“Forever is composed of nows.”—Emily Dickinson
I couldn’t wait to outrun the moment surrounded by morning hikers, outrun it to where I would walk among the redwoods in quiet solitude to think, connect with my best self and expel energy into future plans. Yet did I really need to escape to a thousand different tomorrows and outrun my now, all in the hopes of connecting with my best self tomorrow?
I needed to think. I wanted to think, to reflect, to ponder intriguing life lessons and hear responses, from the universe, from God, even from the trees. But I wanted to think in my own quietness.
That’s why the man and his dog walking towards me, as I exited my car, disturbed me. I didn’t have time to be social, to smile, and say good morning. I rushed forward, walked faster, perturbed, and angered. The faster I walked the further civilization retreated, as I went deeper into the redwood forest and saw myself become smaller and smaller amongst trees that humbled me both in age and stature.
The walk along the sandy river bend, the tall trees, the pebbled crosscut hills, in the silence, offered me the opportunity to step outside of myself and see what lay around me. A landscape changed by winter storms, walking paths rebuilt, trees full of spring leaves blocking out the morning rays.
As I sank deeper into that quiet, feeling myself just move forward, the connections between nature, myself, my life journey, and God, all synced up into fabulous “aha” moments about life lessons. In my excitement, and fearful of forgetting just one of the beautiful specks of information that was running through my head, I began to show frustration at the length of my walk. Forty minutes remained and yet I was too excited to keep walking. I had a good mind to turn around, run towards the car, and drive home to write.
And that’s when I burst out laughing. (I was in the forest, no one heard me – so did I really laugh?)
Not only did I laugh, but I stopped walking. As I stood still, I felt the rush of moment come in from behind me, twirl around at my unexpected stillness, and forcibly stop. In that moment, I realized the silliness of always, regardless of the occasion, wanting to be at a future time, a future place.
I couldn’t be satisfied. It was either wishing I were somewhere else because I didn’t want to talk to strangers, because I had other things to do, or wishing to be somewhere else because my brain was full of ideas and I had things to do besides walk for exercise.
To be or not to be in the moment?
I stopped laughing and commanded myself to be right there that second, and the second after, and the second after. I promised myself that I would remember all of those wonderful threads of life-lessons in the next hour. For right now, however, I would focus my mind on merely my breath, in and out. I would focus my ears on the sounds around me. No crunching of leaves signaled the lack of people around. The silence pierced only by unique birdcalls, sounds that were all new and fresh to me. I wondered what the birds were saying; was it early morning wake up calls for the tribe or were they just sharing the news amongst neighbors? I focused on what my eyes could see. The winter rains changed the soil composition along the river, washing out top soil and leaving sandier dust along the path. The vegetation along the few areas that received light below the redwoods flourished with fauna.
On I went, along the river path and up the steep inclines. Intentionally I continued to focus on my own body movements. After months of inactivity, my lungs were not behaving erratic as the elevation of the path increased. I simply focused.
The impactful #1 benefit of being present
In the remaining 40 minutes, seven more life-lesson ideas popped into my head. All from focusing and paying attention to what I saw, heard, and felt during those minutes. Yet instead of wanting to rush home to get all of these ideas down, to get cracking on diving deeper into their complexities, I merely mentally stacked them on top of the other four and kept them for future work.
As an idea popped into my head, I added one or two sentences to it and visually placed them on my mental journal and went back to watching the path as I ran, intentionally and purposefully avoiding tripping over exposed tree roots.
Becoming intentional on that walk did not come naturally to me. My frustrations, misplaced and selfish, brought me to the realization that I was missing experiencing something beautiful. I walked by beautiful tall grass meadows filled with does and their newborn fawns. A cold-stream river rushed beside me amongst boulders and sat as an icy reflective mirror in the even riverbed. Trees hundreds of years old formed a canopy above my head.
Being frustrated, and being frustrated by thoughts of my own making (I mean, geez, Pia, it wasn’t the dog’s fault if his owner and I arrived at the park at the same time), blurred my vision of what was really happening around me. And yet, thankfully, that frustration and desire be frustrated no longer is the exact pendulum that I needed to make the decision to shut those harsh emotions down and be present in the moment.
Once I was, it was simple to remain in the present. My senses prevailed, and by filtering sounds, feeling the cold breeze on my cheeks, seeing the rocks and pebbles on the path, I remained grounded in those moments, as they happened, one by one.
