In the summer of 2009, while climbing Africa’s highest mountain, I learned a valuable life lesson: Don’t think about trying to reach the summit ahead. Just think about putting that left foot, in this moment, in front of your right foot. “Can you do that?” I’d ask myself. “Yes. I can,” I’d reply. “Then just do that for now,” I’d say. That’s how I eventually got myself to the summit, 5,895 metres above sea level (with A LOT of encouragement from the very kind people in our group).
Somewhere along the line, I seem to have forgotten that valuable lesson of being in the moment and not worrying about what lies far ahead.
My 30s were a really difficult time in my life, with lots of personal and career turmoil. I became determined to change things and, as what I thought was the ultimate result, I became a wise woman sometime in my 40s. I thought I had figured things out. I knew what needed to be done to get myself out of a bad place and into a good one. I had learned so many valuable lessons. I could even pass those lessons onto others.
Where that all went by the time I reached the end of my 40s I have absolutely no idea. I seem to have regressed an infinite amount of regression. I’m back to living in turmoil, not really because my personal or career lives have any issues in them. They are both very stable at the moment. But in my head, a tornado is happening. A huge, earth-shattering, ear-splitting tornado.
I know, I know. Go see a therapist. I have. It’s really helped. And I think I sort of understand what’s been happening.
In my place of infinite wisdom sometime around my mid-40s, in that place of peace and calm and serenity, I was focusing on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. I was focusing on keeping myself out of whatever I thought had unhealthy implications on me. But in that place of utter focus and determinedness that I was in, I moved towards a state of almost-obsessiveness that activated severe levels of anxiety that I thought I had taken control over.
I also never really and properly dealt with a lifetime of issues, the kind that most people have. They had all been tucked away in organized boxes. Everything was nice and tidy. That is, until all hell broke loose when they were suddenly released.
My anxiety worsened a few months after I did my Ironman. My therapist thinks that the focus I needed to do an Ironman meant that my mind turned off a lot of the issues that needed to be dealt with. Once the training was done and I didn’t have to or want to have that same level of focus, an internal release was switched on.
And so thoughts swirl round and round in my head. Thoughts, worries, fears…round and round and round. Among them, I’ll find myself waking up in the morning and I’m immediately creating depressing and anxious lists in my head of all the things I NEED to do before the day is over. It’s not a good way to start a day. It feels like I have a million gray hairs standing on end on my head, as if some sort of static interference has taken over, my brain is on high alert, and my stomach is churning and ready to throw up all of its contents at a moment’s notice.
It’s not a nice feeling.
I’ve been working on making it go away.
To do that, I’ve started remembering my Kilimanjaro lessons: polé, polé. Slowly, slowly. One step at a time. One thing at a time. Nothing is worth this much anxiety. Who cares if such and such doesn’t get done? Who cares if so and so is an idiot? What difference does it make that a writer sends you text that is justified and not left-aligned? Ok. That last one doesn’t make me anxious. I just think writers that do that are stupid. Just so you all know, the first thing I do when I receive text like that is left-align it. So there!
I’m working very hard to go back to living in the moment and not worrying about the task that needs to get done tomorrow. I’m working very hard to focus on doing what I actually can do to make life better rather than focusing on the things that I can’t. I’m working really hard on figuring out where my real priorities lie and giving them more of my time.
Living in the moment seems to be key. Right now, can I sit down and get this article written? Yes. Then do that. No? Then it’s all right. Give myself a pat on the back, sit on the chair next to the window, and try to figure out what’s really making me feel this way.
Today, I’m mostly chuckling at myself for thinking I had reached a stage of ultimate wisdom in my 40s. Today, I realize I know nothing; I don’t have a clue. There’s an odd comfort, though, in realizing how purely ignorant one is. Not that ignorance is a good thing. But acknowledging it is, I think. I have had a good education. I’m not talking about that kind of ignorance. I’m talking about big life issues kind of ignorance. Why are we the way that we are? Why do we act the way we do? Why do people justify text when we all know it looks stupid? Who are we? Where have we come from? Where are we going? How did we get here? What happens when we’re gone? Why do the kids never believe anything I tell them? That sort of stuff. There’s a comfort in realizing that I don’t have the answers and actually never will.
Why am I writing this? I can’t remember.
It felt appropriate.
This is probably making me sound more messed up than I actually feel!
This post is about living in the moment and not rushing to get my work done. It’s about sitting in the chair next to the window with my warm mint tea and writing something nonsensical. It’s about finding my zen. I’m not there. That doesn’t matter. Life is still good.
I relate to your goals. I have a good life also, a loving husband, friends, family and health. But, my good life includes difficult passages. I recently lost my dear, dear Father and the pain is excruciating! I know that life continues and I am, as you write, taking each day as it comes, step-by-step, to cherish what is around me. I practiced this with my Father every day that I saw him. I lived the moments with him, hugged him so tight that he would say, “OK, that’s enough”. I told him I loved him and will never forget him.
Your story reinforces that perspective for me and is good to read about someone feeling the same.
Has I approach 60 years on this earth the best lesson I follow is stop trying to work things out, just let them be what they are. Just thoughts and emotions, like all things they pass. So be with your mint tea, enjoy the moment.
That sounds like an excellent piece of advice, George. Thanks. I’ll try doing that.