Thinking Happy Thoughts!
The Buddha had a lot to say about the way we think. I read some books a few years ago about this, and while I am certainly no expert on Buddhist philosophy, I did pick up some useful ideas. The main point that I took away was that if we spend all our time thinking about the past, or worrying about the future, then we are not engaged in today. I heard a less eloquent but equally effective way of saying it from an event speaker once, who said: “If you have one foot in yesterday, and the other foot in tomorrow, then you are pissing all over today.” While crude, it is one you are likely to remember, and that’s the whole point.
I’m re-reading a Tom Robbins book called Jitterbug Perfume (I absolutely love Tom Robbins; he’s one of the best writers there ever was, as far as I am concerned). In describing a character, he says that “…Pan had begun to live in his memories, an unhealthy symptom in anyone, suggesting as it does that life has peaked.” I have met a few people like this, and although at the time I didn’t have this apt description of the condition, it’s still fairly recognizable. It’s also recognizable when you meet a person of advanced years who is not living in their memories, but rather still making new ones.
I spent most of my childhood fantasizing about the future (and reading books, fantasizing about an alternative present). Suffice to say that I was very discontent with my circumstances, and I was in a giant hurry to be grown up and on my own. Since these were my formative years, I think I effectively trained myself to avoid living in the moment. I did a pretty good job with this, as I realized in my early 30’s. Being discontent with my reality had become such an assumed thing during my childhood that as an adult, I didn’t check in with reality to see if it still sucked, I just kept on being discontent and avoiding the present. When I actually took stock of my situation, I was amazed to find that things were actually pretty good; it was my perspective that was messed up.
It takes time, patience, determination and practice to change the way you think. It took me several years to really shake my old ideas about life and the world, but the understanding that I basically missed out on my 20’s because I was so averse to living in reality was good motivation for change. It’s funny how we humans can be miserable, and still so resistant to change!
My wife and I are going to the North Rim of the Grand Canyon next week, and then on to Zion National Park. I know that I have made progress in my efforts to live in the moment, because despite my excitement about the trip, it seems like the six months that we have been planning to go shot by in a flash, rather than dragging out inexorably. This is a nice change, because I distinctly recall planning other trips like this years ago, and the days seemed to go by so slow, as if it would never get here. That’s because I was discontent with the present, and placing all my hopes of happiness on the future.
Now that I have embraced the present (and yes, I also did a lot to change things about my present, and it really is awesome!) I have happiness in the present and I don’t rely on things like the future to give my life hope and purpose. That makes vacation a lot easier to enjoy, because I’m not putting a lot of unreasonable expectations on the experience. It will be what it will be, and I will enjoy it for what it is. When we get back, I’ll tell you all about it. Until then, live in the moment, find happiness in reality, and embrace change! The world is what it is; it’s our perspective and attitude that determines the quality of our experience. Don’t waste the moments.