How Do You Stay In The Present?

Something about being at the start of so many adult-like milestones, at a time in my life where ambition is often praised over sanity, has left me feeling a part of some fast-moving train speeding towards the goal of Achievement with a capital A. But achievement of what, exactly? It seems impossible to tell. And it seems even more impossible to understand why we're all so concerned about getting there: about traveling to some future reality in our minds while our lives continue on without us.

It used to be a sort of nostalgic yearning for the past that would occupy my thoughts--a reckoning I felt necessary to make up for things I'd done wrong. But now it's the future that rents a room in my mind, taking up all its space with musings on five days or five years from now. I'm constantly thinking of the next thing, of any moment but the one I'm in. It's that strange sensation of being on that fast-moving train, thinking one day you will arrive at your life with everything beautifully packaged, and THEN you'll be able to "be." But for now you can think only of your route, unable to sleep with one eye open on the coming stops. Who will be down for the long haul of this trip and who will inevitably get off? What will the scenery look like? When will the ride end? And most importantly: what if the food sucks?   

I own dozens of books on self-help and meditation but I still manage to think one-hundred ridiculous thoughts before breakfast, unable to stop my incessant future dwelling. I don't know how to solve this problem, since it's one I've come out the womb with, but on the first nice day of summer this year I tried to quell it for at least twenty minutes. I took a walk with absolutely no purpose. Sans cell phone, I stepped outside my building and on to my tree-lined streets, seeing an all-of-the-sudden summer that my eyes could hardly adjust to. I saw a lanky Indian boy in bright blue Wellies and a navy blue tee-shirt whiz by me on his razor scooter, singing Kesha to himself. I saw twenty-something girls clad in Lululemon walking the lakes talking about how someone "really just doesn't get it." I saw couples lying in the grass and people laughing at the magnolia trees new blooms and the bees laughing at us, and the wind--calmly obeying our desire for stillness and silence--die down to a faint breeze. I saw a sign that said "write your favorite word" and the answers were almost as sweet as the question. 

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All of these things I witnessed made me feel alive. They were just people, plants and trees and the same neighborhood I traveled through everyday--the same stops on my train. But weren't they interesting? Weren't they worth thinking of, right here, right now? 

I realized something then that I will often forget, in the five day or five year future, but I tried to hold on to at that moment with all of my strength: this is your life. Not what may happen in the future; neither what you desire or fear. These moments are your life, this train ride is what you have been waiting for, not any destination soon or slowly approaching. These kids whizzing past you and these bees humming and the things happening all around: this is it. You have arrived at your life in this very breath, and it is the most precious moment you will ever have. 

I'm still working on how to slow down time (I'll let you know when I figure that out) but I think for the present moment I'll put down my phone and see what's really going on outside the view from my cable car.