What Will You Find Around the Next Corner?

Yesterday in the bookstore I walked past a mom and daughter in the psychology section. The little girl was around 6 years old, and as I went by I heard her say, “See? They don’t have ANY kids books.”

I snickered because it was cute. Of course the store has children’s books. Many, many more than they have psychology books. More than a section, they have their own department, actually. And it’s just around the corner from the psychology section.

This reminded me how we can each sometimes perceive things in a similar fashion. We can be in a specific spot in our lives and only see what’s directly around us or in front of us. We might yearn for something, but it may be out of our vision; if we aren’t careful, we can foolishly assume what we hope for doesn’t exist or is unattainable.

How often might the thing we’re hoping for be right around the corner?

This is one reason I’m not entirely a fan of the idea of “perception is reality.” Every sensible person knows perception is limited, therefore flawed, and, more frequently than we might acknowledge, wrong.

That’s not necessarily a bad thing.

Have you ever experienced depression? Anxiety? Ever been in a new situation and feel like you’ll never be comfortable there?

Did you move past that?

If you have, hopefully you get my point. If you haven’t, maybe you can take some comfort in knowing that what surrounds you right now is not necessarily all there is. There just might be a big, colorful, fun new place not far away. We just have to keep moving, eyes open.

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 Didn’t Know About Wildcat’s Origin Story

I’m a comic nerd. Have been all my life. Being a superhero fan, I feel lucky to have been a kid during the 70s and 80s when comics were arguably the best they’ve ever been (go on, argue with me about it). Not only were Marvel and DC producing monumental new books at that time, but both publishers delighted readers (while saving some bucks) by reprinting material from as far back as the 1930s — what’s known as the Golden Age of comics — too. In addition to comics, I’ve always liked history, Old Time Radio, and old pulp action heroes, so this was great for me.

Wildcat was a character from that Golden Age. An old-fashioned kind of vigilante, he didn’t have any true super powers. I thought he had a pretty cool costume, though. Ted Grant, his alter ego, had been a championship boxer, so he was a pretty tough guy. For whatever reason, Grant decided to put on a costume and fight crime. It was a thing some tough guys did in those days. He called himself Wildcat and wore a solid black cat suit, complete with cat mask.

That might sound a little silly to you, but if you can believe it, a similar non-powered fella had turned hero wearing, of all things, a suit that made him look like a bat, and that character’s books sold incredibly well. For 75 years.

Wildcat’s popularity never came close to Batman’s, but DC Comics did bring him into the modern age, along with the rest of the Justice Society of America, in the 1960s. He was featured not only in reprints, but also in new stories. He was even shown to have trained Batman and other crime fighters. DC had a whole multiple earth scenario that explained where the Golden Age heroes came from. If you watch The Flash, you’ve seen a little of that. And if you watch Arrow, you’ve seen Wildcat. A version of him, anyway.

For decades, Wildcat has been portrayed as kind of a lunk. Undoubtedly a hero, full of heart, but more a jock than a thinker. Not simple-minded like Johnny Thunder, a more humorous character, but not as bright as the rest of the Justice Society, being mostly scientists, doctors, and industrialists in their secret identities.

I recently lucked into a copy of The Greatest Golden Age Stories Ever Told at The Last Word which includes Wildcat’s first appearance and origin story. Written by Bill Finger, who happened to also co-create Batman and the original Green Lantern, among others, the story is classic pulp, full of tragedy and heroic determination. As superhero origins go, it’s really good. I thoroughly enjoyed the whole thing, but was bowled over by a revelation early in the story.

On page two, in only three panels, my perception of this character was totally changed.

Ted Grant not only went to college, he went Ivy League.

So it looks like the ol’ pugilist grew up somewhat privileged, and not only went to college, but Yale of all places. To top it off, he didn’t want to be a professional boxer. HE WANTED TO BE A DOCTOR.

I know this is just a comic book story, and I’m sure it lacks some impact if you haven’t read the treatment of the character for decades, but it got me thinking. Have you ever thought you had someone pegged, then found out something about them that changed your view of them?

Most of us are probably guilty of categorizing acquaintances and coworkers in simple terms. It’s unfortunate that we make assumptions about people based on limited information. We might encounter one side of a person, or deal with them in only one kind of situation. I understand why we make the judgments we do, but it’s kind of a shame we can’t read everyone’s origin story.

You’ve probably heard some version of “everyone is fighting a battle you know nothing about.” I do believe that’s true. In our day to day dealings, we rarely know where folks are coming from or what they’ve been through. I’d like to say it doesn’t matter, but being the social creatures we are, knowledge and understanding do affect our relationships. Even and especially our briefest and most casual.

I happened to be studying marketing recently (I don’t only read comics), and a message I encountered with repetition is that no matter what you’ve done, no matter how good you are or what you’re capable of, if people don’t know about it, you’ll not make as much of a difference as you should. That it’s up to you to “market” yourself so your accomplishments and experience don’t go unnoticed. Well, if we’re wise enough to understand that, can we be wise enough to flip it around and understand that there are folks out there doing incredible things who AREN’T good at marketing themselves? What might we be missing? If I’m smart enough to know I need to put myself out there, I hope I’m smart enough to know to look deeper at who people are, what they’ve been through, and what they’ve done.

You certainly don’t need to know everyone’s background in order to be friendly or have a good relationship. Rapport is built in the present as easily as on similar past experiences. I do hope, though, I’ll be careful to consider there’s more to the people I meet than the impressions I interpret.