In a little over a week, I’m leaving for a nine day trip to Greece! I love to travel, to learn and I’m also a natural planner. So, normally, if I have a big trip coming up, I would be thinking about it a lot. I’d be researching. Learning. What’s it going to be like? What should I know? What can I expect? What’s the history? What are the customs? I can spend months thinking about an upcoming event or trip.
Some of that is to make the unknown more knowable. To exert some control over a new experience. Some of it is because I love the anticipation. And, I genuinely love learning about something new. But, here’s the problem. When I spend all of my time anticipating the future, I lose touch with the present. For many years, this future orientation was a form of escape. I was in a difficult marriage and living vicariously in my own future was a form of escapism. Granted, it was cheaper than retail therapy and safer than drugs or drinking. But, it was still escapism!
I’m in a whole different place in life now and while I still love learning and anticipation, I look at my son growing up so quickly and I don’t want to miss the present. I’m not quite sure how he got to be a pre-teen, but I know that I’ll blink and he’ll be leaving home! I want to enjoy him while he’s here. I want to savor these moments. Most of them anyway! If I spent my time thinking about, planning for, and anticipating this trip, I’ll miss the last month of school. He usually leaves for 9 weeks in the summer and this trip happens to fall during his last full week of school. I could easily waste my last part of the school year with him thinking about this trip. I don’t want that to happen.
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A few weeks ago, I ran across an old clip of Will Smith talking to an audience. He was describing the experience of going skydiving for the first time. He agreed to go in the midst of a groupthink excitement at a bar. Probably not the best environment for making life or death decisions, but they made all the arrangements for when and where they were going to meet the following day and he went home to bed. Only, he didn’t sleep much. He was a bit freaked out about the idea of jumping out of a plane the next morning. He was awake or tossing and turning most of the night. In the morning, he got up and made his way to the meeting place, went through the motions and jumped…or, was pushed actually. When it immediately became (in his words) bliss. One of the most blissful experiences of his life.
I want you think for a moment though, about his night of anxiety and worry beforehand. Where was he? He was home in bed. Safe. Warm. There was absolutely no danger of falling to his death at that point. When did the actual danger happen? Not until he left the safety of the plane the next morning. And yet, He lost sleep when there was no danger because of worry. I bet you’ve never done that! I’m sure I’ve never done that!
Worry is a big deal and humans have been doing it for a long time. Over 400 years ago, French writer Michel de Montaigne said, “My life has been filled with terrible misfortune; most of which never happened.” The next information is from a UK based source, but I can’t imagine it’s that much different on this side of the pond. From a 2015 survey, 86% of adults consider themselves to be a worrier. The average adult surveyed spent one hour and 50 minutes a day worrying. That adds up to almost 13 hours a week – nearly 28 days a year spent worrying. Another statistic I saw said 40% of people worry every day. Now, I didn’t vet those statistics by looking up the original study. But, even if they’re wrong, even if a portion of those numbers are true, we’re spending a huge chunk of our time worrying.
In both of these examples, the future is obliterating the present. If I spend my time planning, anticipating and obsessing over an imagined future, I miss the present. If Will Smith or I spend all my time worrying, stressing and being anxious over an imagined future, I miss the present. An article from the Catholic News Agency puts it this way, “You wonder why you’re constantly restless and why you lack interior peace and joy, but the answer is right before you—literally right before you. It’s called the present moment.”
One of the antidotes to losing the present by focusing on the future is a mindfulness practice. I read somewhere recently that mindfulness meditation is like push-ups for your brain. That takes it out of the realm of the strange and weird and reframes it into something we can relate to. I’m finding that to be true. I’m in detail overload this week. I showed up at the gym yesterday morning in flip flops (oops, that workout didn’t happen!)! I woke up this morning anxious about getting everything done today. But, I was able to recognize the problem thinking and reorient to what was right in front of me.
In thinking about worry and anxiety this week, I compiled a list of eleven suggestions to stop the unproductive hamster wheel that worry causes. I’ll give you ten of them in a super-practical episode next week. But a mindfulness practice is the eleventh. If you’ve never done it, it’s easy. If you don’t have time, you can see results in a very short practice in a very short time frame. There’s a ton of information out there about mindfulness – both the science of it and the practice of it. I urge you to check it out. And, over the summer, I’ll share what I’ve learned, what I’m doing and maybe put together a 30 day challenge for you to join with me. If you like that idea, be sure to let me know.
For the next several weeks I’m going to substitute photos for the episode artwork. It’s going to work better for my schedule and you’d like to see a photo or two from Greece wouldn’t you? I thought so. This week, though, it’s a photo from my yard. Peonies are one of my favorite flowers. Truth be told, I probably have a lot of favorite flowers, but I do love Peonies. This is the first open bloom a week or so ago and all the little light spots in the background are Oenethera or Evening Primrose. The Oenethera is doing pretty well up there on our hill where we have trouble growing anything. It grows wild here in Middle Tennessee in the ditches by the roads and it could absolutely take over some of the other things planted on this hill.
But, why am I talking and worrying about that when this beautiful, vibrant, intricate, amazing Peony is right in front of me? Pay attention to this moment. This one right now, right in front of you. Notice things. Explore what it feels like to be right here, right now.
Want to explore the ideas in this podcast further? Download the Coffee Talk Worksheet or put this week’s art on your phone: Episode 30 Downloads