Thursday, September 2, 2010

Future Me And All Her Wiley Ways

 I have had a life-long love affair with oatmeal.  Over the years I have found myself imagining the perfect bowl: the creamy color, the maple syrup pooling around the edges, the fresh fruit piled up on top, perhaps a sprinkling of toasted walnuts, and the steam rising and curling in wisps from the beautiful breakfast. This vision is enough to send me to the store right then.  I gather the ingredients, prepare this artful masterpiece, and sit down to enjoy. Trembling with anticipation I take the first mouthful and remember, once again, that I hate oatmeal.  I’m not a fan of its pasty texture, and its need to be saturated in more sugary stuff than I would normally consume in a week.
Nonetheless, this scenario has occurred a lot of times.  The reason for this is because somewhere along the way I got it in my head that eating oatmeal is in line with the habits of the “Future Me”

Allow me introduce you:
Future Me gets up early, does yoga, makes a cup of herbal tea and gets ready to tuck in to a big bowl of healthy oatmeal.  She reads the paper while she eats and waits in joyful anticipation for her children to arise.  Future Me is patient and orderly.  She wears long earnings and those sweaters with the big loose neck.  (The sweater is probably knitted by her cool friends who spin yarn from their alpacas).  She is lithe with the kind of body for whom jeans will rest hoop-like around her waist.  She has wild black curly hair that is cut just at her chin and makes a neat wedge shape. Future Me is so calm and collected that you never quite know what she’s thinking, but it must be nice because she’s always got a subtle contented smile on her face.  She lives in my head. She has a funky loft up there. She’s always having people over for cake, or hosting garden dinner parties.  She has been with me for as long as I can remember and has made something of a pastime out of stealing my life right form under my nose. 
 Future Me holds all my “if/then's,” she holds all my “should be's.” If I could keep up my own yoga practice, then I would be more patient with the girls....I should be less boisterous, less emotional....If I were thinner then I could accept my body as it is...I should be taking more time to collect myself in the morning....If I had friends who had alpacas then they would make me cool sweaters with big floppy turtle necks...
 We all have some form of a future me, or a future life, or a future place.  Somewhere that’s better than where we are now.  A life that has a little bit more money, a house that is a little bit cleaner, newer, bigger.  A body that’s thinner, more attractive, more muscular, healthier.  A life out there where we can accept ourselves, enjoy ourselves, and appreciate our experiences.  These are all powerful imaginations that, while at times can be motivating for needed change, result more often in us simply missing the life we actually have. How much money do we need to finally be “safe” and satisfied?  How much thinner or stronger must we get before we can love ourselves?  How clean do our homes have to be before we sit and read to ourselves or to our children?  How long are we willing to live in a future when the life we have slips away? 
The idea of living in the moment is certainly nothing new. Masters and profits have been banging on this drum for many thousands of years now. This idea isn't even new to me, in my short life I've come across the suggestion a whole bunch of times. I kind of get it...but not really. I mean, I understand that this moment, this one now, is the only one that is actually happening and the past and future live in my head in their respective lofts. I understand with my head that I should be fully immersed in this moment, but I don't understand exactly how to do it.

