Thursday, December 10, 2009

The transient life and what to do about it

“When you are grounded in the moment, you’re not thinking of what bad things can happen to you in the future, or dwelling on the mistakes of your past. To get myself into the present, I start with my senses. I try to hear only the noises that surround me—cars, birds, dogs barking, church bells—because if I give myself the assignment of listening to the actual sounds around me, I can’t obsess on a fear. Likewise, I concentrate on seeing what’s in front of me. At the very moment. Not in the year 2034.”--Therese J. Borchard, from her article "15 Ways to Stop Obsessing"

I just finished a novel by Chuck Klosterman called Downtown Owl. Klosterman is best known for his collection of pop culture essays for Gen X and Y, Sex, Drugs, and Cocoa Puffs. That was a funny book, but I didn't think he could pull off a serious, credible novel. But I was wrong. Downtown Owl has varied, interesting characters and, while there isn't much of a plot, readers can identify with the inner thoughts of Owl's residents. There were times when I thought--oh, he's just like Dane Cook--people like him tell stories to which almost anyone can relate, and so he becomes popular among the masses. So what? But the last chapter of Downtown Owl really stuck with me. Without giving away the ending, it's about the kind of situation where you narrowly escape something that you weren't anticipating in the first place. Now you can savor the present moment so much more because you almost lost it.

I broke my foot during a walking regimen. I wasn't expecting it. I never thought it would happen--I walk all the time! But the months of pain and not being able to walk far make me appreciate walking more now that I'm healed. I no longer take my good health or my body for granted.

This is one of the main reasons I took up this project of focusing on the present. How many stories have you heard of cancer survivors who suddenly have a new lease on life? How many times have you read accounts of people on the brink of death (or maybe, for all intents and purposes, actually clinically dead for a minute?) come back more grateful than they had ever been? I remember a documentary I saw called The Bridge which chronicled the stories of some of the San Francisco Golden Gate Bridge jumpers. One guy who actually survived the jump, as he was falling into the cold bay thought, I want to live! And to his astonishment, he did.

Never mind that watching that documentary made me queasy (think about it--you're actually seeing the jumpers in their last moments of life.) Besides the mixed feelings I had about the film, I took away the idea that people who face losing something appreciate it so much more.

I know this isn't an original thought, but sometimes it takes me a while to fully grasp concepts more than just theoretically. Do I need to get Stage IV Cancer to realize how much I love this life? Yes, my life is imperfect. I usually don't feel like I measure up to my ideal self. But there are the little pleasures on which I try to focus my attention. I know some of these things are going to sound silly or mundane, but here they are:

  1. My cup of freshly-ground George Howell coffee in the morning, especially if there's light cream in the house.
  2. Coming home from work and retreating to our bed, simply lying there with the sound machine turned to white noise.
  3. That first sip of wine.
  4. Clipping coupons and then seeing the amount I saved on my Shaw's grocery receipt.
  5. The kitten curled up on my chest or the older cat sleeping at my feet.
  6. When a package for me comes in the mail.
  7. Writing on pretty cards to friends and family whom I miss. Thinking of them opening their mailbox and seeing a card from me.
  8. Making a mess in the kitchen when cooking. Presenting my culinary creation and watching people enjoy it.
  9. The way the leaves look in early autumn, when some have fallen on the ground, creating splashes of yellow or red on the sidewalk.
  10. Cracking open a new book.
There are more moments, but it makes me feel good just to think of these. When you focus on the now and appreciate the present moment, your living your life to the fullest. You don't have to wait for some tragedy to befall you to wake yourself up--you can recognize your wealth right now. Then when you are faced with death, you'll know you savored everything while you had the chance. Older people have always said to me, life is short. It's taken a while for me to truly understand that. Sometimes it feels like living each day is an endless trudge through the muck. Those small moments keep me going. Because really, unless you believe in an afterlife or reincarnation, a human life span is short. Fear, shame, worry, perfectionism...they're all eating up my time on earth. It helps to stop and really think about that.


Anonymous said...

A bird in hand is worth two in the bush................

tammie said...

Thank you! Love these words............

Suecae Sounds said...

Wise words. We shoulden't need to be faced with death to appreciate life. :)

Marguerite Manteau-Rao said...

I am so with you, Jennifer! For me, gratitude naturally unfolds out of mindfulness. The more I am present to each moment, the more I know in my heart, the impermanence of things, and hence the preciousness of life's gifts.

I have included your blog in my blogroll, along with blogs from some other 'Buddhist' sisters . . .

Deep bow,


Levi said...

I had a cancer dx though I still appreciated life prior to the dx - only Stage 3. I appreciate life (each moment) more now though most cancer-y people do not think of cancer as a "gift." Having cancer and the experience of chemo helped me focus on those smaller things, the daily things, the good cup of coffee, the phone call from a friend, family, having a job! Flowers, berries, leaves, sounds of birds, frog croaks etc. Seasons. Right now, I'm sort of in a weird space and I'm trying to be settled in the feeling of weird, groundlessness.

I enjoyed your post very much. Thanks!