Hanging On

Woody Allen said…

“if you want to make God laugh, make plans.”

I was reminded of this saying this week while doing my typical hyper-planning and organizing for an overseas trip.  I like to get things ready well ahead of schedule making sure I know exactly where I am going, what I am doing and having everything prepared well in advanced.  My presentation was completed a few weeks ahead of schedule so I could tweak it and have time to perfect it.

My passport and electrical adaptors were sitting by my suitcase along with my itinerary. I had everything well organized as I packed my suitcase and got ready to load things in the car hours before I left for the airport.

As I sat quietly, cleaning up around my Persian cat Mango’s eyes and brushing him, I realized I forgot to pack any pants.

No panic, no problem ---but it made me laugh to think that I was so in control except for this one small detail. Ra El laughed at it along with me but suddenly I realized what a fools game planning can be. I plan and organize and compartmentalize stuff so I feel like I have the ability to manage the future. Who am I kidding?

What control do we have over life?
What illusions we create for ourselves to make us feel as if we are in control of things that will occur. We make plans all the time and in our effort to control things life comes at us trying to teach us to stop trying to hold onto things and to instead be in the moment.  We want to swim against the current but the tide is saying go with the flow.

What can we do to realize that each moment is precious and that we have to be more aware of now?

I know I spend a lot of my time in my blog writing about the past as I sift through old photographs that are soaked with rich memories. I hold onto these so tightly that I don’t want to release my grip since they connect me with an emotional foundation.  It is as if I need to marinate myself in the past to feel the spirits of those who have passed away.

I also obsess and worry about tomorrow with great frequency debating over spending a buck on something that I know will bring me happiness now like traveling to visit our daughters.  How can I control my future better worrying about finances and health and the happiness of loved ones?  What can I do to satisfy the need to be in control of tomorrow recognizing that there is so little we can control. Where is the dial on my remote that allows me to find the right channel in between yesterday and tomorrow?

The following list contains six specific habits and actions that I am working on this moment.    I call it my NOW list. 

Six Ideas for living in the now

1.       Sitting quietly:  I find that if I can sit quietly and breathe slowly, I can be much more aware of the moment that I am in. The quiet is never really quiet because I suddenly hear birds outside or creaks in the house or even the very soft steps of my Persian cats walking on the carpet. But quiet forces me into a greater sense of awareness of now. And, like in meditating, I try to just let worries, thoughts and ideas flow through me as if I am a screen- sensing each thought but letting them pass through me within holding me down.

2.       Stop multi-tasking:  I have become too good at doing ten things at once that I have to force myself to stop and concentrate on one job at a time.  I’m not very good at this yet- but I am trying to be more mindful of one task and to focus on it with greater concentration. My new rule is that people take precedence over things. If someone is talking to me- stop doing email. If someone is on the phone- quit watching the TV. I guess a good way to say this is that if it breathes, it gets top priority. Learn to honor the living by giving them your attention. I have a lot of work to do in this area but I am striving to be more self-aware.

3.       Stop needing things:  A rich man is one who has few needs. If I want more stuff to fill my house, there is less room for me to enjoy the empty spaces that can fill you with peacefulness.  The more I acquire, the more things I have that grips me and makes me to hold onto things. Letting go is unbelievably releasing and freeing. Sometimes I struggle wondering if this is just an excuse to be cheap; or if this is in fact a wise way to keep the really important things in my life close to my heart. My mantra has become the less I need, the more I have.  

4.       Help someone I don’t know: I have had a few experiences recently when in the midst of great frustration like waiting at the airport for more than 12 hours for my delayed flight, I was able to help someone in need. Without going in to the details, I was able to shift my energy from my frustration to the simple task of giving a gift to someone who needed my help.  Like a judo master, I switched the energy’s direction and suddenly I was no longer angry and frustrated. I felt as if my extraordinary annoying experience transitioned into some good.  So called random acts of kindness are remarkably powerful tools for changing your emotions and they work best to help you when you are at your most stressed.

5.       Look at people: Do you ever find yourself talking and not really looking into the eyes of the person you are with? I don’t mean in a romantic or creepy way, but in a way where you truly see them and are present with them.  When you really see someone it helps you hear them. When you really hear them it helps you feel the true emotion of what they are saying. Listening and seeing someone is a powerful way to be present in a moment and to acknowledge someone’s existence. And aren’t we all looking for recognition by others that we matter and have a purpose?

6.       Listen: When I am with others, I often want to talk and tell people what I think or what I know. I am working at being a more aggressive listener. I already know what I think but if I really want to refine my thinking, I need to do a better job hearing people and understanding their point of view.  Some of the wisest people I know are often quiet in meetings or conversations because they are busy listening carefully to what others have to say. They don’t need to speak first- in fact, sometimes they don’t need to speak at all. It is often said that we have two ears but one mouth and we should use them proportionately. I like that thought a lot as it has great power when applied.

So as I put my pants on one leg at a time, go downstairs to the first meeting today, I feel that I have nothing under control- and it feels great.

What is worth holding on to? 

I think the answer is this moment right now.