Being IS Going – Car & Driver Part 1

Not long ago I published a piece about being present in the moment. Being fully present wherever I am has been something I’ve put a lot of effort into, tremendously impacting my well being. It’s a mindset — a mind reset in my case  — that requires work.

A lot of us are conditioned and encouraged to be thinking of what’s coming next. The entire concept of achieving goals requires envisioning and moving away from your present state toward something else, in the future. Existing passively in the current moment, by contrast, seems lazy. Without motivation. Going nowhere.

For me, this misconception was one I had the hardest time overcoming. My 21st century, goal-oriented and ambitious western mind had difficulty reconciling reveling in the present with growth and achievement.

Here’s the thing, though: being present is not a passive state. No, it’s actually quite the opposite. To be present is to actively be aware, to experience, analyze, appreciate, and be with purpose and whole consciousness.

Yes, accepting situations for what they are, not constantly struggling against them, is something that comes with being fully in the moment, but that acceptance is still different than missing the moment altogether because you’re rushing through it.

It’s like driving a car. Ashley and I took a trip to Atlanta last week, and while driving the four hours back, this occurred to me.

When you are driving a car, you are present inside the car. The car is on the road (hopefully), so, yes, you are also on the road, but where you really are is in the seat, inside the car, behind the wheel. The car might be going 60 or 70 miles an hour, but your actions aren’t super-fast. With me?

So let’s relate the car to your life. Or your career, or your relationship(s). The “car” can be anything you’re involved in that is in motion. The distance the car traverses is like the passage of time. Your life moves on similar to how a car moves down a highway. Cars move toward destinations. So do our lives. Sometimes we call the destinations goals.

When you begin a drive, you usually have some idea where you want to go. Sometimes you don’t; life can be like that too. Either way, the whole reason we find ourselves behind the wheel is because we want to go somewhere. Although the car is the means we use to get there, the car won’t take us there on it’s own. We have to drive (at least until we all get those cool Google cars). And driving is an action which requires at least some degree of awareness.

As a driver, the more aware you are — the more present at the wheel — the more likely your trip will successfully reach its destination. Absolutely, we can encounter other things on the road — other cars, weather conditions, deer, and stuff — outside our control that might affect the drive, but being fully present as the driver of our car, gives us the best chances to avoid or deal with such things. Similarly, continuing the analogy, by being present where you are, fully involved in this moment, you are actually more likely to guide your life to the goals you have before you.

We all know or at least have heard that distracted driving is a serious issue. Paying attention to your phone or other things instead of driving can cause accidents and harm. Sure, we may have all had those experiences where we get someplace and don’t recall the drive. It can happen. In life, we can also reach positive results without knowing how we got there. We can also, though, wreck possibilities and miss opportunities if we aren’t alert.

Being present doesn’t prevent moving forward. It’s actually your best and easiest way to help you do just that, successfully.

What I Don’t Know About Being Present in the Moment

The single most profound adjustment I’ve made in my life in the last few years has been learning to be present in the moment. And I still don’t entirely know what that means.

As I’ve mentioned before, I was influenced by Eastern philosophy at a kind of early age. “Going with the flow” was my lifestyle choice for decades. In a way, I’d been practicing for — albeit not actually practicing — mindful presence most of my life.

Accepting and being pleased with the present wasn’t natural for me, though. Even acting on impulse more often than not, I was nearly always more interested in the future than the current moment. Those impulsive decisions were more about getting somewhere else, creating new stories to tell, than celebrating where I was.

Generally, I lived expecting things, including myself, to be better and better in the time to come. Generally.

I suffered plenty of worry about the future too, though. Tons of regret, guilt, and issues from the past as well.

I’m no expert on being present, but I’ve learned a lot and become pretty good at it. Good enough to be happier than ever before. While I’m still developing stronger habits and skills to improve my mindfulness, here are a few things that I can share:

1. It ain’t easy. But it’s easier than you think.

Being present in the moment is challenging for us modern folks. There is so much to do, so much to see, so much to tweet or post or ha ha emoji to. Distractions are distracting. Then there are responsibilities. Stuff’s got to get done.

There’s just not enough time in the day, right?

It’s true that being present takes time. In fact, it’s all about time. But the present is never the present long.

Jerry Seinfeld did a bit about silver medal winners in the Olympics that illustrates how fleeting the present moment actually is.

This cracks Ashley up every time. How long is the present? “Now. Now. N-n-no, now.”

You might want to enjoy more than .03 of a second at a time, but, you know, the present moment IS only a moment. A few seconds pause is all it has to take to acknowledge what’s going on around you and how you’re feeling. In the time it takes to read the subject line of an email, you can re-center yourself and appreciate the moments you’re living in.

ferris-life moves pretty fast

2. Being here, now doesn’t prevent you from being there, later.

In fact, I believe it provides powerful help to get you where you want to be.

