My thoughts drift back in time, some nights, when I lie in bed trying to sleep. In the dark and quiet my mind is very loud as it wrestles with the unfinished business of the day; revisits the unresolved conflicts with friends, family, co-workers…some of whom are no longer alive; grapples with remorse, regret, and despair over what might have been. Some mornings, mornings that often follow such restless, sleepless nights, my thoughts turn toward the future, to the what ifs, the maybe I shoulds, the I’ll do this, this and this, to get there. I plot and plan and feel my body, mind and spirit racing against fear and time and yes, away from, despair.
This backward/forward pattern of thought, developed over a lifetime, is a habit of thought that is well ingrained in many of us; a cultural pattern in the west. It’s, in part, a product of our social and economic structure. It’s an approach to life that leaves us empty and wanting. It’s a mental endeavor that leads to mistakes, errors of judgment, missed opportunities, lost minutes, hours and days.
Last week my husband was working on a building project, a deck for a friend. He’s a wonderful carpenter. I feel so blessed to have been able to reap the benefits of his handiwork and grateful for all that he’s done over the years to make our house a home. In spite of his years of experience and expert skills, every now and then he makes a mistake. While things can always be redone, sometimes it’s costly and time-consuming. He ran into such a situation while working on the hand railing of his friend’s deck. Over coffee that night he told me, that instead of being frustrated and aggravated by his mistake, he was grateful because he had come to an important awareness as to why he made the mistake.
I braced myself for a long-winded explanation of some new building trick he had discovered, but I was wrong. What he learned, he said, was that he makes mistakes when his mind races ahead to the next step in the project, and his attention turns away from the thing he’s working on in the moment.
Isn’t that true for all of life? When we allow our thoughts to get ahead of us, or to wander off into the past, we are not focused on today, this moment, now. We are not living in the present or paying attention to what is right in front of us, and we are missing the gifts and opportunities it holds. Staying tuned into the moment takes practice, particularly when we’ve spent a lifetime looking elsewhere. But, practice makes perfect…or almost perfect.