Not Next But Now
Last Friday afternoon I was poised as if on a diving board: I wanted to plunge headlong into the weekend and land in a feather bed. The antidote to a bearish week was a bit of a pleasurefest. I had dinner with friends, rustic lamb ragu and rough red wine. I stayed in bed for a criminally long time on Saturday reading Bel Canto and drinking coffee. I turned on the stove that night and stood at the cutting board peeling potatoes and shredding kale. I made a steak. I was listening to Anything Goes, and life felt very quietly good.
And also itchy. When life is placid and nice, do you ever feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop? That now, when it’s quiet, is not when it’s time to enjoy; it’s time to scramble to prepare for whatever’s coming next?
Sunday morning, in the brightness of daylight savings, I just barely made it to yoga. My teacher sat at the front of the room and talked about getting back to basics. (She tends to be sort of telepathic in her timing.) We took strong standing poses, and then refined them. We looked at our feet, sealing all four corners into the floor, working that pinkie toe like it was a circus strong man instead of a wee little thing. We created a rock-solid foundation from the ground up.
In the first days of January, I proudly touted my basics. But by mid-March I seem to have lost interest in them precisely because they’re fundamentals. Something in me thought there should be something more, apparently, than the expressions of love, community, and creativity already in my life. A manicure? Tap dance lessons? A vacation? A baby? A new pair of jeans? Next, next, next.
My yoga teacher’s reminder to get back to basics felt like a call to forget next and remember now. This cup of coffee. This dinner with friends. This crescent pose. This sunset I can see from the train window. This crossword puzzle that’s got me hung up on “hobos’ hangout.” This one open tab on my browser. This, this, this. We so value and reward striving: want more, work harder, climb higher. To give up casting ahead and improving ourselves in exchange for settling into right now feels downright bizarre–transgressive, even! Next happens without our willing it, always. And so it feels like a brave kind of surrender to accept that wherever you are right now, whatever is, is just the way it ought to be. It is right.
And I’m not talking about complacency. I’m talking about trust. What would it feel like to trust that the way things are right now and the efforts we make to create that moment are in a kind of symbiotic partnership: all is as it should be. This moment. This moment. This moment. What would it look like to let it be? It would mean letting go of a nagging guilt or familiar self-doubt. It would mean loosening our vise grip on our need to control the future. Somewhere, there’s a fine line between intention and scheming. We’d stay just this side of it. We’re doing our best. Or at the very least the best we can right now. I trust this moment, we’d say. I trust myself.
Over coffee with a friend earlier this week, she told me about a new mental exercise she’s trying out. It’s like this: you know when you’re on Facebook and everyone’s life seems cooler, more exciting, more fulfilling, happier? It’s so easy to romanticize their lives based on what we see (vacation pictures, cute babies–a carefully curated visual representation of life) and forget about the reality that probably looks a lot like ours (dirty dishes, bad moods, bad outfits, working late). But what if, my friend suggested, we applied the Facebook principle to our own lives? It’s not unlike gratitude, but with the added sheen of admiration from the outside in. It’s being in the moment, and at the same time, being out of it just enough to realize how sweet it is.