Living in the Moment for Real
by Gary Halperin
It has been said so many times and in so many ways--the key to your happiness is to live in the moment, to be present. That paying attention to whatever you are doing while you are doing it, practicing mindfulness, is a path to contentment.
I think there may be an additional mindset that you can add to the practice of being present that might unlock a deeper happiness and acceptance of life. This mindset is the understanding, the knowing for real, that whatever you are doing is as good a path to happiness as anything else you might be doing in each and every moment.
My normal, rote way of doing tasks I don't like, such as washing dishes, cleaning the house, or changing a diaper, is to do them as fast as I can in an effort to get to do something I want to do as quickly as possible.
I might practice mindfulness while doing these tasks as quickly as possible, but I have an unconscious belief that what I am going to do next will be more enjoyable. However, that belief is not reality. In fact, I don't know what I am going to do next. I might have plans, I might think I know, but life can intervene in infinite ways.
For example, I might be washing dishes as quickly as possible because I think when I am done I am going to watch a Tampa Bay Rays baseball game on TV, or I wash the dishes as fast as possible because I unconsciously think that what I am going to do next will be better because I am going to choose what I do.
However, while I am doing the dishes, maybe one of my daughters needs an immediate diaper change, or a squabble breaks out between two of my daughters, or I stub my toe while walking to the TV. Or something much worse could happen. Only God knows.
When my life does not go as I consciously or unconsciously planned, I feel stress. So all day I am setting myself up for a lot of moments of unhappiness.
This dichotomy--this tension-- between the unconscious thought that "when I am finished with all that I have to do and get to do what I want to do, then I will feel better" with the reality that many times I will feel worse when
I get done with a task because a new task has presented itself, has been the source of much of the stress in my daily life. (You might want to read the previous sentence again. It is long, kind of a run on sentence, but I think it makes sense.)
I am learning to practice a new approach: that when I am doing something I do not want to do, such as washing dishes, I have no expectation that what I am going to do next will be any more fun or better. I recognize that I truly do not know what I am going to do in the next moment.
Circumstances can change, and I might stop doing dishes and do something else, or I might do something after I am done with the dishes that I had not originally planned in my head consciously or unconsciously.
I believe the rote behavior of doing things I don't want to do as fast as possible is a never ending source of stress. However, by letting go of the expectation that my life will be better when I complete my in the moment to-do list, I realize there is nothing to be gained by rushing through any task. I can slow down AND be mindful of what I am doing and know that this moment is as good as it gets.
I do not feel disappointment and resentment and stress when one of my daughters asks me for something just as I am finishing the dishes because I had no conscious or unconscious expectation that this was not going to happen.
Now I am encountering life as it happens--truly practicing mindfulness without the expectation that the next moment will be better or worse. Now my thoughts are aligned with reality. Now I am Living in the Moment for Real.
Or to put all this more succinctly, in each moment, all of us are one step away from both what we would initially perceive as a state ranging from a little more unhappiness to total disaster and a state ranging from a little more happiness to fulfilling our greatest desire. And our initial perception is just as likely to be wrong as right in both the short and long term--the results of any event in our lives are never all in. This is, I think, the most relaxing insight I have ever had.