Lounging next to a fire with Nordic melodies filling the space, I have to say that this snowy, January morning is what dreams are made of. It was a slow morning, beginning with a long husky snuggle where I combed my fingers through her multi-colored fur, marveling at how such a beautiful creature exists. I then gathered wood, built a fire, and ground gingerbread coffee beans for our French press. My wife came down the stairs and began making our breakfast sandwiches, while I constructed mimosas with untapped champagne from our intimate and quiet New Year’s celebration. This pace, this moment-by-moment savoring of the simple things is exactly what I have been longing for.
My brain, the typical hurricane of thoughts, plans, and stress is now calm waters.
My heart, which held relentless throbbing from past pain now sings a gentle, calm cadence.
This past year was so hard for so many, and I’ll be the first to admit that while I had my personal struggles, I think I fared more fortunate than most. Any friends or family, who contracted COVID, achieved full recovery. I maintained my career with working from home, which in that isolated respect is a dream come true. Even though the quick pace and abundant workload didn’t lessen, being able to cuddle with my pups in between meetings was more therapeutic than I had previously realized. I was even able to maintain a semblance of a social life with friends and family due to the advancements of technology and socially-distanced kayaking.
However, the most impactful byproduct for me of this past year was the opportunity for introspection and growth. In all honesty, internally I kicked and screamed back in March when life as I knew it shifted, but in time, this shift forced me to work through some outstanding obstacles and clear out some negative patterns. Granted, it hasn’t been all smooth sailing; there have certainly been days where I didn’t want to get out of bed and be present in life, I have succumbed to the “COVID fifteen”, and more recently, we encountered some unanticipated bumps in our road to building a family.
Nevertheless, this time in near solitude has given me a unique chance to reevaluate what is important in life and to identify my personal shortcomings. So, while I have some exciting tangible goals I’ll be working toward in 2021 in the realm of my career, financial health, and physical health, I have an overarching commitment I want to stick to…
And that, my friends, is simply to release the conditions I have tied to happiness and being present.
For so long, I told myself that once I looked a certain way, made a certain amount of money, had a certain level of notoriety, and attained a certain degree of success, then I could “let off the gas” and enjoy life a little. But that’s just ridiculous because given my history, even when I hit those marks, I’m just going to raise the bar, further prolonging the moment I get to enjoy the magnificence of life around me.
Now, ambition isn’t a bad thing, and as I mentioned, I have some pretty exciting goals I’m working toward in this coming year. But one of my largest struggles was to accept that I can enjoy the journey, that my life satisfaction doesn’t have to be conditional. In every stage of the story, there is something beautiful, something worth soaking in and falling in love with.
It simply comes down to attitude. And so, as big of a struggle as it is, I’m working on balance, resisting the urge to always be “achieving” in one sense or the other. Whether it be my full-time career, studying, my personal business, or housework, I am replacing that compulsion to consistently accomplish with the choice to consciously be a participant in the life that’s happening around me. Whether it’s taking five minutes before jumping out of bed to snuggle in bed with my wife, throwing the ball for my dog a few more times, refraining from multi-tasking while on the phone with family, or simply taking time to look at the beautiful life around me before I catapult into the next task, I’m embracing the details that at the end of my life, I’ll wish I had more of.
The premise seems so simple, but I think the majority of us can agree that taking the time to slow down is no easy task. Oh, but when we do it, isn’t it so worth it?
Perhaps this sounds like something you would like to adopt, but the process of always doing and never being seems so ingrained in you that you’re not sure where to even begin. Well my friend, I want to suggest a new approach that has worked for me.
Find your “tell”
First, find your indication that you’re doing instead of being (i.e., not being a present participant in your life). I’ve realized a couple of my indicators are physical fidgeting; I begin picking my fingers, or if I’m sitting down, my toes start “dancing” because there’s an internal anxiety of my running to-do list.
Create a re-focus ritual
Realizing you’re in the frantic frenzy of doing isn’t enough to effectively break out of it. You need to create space for you to pull out of that pattern. The simplest and most accessible breaking of the pattern comes from focusing on your breathing. Doing a simple, repeated cycle of the “box breathing” pattern of 4 seconds inhaling, holding, exhaling, and holding can do the trick. This forces your brain to literally shift onto a new track as your heart rate calms and your mind clears. If focused breathing isn’t your jam, having a go-to mantra to anchor you back into the present can be helpful as well. Using both mindful breathing and mantras is a highly effective combo, I might add.
Make the choice
Say you’re watching a movie with your significant other or kids and you’ve caught yourself mentally writing your next email to your boss or developing plans for your next project. Choose to immerse yourself in the present moment. Don’t just watch the plot. Notice the sounds and surroundings. Is your dog curled up at the end of the couch? Does your partner’s hand look like it wants to be held? What are the expressions on your children’s faces as they’re watching the characters? Observe even the seemingly insignificant details around you, like the glow of the lamp post coming in through the window beside you or the way your new pajamas feel on your skin.
Make it your mission to be present at a level you’ve never been before. This will not enrich just your experience but also the experiences of the people and creatures surrounding you.
So here’s to a year of living life, instead of constantly pushing forward to the next checkpoint! Thank you, truly, for reading my brief reflection and intentions on the year ahead.
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