It’s hard thinking of “life as journey.” I don’t know what it is about the human mind, but it does not want to sit in the present–it wants to obsess about the past or fret about the future. We tend to think in terms of life as something that we’re waiting to happen to us. It’s always in the future, right? Oh, after this shitty job, I’ll get a better job. And when I have that better job, I’ll buy a house or I’ll go to Tahiti. When my partner does this thing, our relationship will be better. When I lose 20 pounds, I will feel good about myself. When I get a boyfriend, life will be as it should be. We all do this shit, yanno? And what a fucking subconscious happiness suck it is–this telling yourself that you’ll be happier later–because the implication is that you’re not happy now. It kills us. Every time we push our happiness off as something that’s dependent on a future event, we’re selling ourselves short. Happiness isn’t some ethereal, off-in-the-future thing. It’s right fucking now, kids.
One of the ways I try to ground myself in the present is by doing gratitudes. We’ve all heard of this process by now–all the neo-hippies are doing it. At the end of the day, at the beginning of the day, whenever works for you, you do a mental reckoning of all of the shit you’re grateful for. I do this as part of my meditation in the morning. At the end of meditation, I think of several things I’m grateful for. And I’m not gonna lie, some days it’s a fucking stretch, yo. Some days I be like “And I’m grateful it’s not raining this second because I hate rain” or “I’m grateful there’s one more egg in the fridge so I can make a breakfast taco” or “Sure am grateful a seagull didn’t take a wet dump on my head today.” But I guaran-good-goddamn-tee you that you will ALWAYS be able to find something to be grateful for, even if it’s “I’m grateful I didn’t get chlamydia yesterday.”
Thinking about the future is healthy in many ways. Shit, would it kill any of us to open an IRA? There’s something to said about being a mah-toor adult, after all. But we get so caught up in that notion that happiness is something just around the corner, something magically waiting for us if only all these external things would fall out of the sky, the stars would align, and we would get the bounty we so richly deserve.
I think one of the things that’s made me so unhappy these past few years is that I’ve stopped being an in-the-moment girl, stopped savoring the intangibles. Man, I used to be the goddamn queen of being present. I was always right in the moment, utterly absorbed in what was happening, what conversation was occurring, who I was with, and how much fun we were having. In fact, looking back, no matter where I was or what I was doing, nine times out of ten, I was having the maximum amount of fun there was to be had at that moment. You couldn’t tell me any differently. And now, I’m never in the moment. My mind is always churning churning churning, thinking about shit that might happen and being anxious, or thinking about shit that did happen and being angry. And it’s yet another thing responsible for my current unhappiness predicament. It’s like I hit my mid-thirties, and some schoolmarmy voice in my head said “Okay well I guess I’d better find something more suitable to do besides drink, take recreational drugs, and hang out with cool people I love.” And just like that, I was picking out matching dishware and thinking about getting an accountant. All of the sudden, I was buying things like table runners and thumbing through my latest issue of Bon Apetit. And it’s not like those are inherently bad things. It’s just that I plunged into that lifestyle like I did everything in my life: with an addict’s intensity.
And then I found, with all of these things I’d acquired, that I spent more time fretting about losing these things than I did enjoying them. We bought a house two years ago, and suddenly I was terrified that I’d lose my job and wouldn’t be able to pay the mortgage. I became obsessed with the fact that, even though I’d been at my job for nearly 15 years, I would get a call that said “Yeah sorry, economy sucks, gotta let you go.” Around that time, The Wife was moving closer to realizing her dream of opening a beer bar. I then became convinced that our entire relationship with crumble as the result of her bar schedule and divorce was inevitable. I was absolutely convinced that her opening a business was the death of my marriage. Oh and plus we’d go bankrupt. About that time, the economy was tanking in a serious way, and I was completely convinced that we’d be plunged into the Second Great Depression, and I’d be throwing myself out of window like so many Wall Streeters did back in 1929.
