times. However, I’ve also managed recently to slow down enough to experience my life as it is happening, and it gives me such a positive and peaceful feeling. I encourage you to take a look around your life and notice the good things. I’m not necessarily talking about big things, they can be small, they can be anything. What are you thankful for right now at this very minute? Think about it, and feel happy.