Saturday, March 10, 2012

On Routines - and Cherishing Life Moment by Moment

The other night, I starting thinking about all of the different phases that my life has held.   I have only been alive for three decades, but it feels like I have lived so many lives in that time.   I was sitting on the chaise lounge in my studio apartment, playing around on my computer, and my boyfriend was snoozing on the bed.  This is a peaceful and comfortable scene that has recreated itself a number of times in my near future and is one element of the routines and settings that make up my life right now.   Yet, all of a sudden, and it occurred to me that this will not always be my routine and setting – someday I’ll be in a different time and place and look at back on this time in my life remembering this particular chapter.

Once I started thinking along that path, I started to recollect various chapters in my life…what my pre-bed routine was like in other apartments and other relationships.  What it is like getting up and getting ready for work in this apartment – and what is was like doing so in other homes and with other partners at other times in my life.    On that note, I started thinking about what my experience is like going in to work now – and what it used to be like – who I would see during my day, what my office was like, and what the rhythm of the day was like.   I also thought of what activities and places I go to now after work – and other activities and places I used to go at other times in my life – yoga classes, dance classes, Jazzercise classes, happy hours – and how I would get there – listening to music in my car or listening to my Ipod on the bus – even walking through the city as I did in Seville, Spain to get home from class after school.

The only thing that unites each of these varying routines is while they were an integral part of my life, I didn’t really notice them at the time – every once in a while, I came up for air, looked around, and observed what was around me (thus why I still have recollections to ponder).  But, most of the time, I didn’t notice much at all – to me, that time and place in my life wasn’t very notable – it seemed that that routine would last forever, so why bother paying attention to it?  Sometimes, I even felt bored or frustrated with the monotony of it.  Yet, somewhere along the way, that chapter and that routine came to a close – never to come again in exactly the same way – except in my memories.

Lately, I’ve thinking about motherhood – what it would like to be a mom, what would be necessary to be a mom and a loving wife, how I would manage all of the stresses and tasks that come with raising a child, and how having a child would change my life forever.   Right now, I am blessed to have many moments of solitude and reflection in my life – time to clear my head, listen to music, take a bath, meditate, look up information on the computer or plan for a future possibility.   I certainly enjoy those moments now – but I am also realizing that someday those moments could be few and far between – and I could back wistfully at the freedom and independence that I have now.   Right now, I am also blessed to have plenty of time in my life to go to Biodanza classes and yoga classes and meditation groups and on various retreats – someday, if I have a child, I know that I would have to be much more choosey about what I do with my time when I am not at work and not with my family.   Finally, right now, there are so many tender moments of cuddling and sleeping in and connecting that I have with my sweetheart – without a baby or toddler in between us.  Someday those moments could be more difficult to steal way and our time together could be interrupted and strained by over-exhaustion.

Knowing all of those things doesn’t convince me not to have a child – although it does make me think carefully about whether I’d want to have more than one child.   Knowing all of those things make me think how important it is that I prepare myself for eventual motherhood – and really soak in all that I possibly can about this time in my life – about the routines and the dreams and the special moments that I experience day after day.  The sunny walks to the bus, the tender cuddly mornings, the enriching classes, and the wonderful moments of reflection like I’m having right now as I write this.  All of those moments are so tender and precious – and if I don’t take the time to see and smell and taste and hear and feel every detail, before I know it they will be gone.

Even if life doesn’t have it in the cards for me to have a child or marry my current partner, the change of routine and setting is still bound to happen one way or another – because that is the nature of existence – change is the only constant in life.   Someday my office will change again at work – or my coworkers will shift or my entire job will shift.  Someday the place where I go to Biodanza class will change or my teacher will change or people in my group will stop coming and new people will take their place.  Little my little, our routines shift until one day we look back and realize that various parts of our life are no longer there.  Sometimes the change is dramatic – with a big move or breakup or layoff.  Other times, it is more subtle and sneaks up on us.

I’ve been reading this book lately called Hand Wash Cold:Care Instructions for an Ordinary Life.  It is written by a Zen priest named Karen Maezen Miller who is a mom and housewife and writer and who grew up in typical American existence.  I’ve been reading it at lunch and really like it – it always seems to bring me out of my planning / ruminating mode and back to the present.  On the back cover of the book, it says, “Fall in Love with the Life You Already Have.”  How wonderful is that?  Thinking about it, I really do love the life that I have right now – and I suspect that if I had taken the time to notice what was in my life at various times in the past, I could have found stuff to love in those “life’s,” too. 

