“I have known many sorrows, most of which never happened.” — Mark Twain
A few days ago, I was in a beautiful park in London doing my daily Qigong and Tai Chi practice. I had been at this same location at least 25 times in the last month, for 40 to 60 minutes, doing my Qigong routine in the same grove of trees. I finally noticed something that had been right in front of me these many days, that I never took notice of.
As I shifted my body forward and my hand shot out in front of me in a movement, I stopped. I FINALLY noticed the blazing florescent green of the leaves on the tree 25 feet ahead of me. Most of the time my eyes were focused in that direction all of those minutes of all those days. Yet, I never noticed the intensity of the blaze of luminous green emanating from those leaves. It was magical. Yet, I had been blind to it all along.
This became a simmering metaphor for me in the days to follow, and a heart lesson. Even while doing something as “conscious-raising” and meditative as Qigong and Tai Chi, your brain can be 1000’s of miles away, out of your body. Literally, “out of your mind.”
How had I missed it? Was I thinking of the long agenda of tasks I needed to accomplish for my business? Was I thinking about the sons, grandchildren, and family I missed back in California? Was I thinking about my mother and brother who had recently passed away? Was I concentrating on the self-defense applications of the movements too much?
Whatever my mind was up to, it was not present. It was not really there, in the here and now. I was in another world mentally than where my feet were planted, there on the solid green earth. I was utterly blind to the amazing beauty blazing in front of my eyes. Then, one day, “pop!” a tree and its glorious green foliage appeared before me like magic. Crazy.
As I thought about that lesson on the way back from the park, a haunting thought occurred to me. Most of my life, I have not truly been present. I was locked inside the prison of the distant past or the murky future. Yet, most of the time, I was not there, present in my immediate experience to milk all the beauty and lessons each “now” is available to gift us with.
I was a “Mr. Mom” for many years, raising my four young sons, and homeschooling the three older ones to boot. I was struggling to get my finances together, get some school credits in, keep my kids healthy and alive, be there for my spouse, my mother, my family, etc. I was trying so hard to be everything for everybody, my mind and spirit must have left my body for most of the time. There was no room in that frantic tangle of responsibility for me to truly exist there. Keep the plates spinning and keep the basketball dribbling.
Now, as I experience the joy of seeing my two young grandchildren, and see my oldest son and his wife in that frantic wheel of activity, I think to myself, “Do I even remember any of this?” “Was I really even there, fully?” In my desperate attempt to be “Superman” I was unable to be a man at all. I was a adrenaline-filled spirit wandering in a moving corpse, trying to reach imaginary goals that in the long run, were not really the point. The beautiful journey was/is the point.
I feel shame in acknowledging my lack of mindfulness. I feel shame as a man, in not deeply drinking of the amazing moments I had as a father with my beautiful four sons. I was working so hard at being a “perfect” dad, a “perfect” husband, a “perfect” student, a “perfect” employee, there was no room left for who I really was, to just exist. I was not experiencing what was there in the “now.”
After leaving the “sudden apparition” of the emerald foliaged tree (that had always been there) I put myself in check. I told myself, “All you have is right now.” I told myself, “All of the rest of your life in nothing but an endless succession of ‘nows.’” My looming fears for the future, my drifting memories of the past, are illusions floating like clouds in the wind. The “floating world.”
Though our times are uncertain for the future, and much of the news is depressing and forecast an ominous future, I refuse to allow my mind to entertain these “worst case scenarios.” The non-magical apparition of a green tree taught me a lesson I have not learned in my numerous days on this planet. Drink deeply, like a man about to die of thirst, for the reality of the beautiful simplicity of the moment you are in.
As Mark Twain said, “I have known many sorrows, most of which never happened.” I told myself I already have a Master’s degree in worrying. I do not need a PhD in it. All of the rest of our lives will be experienced as an endless succession of humble “nows.” The dress rehearsal and encore got cancelled. So I strive, NOW, to step bravely into the fast moving stream of the endless succession of nows.