When I was 19 years old, I was in love for the first time, in Paris for the first time, and seeing the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame Cathedral for the first time. It doesn’t get much better than that. It was one of the high points of my life.
It didn’t take long to figure out that the love wasn’t going to last, but, as they say, I’d always have Paris. Some things you just assume will last forever. Some things, you think, will be as permanent as Mount Everest.
Watching Notre Dame burn broke my heart. That spire crashing down felt like it went right through me. Yes, they’ll rebuild, but it will never again be “my” Notre Dame. That’s gone.
We tend to forget that the things made by man are very impermanent. If a stretch of interstate highway was abandoned for 10 years, it would be so reclaimed by weeds and trees that it would be unrecognizable. Whole cities have disappeared with the passage of time. Buildings and bridges collapse. Towns burn. Tumbleweeds roll down what used to be main streets. Waters rise, winds blow, sand dunes encroach.
Most of us try not to think about it. It is hard, living in that state of awareness. Impermanence is scary. It reminds us of our own mortality. If Notre Dame can burn after having stood for about 800 years, then my fragile little body is toast.
But in many ways, that impermanence is actually a gift. While Notre Dame propped up my 19 year old’s sense of beauty and romance, I went on to have many other amazing experiences, and I’m sure that more are in the offing. Knowing that all these things are merely blips on the radar of the universe makes me appreciate them even more. What I am experiencing right here, right now, will be gone in a moment.
What a gift that I got to collect these memories, if even for just a cosmic second, even if they aren’t made of mountains, and will someday be reduced to dust.
Don’t forget to appreciate the now, dear reader. In the overall scheme of things, it’s really all that we have.
The 4th of July is the worst day to be an American bridgetender. Drunken boaters and pedestrians are out in force. There’s plenty of stress and aggravation, and a lot of people to avoid injuring due to their own foolishness. While you are out enjoying your fireworks, we bridgetenders are trying to avoid nervous breakdowns.
And yes, I got to work the 4th of July this year. Lucky me. I spent a lot of time politely bellowing at people through the bullhorn. It may not sound like it, but I do it because I care. I’d really rather not kill anyone if I can avoid it.
At a certain point, I realized that a great deal of my tension was purely anticipatory. I knew the night was going to suck. And sure enough, it did. But stressing out over things that have yet to happen is counterproductive at best. Fight or flight should be reserved for the moment when you spot the mountain lion, not for when you’ve heard that there might be one within a 10 mile radius. Caution is great, but becoming adrenalized before the fact does nothing but make you feel exhausted and sick to your stomach.
So I spent a great deal of the night checking in with myself. What is happening now? What are my rational concerns at this moment in time? Breathe…
This takes practice. I never really thought about how much time I waste anticipating disaster. All the more reason to try to stay centered in time.
I don’t have a smart phone. In fact, my phone is just about as stupid as they come in this modern world. But hey, it only costs me about 5 bucks a month, so as far as I’m concerned, that makes me pretty darned smart.
Living in this state of self-imposed technological deprivation, I know nothing about apps. There may already be an app for this, but if not, there really should be. I would call this app the “gratitude alarm”. It would instruct your phone to set off a gentle alarm at random, completely unanticipated times throughout your day. The alarm would remind you to stop what you’re doing and look about you, and really appreciate your place in the now.
Too often, we forget to do this. Sometimes you need to just enjoy the sensation of the sun on your face. Don’t take your current experience for granted. Be grateful for the people you are having lunch with, and for the food on your plate. Embrace the experience of that crowded subway, as it’s taking you where you want to go. Appreciate the fact that you have a job when so many others do not. Admire that flowering “weed” that you might have otherwise overlooked.
I suspect that if people were to use this app for just a few weeks, they’d see a shift in their attitude for the better. After a while, the app would no longer be needed. An attitude of gratitude can become a delightful habit if you let it.
For now, pretend this blog post is your alarm. Stop right now. Look around. Be grateful.
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Here’s why I could never commit suicide: I know, for better or for worse, that I am not stuck in this present moment. Things will get better. Yeah, they might also get worse. But the point is, it’s all unbelievably temporary. Change is inevitable.
The reason I’ve been able to endure all this home buying and relocation stress is that I was able to keep telling myself that this time next month, then next week, then tomorrow…I’d be done with all of that. And sure enough, I am. Now it’s time to focus on unpacking stress. And while that sucks, too, at least I know everything is here. Somewhere. In some box or another. I forget where. But it’s here. Really. It is. It has to be.
The more life you live, the more you realize that the pendulum swings back and forth. If you don’t like the point in the arc that you are currently experiencing, just wait. You’ll be gone from there in no time.
That knowledge also makes me value the now. It feels all the more precious because it’s going to be gone in a flash. Sometimes I feel the need to stop dead in my tracks and just take everything in. Breathe the air. Feel the sun on my face. Watch and listen to everything that’s happening around me.
Every moment is as unique and fragile as a snowflake. Personally, I want to stick around for as long as I can, because the snowflakes of life are infinitely fascinating to me. It would be a shame to miss even one of them.
I heard that somewhere recently and it really struck a chord in me. I know so many people who dwell in the past. They’re bitter about unresolved issues with people, or they’re longing for better times, or they are using the past as a convenient excuse not to move forward, or they are just exercising a lifelong habit of facing backwards. It makes me sad.
All that time we spend gazing at bygone experiences is really wasted energy for the most part, because that stuff does not require any care or feeding. It will always be there. It doesn’t need your nurturing or attention. On the other hand, what is happening right here and now, with the people who are standing right in front of you, most certainly does need your focus.
I’m not talking about reminiscing. It’s nice to recall happy memories every now and again. I’m talking about obsessing. I’m talking about being so stuck in your ancient history that you cannot progress. People who make that mistake rarely look up to see those around them. They don’t stop and smell the roses because they don’t even realize that any are in their midst. They are missing the everyday gifts that are given to all of us: the feeling of wind in your hair and sun on your face. Potential friends. Opportunities. Growth.
Am I some sort of expert at facing forward? Hardly. I have my issues. But at least I’m making an effort. I hope you are, too.
Take a moment to breathe in the now, and be grateful for it.
According to Psychology Today, “Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention to the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.”
I have to admit that I suck at this. I don’t even have the patience to attempt meditation. I’m too busy planning and organizing and making contingencies for anticipated disaster. I suppose this comes from a lifetime of being the only one in my boat. If I don’t steer this thing, who will?
But every once in a while, through no effort of my own, I get a brief, shining moment of mindfulness. I’ll look about me and realize that this moment, right now, is perfect in every way, even if there are flaws. The light glinting off the water, the tangy bite of citrus, the people I’m with… all somehow combine to make me realize that I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else on earth.
Everything seems to fall into place in times like these. I’m convinced that it’s these moments that will flash before my eyes when I celebrate my life on my way to the next state of being. Whatever that may be.
Anyone who regularly practices mindfulness is a fortunate person indeed. I’m working on it. I’ll probably never achieve perfection in this realm. But even having just a few seconds of it now and again in a lifetime is a precious gift.