Life is unfair. Life is fragile. Life is short. How many times have you heard those phrases? How many times has something happened in your life that has confirmed them? And how many times after incidents of sorrow were you determined to have a more in-the-moment life — only to forget this new philosophy in less than a week?
I’m having a moment like that right now. This month, I lost two dear friends, Shellee Rudner Harb and Ira Bart. Both were 59 years old. Both were wonderful people. And both were greatly loved and now dearly missed. Needless to say, it’s difficult to imagine never seeing them again. And it’s easy to dwell on memories of the past and future plans that will never be.
Life is indeed unfair… and entirely fragile… and too short. And yet, as short as life can be, we can spend so much time wishing our todays away, searching for better tomorrows. I’ve certainly been guilty of this. But then again, who isn’t? Who is ever truly satisfied with their current situation? Who doesn’t feel discouraged when expectations aren’t met? Who isn’t bothered by things that are totally out of our control?
So, my reaction to recent daily events might seem fairly familiar:
• I was 20 minutes late for an appointment because of unexpected road construction. How tragic!
• Spent 30 frustrating minutes (holding for 15 minutes) on the Internet service repair call that did not resolve the problem. Wow, I may not recover!
• Went across town to pick up my new prescription glasses only to be told that they were not ready as promised. Oh no, the world may come to an end!
• Have to attend a committee meeting that really doesn’t require my attendance. Boy, this messes up my whole day!
• After I reworked my schedule, my mother calls to tell me that her doctor’s appointment was cancelled. Well now two days are shot!
Thankfully, things like these aren’t catastrophic by the farthest stretch of the imagination. But, when their effect leaves you wishing the present away, that’s when we start losing our lives. Our day-by-day lives. Our now.
The woulda, coulda, shoulda of life can so quickly steal our “now time.” We are either being caught in the past or projecting too much into the future. Ralph Waldo Emerson has this wonderful quote that addresses just this: “With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future. I live now.”
It sounds so simple. Yet for many of the people to whom I speak, I hear that living in the “now” can be very difficult. This is especially the case with family caregivers.
Family caregivers are in a unique place because it is easy for their “now” to be interrupted by things that are totally out of their control. You miss a dinner with friends because mom is anxious about an appointment. You stay home from work because the person who has committed to being with your father today is home sick. You can’t enjoy a well-deserved vacation because you’re waiting on news from a doctor.
The result of all this can easily create heightened anxiety and stress, which in turn can quickly turn into wishing for better tomorrows, which takes you out of the “now,” which then sets the stage for more anxiety and stress… and around and around we go.
Listen, I’m not here to tell you that you can just turn this type of thinking off. It is not that easy, and chances are it has become a habit. The key is to practice being more “mindful” of what you are doing in the present vs. having your mind wander and missing it. If you’re being preoccupied, you are seldom appreciative of the moments that you are experiencing. The good news is that you can help yourself right away.
These simple ideas can get you into a good mindset for appreciating your here and now:
• When you are eating a meal, enjoy it… even it’s just a piece of toast for breakfast. Savor the crunch. Taste the butter.
• When you are speaking with someone, focus on the conversation and be mindful of what’s being said. Don’t think about the time or where you need to be next.
• When you experience something during the day that really pleases you, take a moment and appreciate what it is that makes you feel good about it.
• If you are walking across the street to a meeting take a moment to notice your surroundings rather than having premonitions about the meeting.
• There are 1,440 minutes in the day. Take five minutes to give back to someone. Just reach out and do something nice. Hold open a door. Or, just say “hello.”
I cannot think of a better use of time than acknowledging and appreciating the present moments that we have throughout our todays. Is it easy to do this? Not without practice. But the results will be worth your attention!
There is no time to start than like the present (sorry, I couldn’t resist). We have a few more “todays” until the beginning of the new year. So, be conscious of being in the “now” and enjoy each of those days to its fullest.
Let me leave you with two quotes, from two sources that I can almost guarantee you never imagined sharing a life-enriching perspective — The Buddha and Groucho Marx
“The secret of health for both mind and body is not to mourn for the past, worry about the future, but to live in the present moment wisely and earnestly.”
“I, not events, have the power to make me happy or unhappy today. I can choose which it shall be. Yesterday is dead, tomorrow hasn’t arrived yet. I have just one day, today, and I am going to be happy in it.”
Now… take a moment and guess which one is from whom.
Wishing you a happy, healthy and very present New Year!
Help yourself. Help others.