So I spent some dark years stewing and wringing my hands about all this shit that hadn’t even happened yet. And I’m here to tell you, it’s no kind of life. The way some people spend years over-analyzing the mistakes of their past, I was obsessing about shit I was convinced would happen in my future, even though I had no evidence that was the case.
You hear a lot about this concept of “living in the present,” and I think we all know what it means in theory. But have you ever made a genuine effort to do this, even on the smallest level? Probably not. Most Americans don’t, I think. Smartphones have made self-reflection a thing of the past. Think about it: you’re waiting to pick up your husband or waiting for a bus or waiting for a friend in a coffee shop. It used to be we’d sit and watch our surroundings, make observations, think about ourselves during this important downtime. Now we whip out our phones and play Angry Birds or scroll through Facebook, all the while thinking “Thank god I have this phone so I’m not bored sitting here!”
But that downtime is enormously important. It allows for self-introspection, even when we think it doesn’t. It allows you to look around and notice the people who share this planet with you. It allows us to observe the world, both natural and constructed. It allows us to be connected to both ourselves and the world. It allows us, in short, to experience the present.
In my quest for happiness, I started reading the types of books I swore I’d never read–self-help. Lord, how I’d spent a lifetime avoiding that section in the bookstore. It always seemed to be filled with the type of annoying, mousy girl that I generically call “a Laurel.” Y’all know Laurel. She’s the kind of person who tattles on you for smoking in the girls’ bathroom in between third and fourth periods. “Who in the fuck buys self-help books?” I used to think.
Well, now I do apparently.
I knew about the importance of staying in the present; it was one of the things that all Buddhist books preached. It was the goddamned cornerstone of meditation and for living a happy life. And no one had a harder time being present than I. I had the attention span of a three-year-old bingeing on Halloween candy. Anyway, so I bought this book, primarily because it has great little exercises you can do in the middle of the day that only take a couple of minutes. Shit, half of them you can do from the confines of your horrible little cubicle, all while bathing in the soul-raping fluorescent lights of Corporate America.
The one exercise from this book that I do religiously is to force myself to take a break at least once a day wherein I spend 10 minutes doing absolutely nothing. I sit on my front porch without a phone or a tablet or any sort of diversion, and I just stare at things. I don’t focus on meditation per se, but I might stare up at the clouds and just really fucking notice them, or I might simply stare at a rose bush in our yard, watching a bee dart about it. I’m not concerned with breathing, I just immerse myself in whatever is right in front of my face. I don’t think of the shitty conference call I just had or the fight The Wife and I had the day before. I just get lost in ants making their way up our front steps or the crazy guy in my neighborhood with the cute dog and the weird Bob Ross hair as he walks by. (Yeah, that’s right, two Bob Ross mentions in a row, bitches!)
And fuck it all if I don’t stand up 10 minutes later feeling more connected to the world around me and myself. And I also feel like I don’t want to jab my eardrums with a pick before the next shitty conference call. Tiny fucking recharges, people. They make all the difference.
So if you are the type who goes out for a smoke break, try not taking your phone next time and watching whatever is around you, even if it’s the parking lot of your office. If you’re the person who flips on the TV the second you get home, try putting your shit down and sitting on your back porch and looking at a tree or the clouds. Hell, make a nice cocktail and sip it as you ponder the meaning of clouds. Yes, I know this sounds fucking weird and hippie and new agey, but just fucking go do it. It will help you catch your snap and help you cope with shit throughout the day. And most importantly, it will put you in the present. Ever since I’ve started doing this, I’ve found I’m much less likely to turn into an angry, abusive cunt by day’s end.
And isn’t that what you’re after? To be a little more at peace with present day? To feel like you’re smack-dab in the middle of your life, living the shit out it it? To really savor the date you’re having with your best friend, to seriously enjoy the shit out of that cheeseburger you’re eating, or to completely get off on the fact that you’re sitting on a bench looking at autumn leaves.
Plus, you’ll be less cunty. And everyone around you will have something to be grateful when they’re doing their gratitudes that night.