Two passages of Ms. Miller’s book about time really stood out to me today. 

She says (p. 130, “I tell people about how much time and effort it takes to be a wife and mother.  About how it occupies my whole life.  I say I can’t imagine a time when I’ll have more time, when my life will once more be my own.  In truth, I struggle daily to give even one measly minute of undistracted company to my family, and I’m here all day.  When do we actually have the children we say we have?  When are we actually in the relationships we’re in?  What portion of the years, the days, the hours of our lives do we spend being the people we define ourselves to be?  Fulfilling the roles that we have chosen?”

Although I am not currently a wife or a mother, I can totally relate to this passage.  I am often feeling like there is not even time to do what I want to do – and focused on getting to a magic, future time when I’ll feel like I’ve “arrived.”  But, the idea that that time will come is a myth – the only time we have is now – right now.   And, the idea that that place will come is a myth as well – the only place we have is here – right here. 

This Thursday, my horoscope said that I was to have an excellent career day – that I would be really successful and unbeatable and all of the stars were aligned to support it.  When I read that horoscope, I pictured giving a “knock’em dead” presentation to some higher-ups or receiving news that I’d been promoted or given a raise – some dramatic demonstration of career success.  I was a bit puzzled, though, because all I had planned for that day on my calendar was a bunch of student advising appointments and a webinar.   As it turned out, I had a string of really meaningful conversations with students that day.  Conversations where I was able to be fully present and ask the right questions and help students find their way.  Conversations where hopefully I made a difference and inspired "a ha" moments that will help students change their lives for the better.  

Along the way, as I was reflecting that day at lunch – it occurred to me that that is the success story – that is the moment, the arrival that I’ve been striving for.  To be doing my lives work and make a difference in some student’s lives – that is what I have trained for and what I strive to do better and better each day – to have some success with that is truly something to cherish and celebrate.  This is my life –and my work legacy – one student at a time, one presentation at a time, hour by hour, day by day.  Blink – and I’ll miss it.

Ms. Miller also said, (p. 139), “I’m sure it can seem to some that all they have to do is work, leaving all the other priorities to languish on the periphery.  I hope for your sake that when it is time to work, all you do is work.  But in those hours when the choice is truly yours, what do you choose to put in front of you?  Where do you cast your enraptured eye?  Where do you lose yourself?  Where do you invest your time, your life, and your love, knowing whatever you pay attention to thrives?”

I want to strengthen these habits of mind of paying attention, being present, and appreciating the moment so that at each stage of my life, whether marriage, motherhood, or whatever life has in store for me, I will truly be there to experience it.  I want to be the mom who puts down my computer or phone and gives full attention to my kid.  I want to be the wife who truly sees and appreciates her husband and lets him know it every day.  I want to be the daughter and granddaughter who really cherishes each moment with her loved ones as they grow older.  And, I want to really be there – with friends, with students, with my Biodanza group, in nature – to really experience my life, moment by moment as it unfolds.

Lately, in Biodanza class, I’ve been feeling our moments of beginning and ending in the circle very strongly.  We dance holding hands in the circle – and often start moving counter-clockwise together to the music.  As the circle gains momentum, I feel a wondrous sensation when I relax and surrender to the movement – letting my self get pulled around and in and out by the circle – and simultaneously pulling those around me.   If I heed to the call, I can let go of the needs to cling or control and focus my energy on just being – on hearing the music, taking in the gazes of my fellow Biodanzeros as they go around the circle, and feeling their touch and the ground beneath me, supporting me and holding me each step of the way.

Life is that way, too – a continuous circle of movement – cycles –  beginnings and endings – we go around the circle and end up back where we started – like a merry go round.  If we stop straining to see what is ahead of us in the circle and just surrender to the ride, we can use our focus and energy to just be – to “fall in love with the life we already have” – moment by moment, step by step, breath by breath.

To close, I’m attaching below a video promoting Ms. Miller’s book, “Hand Wash Cold” which I highly recommend – and a song I heard the other day that reminded me of this idea – the importance of staying present and remembering each moment as it happens.  Finally, an inspiring image / poster I stumbled across recently - called the Holstee Manifesto.

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