This may have been the greatest misconception I’ve had to deal with. I’ve mentioned how I’ve always been sort of future focused. I believe in goals and taking methodical steps to achieve them. Settling for the present, it seemed to me, was at odds with ambition. Even going with the flow at least meant going somewhere.

I just made the point that the present moment can be an exceptionally brief time. Thing is, the present isn’t just that one moment that’s here then gone. The present continues to be the present, stretching on into what had been, a second ago, the future. In my mind, to concentrate on each moment as it comes meant not concentrating on the times yet to be. Like a twist on Zeno’s dichotomy paradox, I mistakenly assumed truly being in the ever changing moment meant never moving.

As with Zeno’s paradoxes, though, common sense and experience proved the theory wrong.

Being present is not being stagnant. Hardly. Being present is, believe it or not, an action. It’s not doing nothing. It’s being fully aware of… being. It means connecting to the truth of a situation, taking in reality as it is. It also means connecting with the truth of yourself.

Having that awareness of who you are, what your strengths and character are, being grounded in reality — that centers you on your best path forward. Outside influences will still require reaction, but a present state of mind can help you maintain focus. And that will keep you moving in a positive direction toward your goals.

3. Living in the present heals.

A couple years ago I struggled with a dangerous bout of depression. I was lucky to get some good help, starting with my loving fiancee and a couple of doctors. It took several different steps to escape that awful situation, but you probably don’t have to guess what I’m going to tell you was one of the most important.

In my case, the state I was in had roots in serious regrets about my past AND anxiety about the future. While there was a lot of good in my life at the time, I was also experiencing a horrendous time at work. I dreaded every day.

My present was terrible. Why would I want to dwell in it longer than necessary?

Because, more than anything else I did, that fixed me.

Focusing on the present helped me finally let go of the past.

Taking a minute to focus on my breathing calmed my anxiety.

Allowing full awareness of what I was experiencing at the time, of what people were actually doing and saying, of what I was feeling and thinking cleared up apprehensive assumptions and misjudged motives.

Reflecting on the present instead of the past opened my eyes to possibilities.

Greatest of all, being truly open to the reality around me helped me realize all the reasons I have to be grateful and happy.

Enjoying the present is great when the present is good. Even when it’s unpleasant, centering yourself in the actual here and now is healthier than getting lost in imagined fears.

What I Don’t Know About Once in a Lifetime 

Friends of mine were making fun of music appreciation classes the other day. I’ve never taken one, but I did go through a period where I fell in love with classical music. Studying and exploring classical on my own really helped me learn how to listen. To music, especially, but also in general.

Another friend shared a really cool video of Kermit the Frog performing Talking Heads’ “Once in a Lifetime.” She remembered I’m a Talking Heads fan, and she must also know I’m a good bit silly. I didn’t expect her to know how much I like the Muppets. The video clip is fantastic. Kermit (‘s muppeteer) does a terrific David Byrne impersonation. See for yourself:

I love how the video production nicely imitates the official video while paying tribute to the performance — and the suit — from Stop Making Sense.

Some folks see this and go, “ha,ha, that guy dances funny! Look at those weird, twitchy movements!” Some hear it and like the cool bass line; some go to the lyrical hooks. “Ha, ha! ‘This is not my beautiful wife!‘”

Me, I’ve always been interested in the lyrics and meanings of songs. Part of my character is always looking for deeper meaning in nearly everything. Music is particularly magical to me. The blend of meaning in the mix of rhythm, melody, harmony, AND words presents many layers to be interpreted.

And, yeah, I’m drawn to the weirdness.

Having been involved in collaboratively creating songs in a band, I am ever more in awe of the art in which each band member adds their viewpoint to the developing composition. All art being participatory, there’s the additional element of how the listener hears, feels, and interprets the song. It’s been said that communication depends not only on what is said but also, and more importantly, on what is heard. The listener’s point of view informs their understanding of what the musicians put out, and that informs their appreciation of it.

Considering that, when I hear “Once in a Lifetime” these days, I realize I maybe should have listened better long ago.

Go With the Flow

Not long before I first heard the song, when it came out in 1980, I read Alan Watts’ Tao: The Watercourse Way. It was one of Dad’s interesting books I found the book lying around the house. Being the impressionable kid I was, I adopted a lot of the philosophy in the book as great advice. Be like water, it says; when flowing water meets a rock, it goes around it. Eventually, as water gently washes against the rock, it wears it away. In short, go with the flow and you’ll avoid stress.

The Watercourse Way continues to be one of the most influential books I’ve read. And I did let it dramatically influence how I lived my life for decades. More on that in future posts.

As a  teen, the Taoist philosophy I’d picked up led me to incorrectly hear what Talking Heads were saying in “Once in a Lifetime.” The imagery, all the “water flowing” references; I thought they were also saying, “go with the flow.”

Most folks probably don’t actively choose to use pop music as a guide for living.

I’ve never really been exactly like most folks.

Older and Wiser?