 Guess she wanted to be alone.
Actually, the truth is, I thought I was doing a pretty good job of it most of the time. Then I had kids. Having children throws so much of our strengths and shortcomings into sharp relief, doesn't it? Well, I realized that while I was envisioning the family life and childhood I wanted them to have, they were occupying themselves while I cleaned the house to get ready for it. Unfortunately, my kids won't be able to enjoy the childhood I have imagined for them.  It really is too bad, because it’s quite idyllic.  They, instead, will have the memories of the childhood they actually had. For instance, even though I want them to cook dinner with me, and imagine that this would be a great experience for all of us, they will remember watching Dora the Explorer while I barricade myself in the kitchen and beg them to give me a minute. Realizing that I can't take them with me into my mind where I'm living with Future Me most of the time, is helping me to see that I'm not really living that future life either, just imaging it while my body goes through the motions on auto pilot. Basically, while I'm living this other life, the one where I wear long earnings and have a clean house, the life I do have gets done without me.
  I want to tell you it's not usually like this...
But, it seems that no matter how much I know this, no matter how many works of philosophy and guidance I read, no matter how many positive reminders I have taped above the light switches of my home, I retreat into my mind where better things are happening. Even when I realize a particular trap, a new one springs up and it takes me a while to realize it's the same trap. Really there's no difference between an if/then and a when/then. But these futures are powerful.  We have it together there and we look great, it’s hard not to get sucked into this fairytale. My future self is so powerful that she has enticed me to repeatedly subject myself to oatmeal.  I imagine if I can imitate certain aspects of this future life I can somehow attain the wholeness of the vision.  Like I can alter my personality, body type and hair at all let alone with a bowl of oatmeal and a 5 am yoga session.  Even it if were possible, how much oatmeal would I have to eat to make me a quiet, contentedly smiling waif with curly hair?! 
I think it would take a lot of oatmeal.
The point isn’t weather or not we can transform our lives to fit the visions we may have for the future, the point is weather or not we can love and live the life we’re really in. The one where we go to a job maybe we don’t like, or have a home we can’t keep tidy, or occasionally loose our patience with those we love.  A life where our body doesn’t fit our ideal or it’s raining or too hot outside.  We may not like it all the time, but it has something over Future Me’s life and that is the fact that it’s real.  You can smell it, taste it and touch it in all its imperfect glory. The present is all we have, denying it is a form of self torture.  I think the cruelest thing I’ve done to myself in my quest to become Future Me has been to totally disregard who I actually am and the life I have.  I mean, future me wouldn’t want me to treat myself that way. She’s probably a Buddhist who meditates for at least an hour everyday (perfectly) and can extend infinite compassion all around herself. I, on the other hand, have subjected myself to all kinds of self torment and it hasn’t all been as benign as a bowl of oatmeal.
About a year or so ago I was grappling with some unhealthy patterns I had been holding onto for a good chunk of my life.  These were scary things to leave behind because leaving them meant something new, and I wasn’t sure what that newness would bring.  It has often been said that people will choose the prison they know over the freedom they don’t know.  Not only was I scared to leave these things behind, but I felt I was mentally and emotionally incapable of doing so.  Needless to say, Future Me didn’t have these problems.  So in typical fashion, I tried to tough love myself over it.  I should be free of these patterns.  If I didn’t behave this way or that my life would be better, etc.   I constantly worried and berated myself, and this went on for a long time, I’m talking years here, and despite my best efforts, I didn’t seem to be able to empower myself this way.  A close friend suggested to me that I just accept that I couldn’t do it now, but know that someday I would.  She said, “Just say to yourself: These patterns are not healthy for me and I would like to be rid of them but right now I don’t have the strength, resources or power to do it.”  I have to admit, that seemed totally lame to me.  Admitting that I couldn’t do it was the same as deciding not to do anything about it, right?
I had failed to see that what my friend was suggesting wasn’t permission, it was simply fact.  The fact was I needed to leave some junk behind and I couldn’t.  That was clear because I hadn’t yet left my junk behind.  So I gave it a shot.  What the heck.  I had been trying this other…let’s call it a technique…for years, why not the wacky idea of accepting reality.  I began to assure myself that when I was ready, I would change.  Let me tell you how much less energy this takes than worrying and berating--a lot less. And then….magically, within months I suddenly had the strength, resources and power to make the changes I needed. 
 I had a moment at the beginning of this new approach where I saw my past self: crippled, scared, and stunted.  And I saw this other lady: me.  She was the real actually possible future me.  No curly hair or quite smile.  Just the me I would be without these other pieces holding me back.  In this moment I was neither of these ladies completely. I was a person holding aspects of my past and the possibility of a different future.  As I stood in my kitchen and watched these two women: one sitting on the stool, hunched over and fearful; the other standing, and watching the other with love and understanding, I could see the value, in a very tangible way, of simply making a small choice in the moment to choose my better self. It was so real and so powerful that I simply stepped between these two visions and chose: this one.
That's all a Future Me is, right? A better self we imagine and wish to be. But then, cleverly, give them a totally different body than we ourselves possess, we outfit them, furnish a home in our heads and put them in the future, where they can remain out of reach while we muddle through our lives wishing we were elsewhere

In my imaginary out of body experience, my better self was right there. She wasn't out of reach; she wasn't dressed in funky clothes that don't exist in my own closet. She didn't have friends with alpacas. She was just me with a different choice in her heart.
 'Cause really, nothing but a baby sits jauntily on these hips. 
This is where living in the moment becomes a little more accessible for me. A life where I'm living in the moment is too hard to imagine, and it goes straight into Future Me's domain bogged down with contingencies like a clean house, more time and a different body. However, a moment where I choose my better self is a little easier to imagine. But I try not imagining it, because that means I'm looking into a future moment and not making the choice for this one here.
 There is a passage in the Tao Te Ching that reads:

I have just three things to teach:
simplicity, patience, compassion.
These three are your greatest treasures.
Simple in actions and in thoughts,
you return to the source of being.
Patient with both friends and enemies,
you accord with the way things are.
Compassionate toward yourself,
you reconcile all beings in the world.
 Accepting things as they are is an incredible act of compassion.  I would go so far as to say that it’s a radical act of love.  When we are free from the illusion that we can change the present by wishing it were the future, we can make even the most disagreeable present bearable.  Our simple, patient, compassion toward the reality of “what is” makes it so.  When we have accepted that what is happening is happening and we’re here with it, there’s no room for wishing it were different, or berating ourselves.  We have chosen our life over our mind’s idea of our life.  Our breathing life, The life those we love actually participate in. That life where we feel the sun and rain, the life where we taste the garden’s goods, only happens in the present.  Forsaking the present for an imagined future leaves us almost literally life-less. 
I don’t know how to balance this present living with the need to have a retirement fund for the future.  I don’t know how to effect change in my life long term without loosing the moment. (Any pointers on this would be welcome).  But I do know about a choice in a moment to choose my better self.  With this choice on the tip of my heart, I can see the difference between a moment that is being given to the future and one that is being lived.  The moment that’s being lived has sound, I can feel it with my hands, and its color is brilliant.  Zen masters and Yogis seem to be constantly bringing us back to the breath.  Breathing happens in the moment, so it’s a handy reminder.  But so do the tiny sounds, smells and sights of life.  Can you hear birds and car horns, the sound of the wind, the argument your kids are having?  Can you see the individual leaves of a tree, your spouse’s smile, or your check engine light?  Can you feel the mail in your hand when you bring it in from the mail box?  Then more than likely you’re not imagining it.  And when you are actually there it is magnificent, isn’t it?

1 comment:

  1. Very well said. I think you hit the nail on the head with this post. We all have a "future me" we are trying to live for. Living in the moment take awareness of the moment and sometimes we are to busy to even be aware of what is going on around us. Hence why, in Boston today I wanted to keep it "real" and join the kids in their every moments (like playing on railings ;)
    We all need a little reminder sometimes to breath and slow down. I live by the quote "stop and smell the roses!"