Sure, my mind, my thoughts wandered in, attempting to diagnose and logically interpret everything. In a sense, my mind felt like a child that just wants to be liked, so it interrupts with what it thinks are witty statements, in the hope that you will turn all of your attention to them. And that was okay, for a while. Witty statements came across my mind as wonderful thoughts – and I listened for no longer than 30 seconds, and then I politely told the “child” to sit and observe. My thoughts and my senses took turns, each enjoying each other’s company, each allowing the other’s attributes to expand and thrive. (Isn’t it always good when siblings share?)
I began my walk that morning intent on thinking. I had a purpose, a mission, a goal. With that goal in mind, my mind and body were in a tug of war. My senses, alert to the physical activity, the demand on my body, as well as the stimuli of smells and sounds, fought for my attention. My brain, ordered by me to think, wanted to produce logically brilliant ideas. Neither mind nor body were functioning at their highest, most efficient levels.
Focusing on the present changed all that. And beneficially enough, it allowed both my mind and body/senses to function at their peaks as well. As long as each took their turn (this is when multitasking shows its downfall: attempting to do too many things at once leaves all things incomplete. Go figure.) I experienced no frustration, no edginess, and no overwhelm.
All this left me with plenty of life lessons to think about and explore, something that I’m passionate about. I guess all of the things taught to us in kindergarten, like let each person have their turn, really are applicable regardless of your age.
An intentional future is not built on outrunning your now
“You must live in the present, launch yourself on every wave, find your eternity in each moment. Fools stand on their island of opportunities and look toward another land. There is no other land; there is no other life but this.”―Henry David Thoreau
Being intentionally present, in the now, took focus. To implement this in your daily nows, focus on:
Listen to your surroundings. In nature, do you notice the quiet or can you hear the echos of campers chatting as they walk towards their tents, sipping early morning coffee? In a busy setting, can you hear the individual words, or focus on the music playing the background, or hear the footsteps of someone behind you?
Are you trying some new food? Is it complete new taste, or does it have the texture, after taste, bite, whatever, of something familiar? Can you break it down and identify the ingredients mingling on top of your tongue?
Cold? Harsh? Smooth? If your eyes are closed, can you mentally picture what you are feeling?
Look right at your feet and notice what you see there. Look a bit up and focus on something 5 feet in front of you – what is there? Look a bit further out and connect with something 50 feet ahead of you – what do you see? Then put it all together – now that you have something near, in the middle, and far away, has the context of your surroundings changed?
Pay attention to your whole body. How is it moving in the space that you are inhabiting right now? Do you feel comfortable or constrained, free or intruded upon?
As you focus on those nows, be mindful and attentive your thoughts. Let them filter through (through, as in passing being the operative word) your mind, in one ear and out the other. Your senses are processing stimuli that your brain can’t help but jump all over – let it and then focus right back on your senses, on collecting input on what is happening around you.
To acquire the benefit of being mindful and intentional in the moment, take the time to process. Reflect upon your intake: tackle one thought that challenged you, expanded your knowledge, or solidified without a doubt a passion, an idea, a decision. Remain in the present and follow that thought thru.
The act of both paying attention to the senses and the thoughts being processed by your mind allow you to get out of auto piloting your way through your own life.
As I finally made my way back to the entrance of the park and sat in my car, I allowed all of the eleven life-lesson tips to flood out. The ideas rushed to that moment with excitement and joy, and I intentionally was in those moments, listing them all down. As I drove away, I realized that in my attempt to outrun a situation, whether positive or negative, I was merely running towards a hastily made future, lacking in imagination and forethought. A future made purely by band aids, a patch up job. Yet by being in the present, each of the life-lessons that popped into my head were individual stones that all, when laid down together, created a solid foundation and path toward a future with purpose, intent, and passion. It was still an unfinished future – but it was made of solid rocks, definitely not a patch up job.
What is holding you back from being intentionally present right now? Choose 1 of the ways to be in the moment right now, and just experience it.
How have you successfully stopped maneuvering through your life on auto pilot and are focusing instead in the now?
Photo Source: https://stocksnap.io/
I love reflecting on purposeful, thought-provoking life experiences and turning them into life purposes. I am a writer dedicated to sharing life-lessons to empower women to attain their best life by turning experiences into passion-driven action.
When I'm not studying life, I'm intentionally living it. I enjoy art (admiring it and creating it), nature, and I'm a beginner sewer in the attempt to sew my own unique clothes.
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