The story of my 20s and 30s is mainly one of going with the flow. Not that my life was completely rudderless, but I did get involved in stuff and head in unexpected directions I — looking back — might have been better off avoiding. Now that I’m near (at? past?) midlife, I believe “Once in a Lifetime” may be a cautionary tale about exactly that.

Listening to it with the experience and earned perspective I have now, the “you may find yourself…” lines and “how did I get here?” hold a lot more relevance than they did when I was young. They’re a little less funny and a bit more whoa.

I hear the song now as being from the perspective of someone at the end of life, looking back. Similar, I guess, to that god awful Sinatra song, but with a much funkier groove and postmodern poetry.

Don’t pay attention, let life carry you around without you navigating your way, and before you know it, everything’s over. And you weren’t ready for it.

Not exactly the message you’d expect from a young(ish) group for a young(er?) audience. I, and perhaps others, didn’t get the importance of the lyrics because it was unexpected. Sort of the same reason we don’t really hear advice from older, wiser people when they tell us we need insurance, or to save for retirement. It just doesn’t align with our beliefs of how life is based on our experiences at that age.

But — WOW — isn’t THAT exactly illustrating the point ? “Same as it ever was.”

ONE Lifetime

Here’s something: even if you live a supremely directed life setting and going after goals, time still goes by. Everything you do, whether by choice or circumstance, occurs, in each moment, surrounded by the unique characteristics of that moment, once in a lifetime. You may drive the same route to work every day, but the weather, the other cars on the road, what you hear on the radio, all that stuff and more changes, so each drive is different. Singular. Unique.

The lesson I hear in “Once in a Lifetime” is a kind of old one, directed at the population who follow a plan, or at least a pattern of behavior, letting the days go by one 40 hour workweek after another. They might get the beautiful house and the beautiful wife, but don’t even know how they did. It isn’t purposefully choosing to go with the flow that makes one actually skip living; it’s staying busy with busy-ness, unconsciously going through the motions of work, societal expectations, and even leisure that keeps one so occupied that you don’t realize life is passing by.

I could totally be mishearing the song again. I’m fairly certain I’m overthinking it. Regardless, I believe it is extremely important to know we each have only the one life to live, and it’s a damn shame to waste it away punching timeclocks and watching sitcoms.

Mindful living, being present and fully aware in each moment, I truly believe, is the key. You can’t live every minute like it’s your last — you’ll never get laundry done if you act like you aren’t going to wear those clothes again — but you can choose to live each one like it’s the first and only one that will be exactly like it. What you decide to do with it can make the difference between looking back someday knowing how you got where you did rather than wondering how.

 

 

What I Don’t Know About Big Changes Resulting from Small Decisions

Remember when Buckaroo Banzai drove through the mountain? He explained how the solid parts of matter — the atoms, quarks, neutrons — only make up a fraction of what people consider to be the whole thing, and that most of a thing is empty space. That’s how I’ve often looked at our lives. Sometimes it seems like life is a series of a small number of significant moments upon and around which the rest of our time hangs. When we look back, sometimes the most important  things we do or that happen to us occur without fanfare or invitation. Choices made without much thought, decisions we expect to be small, made on the spot, wind up leading to consequences broader and with greater impact than expected.

Take this one, for instance: I was paying my phone bill a few months back when it occurred to me that dang phone service was costing me too much. I investigated options through my carrier to see if there were changes I could make to my plan to lower the bill. There weren’t, really. No biggie. It had been my choice to sign up with the plan and get the phone I have; I couldn’t be upset the company was charging me the rate I’d agreed on. What did bother me, though, was how little I was getting in return for paying one of my largest month bills. Again, no one’s fault but mine.

“I’m paying over a hundred dollars a month just to be able to scroll through Facebook wherever I am?” Seriously, I said it out loud to myself. That’s when I decided to make sure to get a better return on my phone investment.

Thinking how I could make better use of the tool the phone is supposed to be, I recalled educational apps and podcasts I’d accessed in the past. What could I do with the phone, how could I use it to be an asset rather than a liability? I started with the TED app.

The very next day, while eating lunch in the break room at work, I watched TED Talks. One of them was Shawn Achor’s “The Happy Secret to Better Work.” I was inspired by his talk to check out his book, The Happiness Advantage. I was impressed enough, I bought the book. Then I read it. Then it changed my life.

happinessadvantagedvdsmaller

Not the same way The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai changed my life, but it made an impact, pretty much right away, on my behavior at work. What I read and learned from The Happiness Advantage set me to explore other books and resources related to positive psychology. I instituted new habits, and, yes, found myself to be happier. Not only at work, but also at home and in all aspects of my life.

I have plenty more to say about The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor, and the pursuit of self-improvement. The point I wanted to make here, though, is it was a small, simple change because of a brief moment of realization that brought about major adjustments in my life. Take care with your moments. Consider your choices carefully. Don’t be surprised, either, if something great comes around when you don’t expect it.