Pay attention, here and now.
Do you ever have those moments that you feel so full of joy to be alive? We have all felt that way, you know what I am talking about. Things just feel really, really good, like on top of the world good. I have been pondering how many things needed to happen or not happen in order for the stars to align and allow me to be breathing at this point in time and space, on this planet in the middle of nowhere spinning at 1,000 miles per hour.
When you step back and look at things that way, even the worst days don't seem that bad. During what I refer to as my "lost years," gratitude was an unfamiliar concept to me. I had this attitude like the world owed me something and that it had not delivered, or at least my share had not been fairly doled out. I was just waiting and waiting for things to change, for the Universe to start seeing things my way. I slowly and painfully learned that when you don't appreciate how things are going in your present, it is difficult to remain hopeful for the future. It is almost like those two outlooks can not coexist.
Today my gratitude lists are never-ending. I don't even understand how I can be so fortunate. I had an amazing 4th of July weekend in Chesapeake Beach with my mom and her fiancé, my boyfriend, my siblings, their significant others, etc. It felt like every single moment was a dream and could not have been planned better: leisurely walks by the water, a sunset cruise, an exhilarating fireworks show (one of the things I am grateful for is that my brother and boyfriend still have all limbs in tact), a day at the Water Park where I got to pretend to be a little kid again, and so much more. The entire getaway was filled with pure abounding joy. It is times like these that my manic mind starts to think, "How could this incredible feeling ever end? I am so freaking lucky. I am going to stay this high forever and never, ever have those bad thoughts or lows again like I did last week.... Who even was that person? I don't know and I don't care because this is me now."
That is when the trouble starts. You have to be careful with how you experience and frame the present, even during the positive events. There can still be invasive thoughts that ruin the moment because we fall into the trap of starting to enjoy things, experiences, feelings, sensations, states of mind, and then we cling to them like hell. "I always want to feel this way. I never want to feel any pain again, or depression, or anger, or fear, just nothing bad please. Thanks."
A tangible example can be made with the lens in which I view my relationships. I woke up at 3am today and hugged my boyfriend tightly. I started to get sad that our weekend was almost over and I didn't want to go our separate ways, back to the normal routine (hello separation anxiety). While I was thinking about how much I love having him in my life and how happy I am, one thought led to another and before you know it I was down that dangerous road of future-tripping.
This is what my brain was telling me (by way of what felt like lightning bolts moving in all different directions): There will be a day when one of you guys is gone, and you don't want to ever live without him, right? You need to do everything and anything to make sure that both of you stay healthy and live long, or else you won't be okay. Or maybe, better yet, you just shouldn't get too used to this because then it will be really hard if/when you don't have it anymore.
Um, I'm sorry. Excuse me. Now I can't even enjoy the freaking moment that we do have each other because I am worrying about what things might be like one day or how situations might feel. Worrying about what will or won't happen is a waste of time and it encroaches on the beautiful present. He is here with me right now and I am here with him. That is all that exists. That is the only reality. Everything else is imagined, a projected mind state. It could be a truth one day, but right now it is not. It is fantasy. Therefore it does not exist. Life is fickle, fleeting, and transient. The present is the only source of truth, the only experience we can really trust.
The Yoga Sutras outline two of the major forms of suffering that accompany this lovely human experience with which we are gifted: attachment and aversion.
Attachment is the concept of not wanting to lose what we have or worrying that we will not get something that we want. Aversion is the anxiety that comes with living in an attempt to avoid unpleasant experiences. Either way, these are both ways to try to control our circumstances by spinning our wheels in anticipation (mostly in the form of fear) of the future.
Sometimes when my mind starts to go down that path of fear - via attachment or aversion - I snap my fingers and say to myself "Pay attention. Here and now." (A tip from the classic book, The Power of Now.) It is like we have to bring ourselves back to reality by pinching ourselves so that we wake up from the dream, or nightmare, depending on what you are rehearsing in your head.
So then what do we do? We can't hold on to joy, we can't hold on to pain. We hold on to nothing. Every moment is a gift and when we receive a gift we show thanks. We continue to show thanks every day. It does not matter what your spiritual beliefs are or who is giving you these gifts. It could be nature, the air, Buddha, Jesus, Johnny Cash. We give thanks by living right, giving back, and going with the flow. Living with graciousness to show our appreciation.
Sometimes, rarely, I am able to slow down enough to actually feel grateful for things I once saw as burdens. In keeping with the example of a romantic relationship, when I get into little disagreements with Brian - the ankle-biter quarrels that are so insignificant but so annoying - my thoughts can actually shift to: I am lucky to have a partner that I have the luxury of being so close to that we even have the time and space to quarrel and bicker and say silly things we don't mean. That in and of itself is such a gift if you think about it.
It is life, and if we are showing gratitude for life we have to show it for all parts equally - even the messy and not super fun stuff - because even though I am on this high now, there are going to come those hard days again. The kind where I feel like I am so overwhelmed with anxiety and unhelpful thoughts that I think the walls might close in on me, the times I feel like I can't do life and I don't understand what it is even for. When emotions don't make sense or have reason - like on Friday when I cried hysterically because after an already stressful shopping experience, they wouldn't let me ring up my banana at the CVS self-checkout. . .
Pay attention. Here and now. Snap.
Thank you for reading. I am so grateful for you.
If you are interested in fine-tuning your process of relinquishing suffering and relishing in the present, I have found these two books to be transformational.
The Untethered Soul - Michael A. Singer
The Power of Now - Eckhart Tolle