I have a few goals for the summer. I tried not to make too many, so as not to set myself up for failure. My main goal this summer is to be more present. Everyone seems to talk about the joy, peace, and fulfillment that comes from being present–my yoga teacher, the Dalai Lama, Oprah. It sounded like a noble goal. So I said to myself, “Self, let’s spend less time on the smartphone, and less with the obsessive email and Facebook checking. Let us notice our surroundings. Let us be in the moment. Let us soak up this beautiful summer with our beautiful family.” Apparently when I talk to myself it is in the first person plural.
Being present in the moment is not natural for me. I live in this whole other world in my head. Unfortunately it is not a lively, creative, inner world. I am not like Anne of Green Gables. I have heard the description of a woman’s mind being like a browser with dozens of tabs open, and this is exactly how I would describe it. An endless stream of consciousness that would bore the average person to tears. A rushing river of pragmatic thoughts. Picture with me, if you will, me in my pajamas this morning with a thought bubble reflecting my current inner dialogue:
My head hurts. Why do I always get so many headaches? Maybe it’s a brain tumor. No, I had an MRI two years ago, they would have seen it. I’ll just go grab some ibuprofen. Do I have to take chicken out of the freezer for dinner? Where’s Leah? Has she gone over her screen time limit? When was the last time she pooped? Should I send that medicine to overnight camp with her so she doesn’t get backed up? I would have to get the doctor to sign the stupid form–I don’t have time for that. Why can’t I sign the form, for heaven’s sake? Crap, we’re out of trash bags. I was just at the store yesterday. Why do I always forget one thing? Wait–did we miss garbage day? Oh, we’re ok, it’s delayed a day because of the holiday. Maybe we should hire an exterminator to spray for bees. There have been so many wasps around the pool this year. I bet that’s not cheap. We have to have the driveway sealed too. Maybe I should go to yoga today to see if that helps my headache. Wait, wasn’t I going to go grab some ibuprofen?
You get the idea.
So being present means what, exactly? That I flick some kind of inner switch that turns off the cacophony in my brain? Where is that switch located? My yoga teacher suggested that I take notice of each thought as it comes, without judgement, and just let it float away like a bubble. So now I have this internal bubble machine cranking out rapid fire bubbles, which doesn’t really help me be to be present, but instead gives me the vague impression of a bathtub overflowing after your toddler empties out an entire bottle of Mr. Bubble.
So, here are a few real life examples of what being present looks like in my life. A few weeks ago I took the kids to church in the morning. The hubby was out of town so it was just the three of us on a rainy, dreary Sunday morning. When we were leaving the kids asked me to pull up the car, since it was raining and we only had one umbrella. So I walked out to the car, plugged in my phone, quickly checked my email and messages, fired up the windshield wipers, and buckled my seat belt. As I was pulling out of the parking lot onto the street, I thought, “Wow, the kids are pretty quiet this morning,” and stole a glance in the rearview mirror. And…. I had forgotten my children. Apparently I had driven right past them, while they watched in confusion as their mother abandoned them at a house of worship. It’s OK though, because I turned around and got them. They won’t need therapy for that, right? It will probably help them to straighten up and fly right.
Then last week I went to yoga on the lake with my friend Mary. She just finished yoga instructor school, so she is extremely present. I felt the sunshine on my downward dog, and listened to the waves as they lapped gently against the dock. I set my drishti on a beautiful, majestic tree as my bubble machine released all thoughts of trash bags and driveway sealing. After we finished, Mary and I agreed to meet at a little cafe for an iced tea so we could catch up. I got in my car and, lo and behold, my gas light was on. Why don’t I ever notice that I’m low on gas until my gas light comes on? I don’t know why. Because I’m an oblivious airhead, apparently. So my gas light is on, and I’m in an unfamiliar part of town, and, oh–look at that, I forgot my wallet. Hmmm. What a pickle I have gotten myself into, once again. So I find a gas station nearby, hoping I can pay wth the app on my phone, but no, the gas station I found doesn’t do that. There’s another gas station several miles away, but at this point the gas light has been on for a while and I don’t know how far I can make it. So I drive toward the next gas station in a panicky state (which really killed my yoga buzz, by the way), praying that they will let me pay with my phone and that I won’t run out of gas on the way there. (Don’t worry, mom, I made it and I was able to pay with my phone!). Mary sat in the cafe, patiently waiting for me, probably being extremely present as she received my anxious texts about my latest predicament. She was not surprised, I am sure. And after I got there, she bought me an iced tea. Because I forgot my wallet.
So in regard to my goal of being more present, it’s going pretty well, as you can see. Today I said to myself, “Self, perhaps we should lower our expectations about being present, and work on just keeping the car filled with gas.”
My new summer goal is to keep the car filled with gas.
P.S.-I wrote this post this morning, and then this afternoon I went to the library, and instead of discarding my snack wrapper I threw my keys in the trash. Then of course I couldn’t find my keys, so my daughter and I, along with three concerned librarians, searched high and low until I remembered that there was a big garbage can at the entrance to the library and that sometimes I throw important things away by accident.