Tuesday, January 5, 2010

The Big Now.

It’s another new year and people are taking the tack of either looking backward or looking forward. Resolutions, plans of change-all are part and parcel of the cyclic human psyche.

In my previous job, I worked on a lot of health and fitness accounts. This was the high point of the year in the fitness business. People swear they are going to drop that extra weight, change their lifestyle, and make a difference in their lives in the coming 12 months. Truth is, they’re sitting ducks for marketers–bobbing on a waves of guilt and desperation, they are trying desperately to give themselves the illusion that they will be more proactive in the control of their lives. And, every year, we would be there with the promise that “this would be the year.” Control was within their reach. A free enrollment was all they needed. Just sign on the dotted line.

The reality is that there is no control. James Fixx, the author of “The Complete Book of Running”, became a voice calling in the wilderness, leading thousands to start running. He was in perfect physical condition. He also dropped dead at the age of 52 while jogging.

Okay, some people would say that I’m a spoil sport. “Mashing their mellow.” True, I may be. But, it’s life that keeps playing that same darn trick on me. Take for example our dog, Quin. On Wednesday evening, she was chasing a ball, being her usual goofy self. The same time the next evening she was a memory. Gastric dilation volvulus (GDV), commonly known as a flipped stomach, along with diabetes and advanced age, lead to the decision to “put her down.” New Year’s eve was a drag. But not a surprise.

See, every day, life in all its perverseness, is something that does not give the present lightly. At moments we least expect it, life smacks us in the head, because we are to busy looking back or looking ahead without pausing to take in the good stuff that is around us here and now. That pausing and looking around at the present is what I like to call the “big now.” The precise moment when you are fully aware of the present and you take it in and act on the call it is sending you.

I was lucky enough to have one of those “big now moments,” the night before our dog, Quin, died. I was walking her when the thought crossed my mind that my wife, Kathy, had picked Quin up from the breeders on Christmas eve 12 years ago. A small, squeaky chocolate lab pup that had been the runt of the litter came into our family. She peed on the floor, chewed countless shoes, shed on the carpet, and had chased us out of the room with gastric odors more foul than I can describe. But now, Quin was entering into her thirteenth year. As I walked with her in the falling snow, I became aware that her time with us was becoming limited. I thought “a year or two-at most.”

The walk was short, but the quick rush of memories of her canine life zipped by. When I got to the door of our house, I did something totally out of character for me. I unlatched her leash and I gave her a hug. In a whisper, I said to her, “you’ve been a good dog.” Before I got too sentimental, I added “a pain in the ass, but a good dog.”

That moment was a cosmic hanging curve ball. I could have been focused on a thousand things. Usually, I AM focused on a thousand things. But for one pristine moment I was focused on an old dog walking in the snow.

When I volunteered at the Community Kitchen in Myrtle Beach, SC, there was a standing joke that Thanksgiving and Christmas were the only times of the year that people opened their eyes and saw that there were homeless people in the world. The reality is that they exist at every moment of the year. When the leaves bud in the spring and the fireworks light up a sweltering July night-the homeless recede to the edge of our consciousness–forgotten. The shining objects of desire in our lives distract us from the realities that surround us.

As the winter equinox looms and the demarcation of another year is eminent, we find ourselves back at the point of introspection–caught between guilt for taking so much for granted and self-loathing for our collective lack of self-control in the proceeding 365 days. What do we do? We self-medicate by tossing coins into a Salvation Army bucket. We delude ourselves that we are more “giving” by feeding the homeless on a single Christmas day–the same homeless people we forget about when we lay on the beach on summer vacation. Yes, we secretly revel in the “holier-than-thou” posture we take when we talk about “giving up” a holiday to “do good”. Then when we feel that we have “done some good this year”, we look at what we are going to “do for ourselves” for the next 12 months. Boom! You join a gym. You look ahead, and you miss the present moment.

In the past 2 months, I have had to “use” a combined total of 18 days of vacation and furlough time. Add holiday time and work related travel-I had about 2 months to “defocus.” Sadly, it was in the final 5 days that I reached a place of blissful nothingness. No plans, no momentum to sustain. No reflection on year past or future.

In an earlier post, I had plotted out all the things I had planned to do with the time off from work. I’m happy to say that I released myself from those plans and gave my brain and body some much needed time off. Because I did, I was able to spend some guilt-free time in the “big now.” I gave myself the luxury of taking entire days to do absolutely nothing. And, for the first time in about 3 years, in those moments of defocused living, I regained a greater focus.

As the earth shifts on its axis into the deep heart of winter and the world around me looks backward and forward, I’m in the fortunate place of being able to look around with no plans to reshape my life, lifestyle or my waistline. I have moved the illusion that I control my destiny aside and have allowed myself to appreciate the present. I know this moment of comfort is an ephemeral, finite moment. Tomorrow the world may collapse around me because nothing in the existence of our lives is guaranteed-no matter how carefully we plan it. I feel fortunate, that in these few days of calm existence, I have been able to see the wonderful things that have befallen me. An amazing wife, 4 awesome children, 2 beautiful grandkids. And for that frozen moment in the snow, one very good dog.