When your heart feels compelled to jump on a plane to visit your best friend in the desert and it doesn’t make much sense when you look at your wallet or your calendar, you should say yes and do it anyway.
When the wide-eyed four-year-old asks you to crawl into the cave to explore by his side even though the thought of the lurking spiders and snakes and skin-crawling darkness makes you want to cry, you should say yes and do it anyway.
When the person who makes you breathe the deepest and sleep the hardest and smile the widest asks you to come over, but it’s complicated and it hurts and you’re scared of how messy it feels, you should say yes and do it anyway.
When you’re presented an opportunity to uproot, disappear, disconnect and have a life-altering experience, but the thought of leaving and the prospect of the life-alteration ahead of you keeps you wide-eyed at night, you should say yes and do it anyway.
“If you are depressed you are living in the past.
If you are anxious you are living in the future.
If you are at peace you are living in the present.”
[This is widely attributed to Lao Tzu, though widely argued as a bologna attribution. I don’t know who really said it, but I like it.]
I have spent a lifetime fighting the present for reasons I couldn’t explain until recently. I now realize it was fear that held me back from my own life’s moments–fear of those moments being too much for my heart to handle. If it becomes too hard, sitting with the pain feels like it will last an eternity. Surely the heartache will destroy me. If it becomes too good, I know it is only fleeting. It’s temporary. I can’t give in to it, because the crash is fast approaching. The other shoe will drop.
Don’t let in the pain. Don’t let in the joy.
This uncomfortable avoidance of the present moment thrives in haunting memories of my past–the stories I’ve written about how it all plays out, how it all crumbles as quick as it’s built. The anxieties for the future keep my mind spinning. What’s next? What should I be prepared to handle? How does this path ahead of me twist and turn and how can I outsmart it? How can I stay safe? What excuses can I make to avoid risk?
When we cling to the illusion of being cool, the roadblocks to being present are abundant. The pain and the joy and the tears and smiles and the moments that make you clench your heart or steady the butterflies in your gut–they’re all welcome in the present. They’re what makes the present so powerful, truly. And babe, those things don’t make you look cool, they make you look human.
One of the greatest gifts I was ever given was the fast and furious fireball that blew up my life. It came screaming into my seemingly pulled-together world, knocked me on my ass and removed any possible illusion that I was cool. I was painfully human.
It was in the moments–explaining to my eye doctor that “yes, my last name is different”, running into familiar faces with my dirty bras in hand, humbly asking for help over and over and over again–that I became so damn uncool that I could become present–peacefully, not gracefully, present.
I could stand in the moments of hurt and loneliness and say, “This feels like garbage.”
And I could stand in the moments of joy and say, “This feels so damn good.”
I no longer had the energy to pretend like I had it figured out. My past had betrayed me and the future was a giant question mark. As I flipped my entire existence on its head, all the excess fell away and all I could be was there–standing naked, in the one spot my feet were planted at that given time, feeling whatever was swirling around me.
I found myself routinely standing in the moment, feeling it all, watching my fears for the future and my hurt from the past swirl past me, and doing the thing, whatever it was, that I needed to do without any shame. Calling my dad, taking the afternoon off from work, booking the vacation, sharing my heart, reading the book, going to coffee, writing the real story. I became present, in part because I had to in order to survive. The tiny fire that I still possessed would have surely died had I made any other move than dropping my armor and starting again.
However, I also became present, because I could. Because I can show up and be here–right here–every day. When it hurts. When it feels too good to be true. When the stories of the past creep in and breathe down my neck. When my fear for what the future looks like grabs hold of my mind. I can sweat and fight and cry and yell and laugh and love because it’s real, it’s present, it’s human, it’s mine.
I don’t wish the fast and furious life-crushing fireball on anyone, but with my whole heart, I wish for widespread, peaceful, uncool presence in this one and only life we have to live.
When your heart feels crushed from saying goodbye and the tears creep up and you want to fight it because you’re strong and you’re fine and you don’t want to let it out because you fear it won’t stop, you should say yes and do it anyway.
When you sit across from a friend and you feel compelled to tell them just how important they are to you but you worry you’ll sound cheesy and they’ll think you’re a weirdo, you should say yes and do it anyway.
When you reflect on what you’ve accomplished and how much you’ve pushed through in the last few hours, days, weeks, or months, but you don’t want to get cocky and you know someone out there has fought their way through so much more, you should say yes and do it anyway, over and over again.
You deserve every ounce of a good that comes from being present in life’s joys, and even more, you deserve every ounce of strength and growth that comes from being present in life’s trials and heartaches.