Please slow down! Take a minute or two from your busy life and read this message! Yes, the basic idea of this article is to “stop and smell the roses” – to take time to enjoy each instant – a recommendation we have all heard many times. But won’t you pause to join me on a brief journey exploring the topic?
True Confessions: My Dynamic Tension
First, a bit of personal background. I have long felt the constant push-pull of two competing forces. On the one hand, there is my never-ending “to do” list of action items calling me to higher levels of commitment and completion. On the other hand, I have a personal desire to deeply immerse myself into each and every moment so as to experience everything I can out of my life’s ticking seconds. Although at times I can be deeply present as I accomplish some tasks, I find that frequently such planning and acting moves me “into my head” so much that I lose the sense of being fully present. Can you relate?
Early in my adulthood I became very task oriented. I determined what needed to be done in the various areas of my life – as husband, father, employee – and went about “getting it done”. In fact, I found great satisfaction in the compliments I would receive over the quality and quantity of my output. Later in life, as I looked back over the years, I realized that I had come to erroneously define my self-worth around the success I had out in the world. It had become a vicious cycle – the more I performed, the greater my outer success, the more I felt worthy leading me to perform more. If my to do list was not overflowing with items that I was able to cross off, then I would feel a sense of uselessness.
At a certain point I realized that I was holding a false belief. I had been worthy all the time! My value as a person did not come through the things that I completed nor the compliments, awards or promotions that I received out in the world. This I now know…that you and I, by the very nature that we were born here and are existing at this time, are valuable beings. Although there is nothing wrong with worldly accomplishments, our self-worth is not defined by them. Our worth is inherent.
Yet, throughout my life I have always felt another internal emotion – a great sense of nostalgic longing to slow down life and enjoy each moment. These feelings would arise through such events as the birth of my children and key points in their unfolding development – first steps, first words, first day of school, graduations, relationships and marriages and their own children. Yet the feelings could be evoked at other times. I remember movies and books that would detail a person’s life from their early years to their death and how such works would bring forth from me a feeling of sadness and nostalgia for the character’s passage of time through life. Even recently, I can recall a car commercial showing the passage of time through the aging of the family dog and the nostalgic sadness that ad evoked in me.
There has always been a part of me that has wanted to grab hold of certain moments and freeze them. I’ve often had a fantasy about popping back in time and visiting earlier moments in my life – quietly witnessing earlier events so as to soak up deeply every detail that flew by so quickly when I was there the first time when I was actually “living it”. What I would give to have such an opportunity! If somewhere within the recesses of my memory are the microscopic details of the moments of my life, then I wish I could will them forth into my awareness when I wanted.
Ultimately, I am left flip-flopping back and forth. I am called to accomplish much. I am called to experience much. Sometimes these callings are at odds with one another – doing takes me out of being – being takes me out of doing. Of course, it doesn’t have to be that way.
Forcing a Slowdown
Even though I keep “retiring” from certain “more than full-time” positions (first from my role as Regional Administrator for Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services and later from my management position with Centers for Spiritual Living headquarters), it seems like I’m working more than ever. I have my writings and teachings on oneness and spiritual evolution through my Conscious Bridge website and publications, I went back to work part time with Centers for Spiritual Living to support their global growth, I’ve been volunteering with Coffee Party USA to bring civility and reason into our political system, and more. All of these are worthy actions towards my vision of creating a world that works for everyone.
Yet even though I know now that my worthiness is not defined by these actions, I still am driven towards a lot of “doing” out in the world. Life can sometimes say, “hey, you need a break!” A few months ago, life tried to give me that message through some minor foot problems. The diagnosis: plantar fasciitis. It was inconvenient and at times had me limping. Yet, I pushed on with my “doingness”. Then a few weeks ago, life said I obviously didn’t get the message so it upped the ante. My foot ballooned up with painful gout. Things came to a halt. Commitments were put on hold. My writings and social media activities slowed to a crawl. For over two weeks I was on crutches. For over a week of that time I was either in bed or laying on the sofa with my foot propped up.
It’s funny – sometimes we long for those moments when we can just simply kickback and catch up on our reading or watch some of those programs in our Netflix queue, then when we get the opportunity to do so we find it hard to appreciate it. Yes, I read a lot and watched a lot of TV during this period of downtime. Yet my enjoyment was tempered to a great degree by both the pain as well as the frustration over my inability to do the simplest things in life. But somewhere along the way, I heard the message – “slowdown, life is about enjoying the moments!” I kept this message in mind as I moved through Christmas last week.
We have a new family tradition which began a few years ago–Christmas in Vail. My wife, Mary, and I along with my five grown children and their partners and children, my first wife and her partner and other members of our “tribe” all gather at a large family condo overlooking Vail valley to share conversation, gifts, games, food, skiing, snowshoeing, and each other’s company. Although I have always enjoyed it, this year– for me–it was even better. My foot curtailed my doing anything but sitting. It allowed me to deeply focus on each instant. As I did so, I experienced great love and appreciation for everyone there and for every moment of our time together. Love was overflowing in my heart. I lived in appreciation for life and the experience of every moment. I soaked up as much as I could.
As I write this my foot is getting better, but I’m still resting and watching TV. Last night, Mary and I watched a wonderful movie which I highly recommend. It’s called About Time and stars Domhnall Gleeson, Rachel McAdams and Bill Nighy. Warning – I’m about to give some plot details…
Gleeson plays a young man, Tim, who learns from his father (Nighy) on his 21st birthday that the men in his family have the ability to travel back in time within their own lives. Through trial and effort, Tim learns what he can go back in time and change and what he cannot. He is able to use this talent to foster a relationship and marriage with a young woman named Mary (McAdams) with whom he is in love. In time, they have children and their love deepens and Tim learns how important his wife and children and all of his family are to him.
Eventually, Tim learns that going back in time to make “course adjustments” to life’s events is not the best use of his special skill. When he believes that Tim is ready to listen, his father shares a secret that he has learned from time traveling– don’t try to change things, just live your day normally allowing its events to unfold as they will – and then go back in time and simply live the same day over again, only this time being more attentive to what is going on, seeing it with eyes that relish and enjoy every moment.
His father’s point is that what is truly important is not “changing your life” but rather “enjoying your life”. Tim begins to follow his father’s advice and eventually lets go of even the need to relive each day – he simply brings that sense of loving appreciation to his first experience of every day. A great lesson for us all. If you have not seen this movie – I highly recommend “experiencing” it!
This Moment – This Day – This Life
So here we are. We have come to the end of this particular article. What’s next? As always, it’s choice time…
As you look up from reading these words and go on to the next event in your life, what will be your intention? What will be your inner sense of appreciation for that next moment? Although I suspect that we may all –to a degree– continue to rush through life attempting to accomplish more and more, I would invite you to approach as many moments as possible with a different goal – to bring a deep sense of the glorious nature of every moment of this life into your awareness.
You get to choose how you experience every moment of every day of your life. I encourage you to choose to slow down, look around and love – really, truly love – this moment and every moment.
You are worthy. You are lovable and you are loved. You and your life and all the experiences within it are a blessing. Choose love. Choose appreciation. Choose joy.
Affirm this: every moment of every day of my life is a gift that I am enjoying with a deep sense of love and gratitude.
I know this is so for you just as it is for me.
Blessings and happy new year,
Check out all of Mark Gilbert’s books—available at Amazon. Click here to visit his Author Page. This includes his very latest one Becoming a Spiritual Change Agent. Check it out!