We believe that happiness is possible only in the future. That is why the practice "I have arrived" is very important. The realization that we have already arrived, that we don't have to travel any further, that we are already here, can give us peace and joy. The conditions for our happiness are already sufficient. We only need to allow ourselves to be in the present moment, and we will be able to touch them.
Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat HanhLast night I dreamed I was in high school again and I'd just gotten an internship to write for a magazine in New York. It was an alternate reality I'd tapped into, because although I wrote for our school paper in Cleveland, I spent my summers working at McDonald's and volunteering at a camp for children with disabilities: Camp Happiness. In the dream I was trying to decide what to pack and what to wear that would be chic enough for New York magazine work but cool enough for a soupy hot city summer.
The way I survived adolescence was to plan for the perfect future. Sometimes, when our mother was in her most psychotic state, my sister and I would have to climb out the window to escape to go to school (where we were "not allowed" to go on days when her voices said that the school was a call girl ring run by the Mafia) and then I would plan my way through each day of the week, hoping that each test score and each A on a paper would get me to the life I wanted to lead.
This strategy worked, because you need long-term goals to get through adolescence and its inherent dangers, even if your family supports you through all of it.
But to make this strategy work I had to sometimes forget the present, to make it less real and scary than the future I was creating. I acquired a habit of sleepwalking.
This habit of living for the future followed me through my education and much of my professional life. Exhausted from over-work, I would run into friends on Friday who were doing the same thing: buying take-out Chinese so we could collapse and watch a movie at home, then sleep.
But one day, around the time, maybe nine years ago when I'd just started meditating, I ran into my friend Val, who is also my massage therapist, on a week night at the grocery store. She asked me how I was and instead of saying "fine" or the truth, which was "exhausted, totally fried, and worried that I'll never get out from under this big pile of work" I said something really lame, like, "I can't wait for this weekend," or "I"m counting down the weeks until the semester is over and I have some free time."
She just looked at me calmly and said the sanest thing possible: "But then we'll just be older. And that much closer to death."
I'm not sure if she worded it exactly that way, but that was the essence of her message. By then, I think she'd already started going to mindfulness meditation retreats.
(If you are new to this blog, I wrote about the kind of meditation I do for the first time on Day Two: Meditation for Skeptics, Slouchers, Neurotic Planners, Caffeine Addicts, and People who think they are Too Busy to Meditate, but Want to, Kind of").
I'm so lucky now, because I have the next seven months off to just write. I have the "free time" I always long for. But I'm also trying to make time stop, because we're treating my dog for cancer, and I don't want to waste a single day we have together. I want each day to feel like three. And when I go out to my writing & yoga & meditation studio I want to be like Thoreau at Walden Pond, who said he was "awake" when he had "morning" in him.
Today is Monday. It's a good day for beginning again. I light the candles and think about how I have arrived, how amazing it is that I am here, in this chair, comfortable, in a solid, healthy body, without worries, without cares. I hear the distant hum of traffic, of other people beginning their work weeks. The cry of what sounds suspiciously like a handful of geese makes me wonder if a few got separated from the flock when the great mass of them headed south towards Baltimore. Were they not paying attention? Occasionally the morning river air stirs the wind chimes on my studio's balcony.
Just sit and breathe. Inhale. Exhale. It's a good morning, a good place to arrive to. I like the music I hear from this corner.