A "Happy Attention" Installment
It's inevitable. It happens every summer.
The first week of summer vacation passes by in a glorious haze. My mind is so relieved to be free from the stress of the school year, and I drift through those first seven days with a blissful ignorance of time, to-do lists, and accomplishments. I just...am.
Then, unavoidably, I start keeping stock. I start analyzing what I'm doing with my day and annoying, aggravating questions pop into my brain:
What important things are you going to get done today?
Why have you spent so much time inside on the computer?
Why did you waste 48 minutes playing Candy Crush?
Why did you sleep until 10? The day's almost over!
Why aren't you cooking more and why do the employees of Get Go know your name and lunch order?!?
This summer was supposed to be a relaxing summer for me, yet I begin to find my own mind betraying my desires. A tight, nervous feeling crept into my stomach. Why was I worrying so much about what I was getting done?
I spent nearly three hours on the computer this morning, writing a few articles and performing a bit of site maintenance on the blog. I had only intended to write for an hour, maybe two, but when I saw the clock tick past noon, my gut dropped. Had I really just spent almost half of the morning sitting in my room, typing on my computer? Is this what my summer would be reduced to? Hours wiled away mindlessly, with so much still on my plate to do that day. I had to clean. I had to do laundry. I had to get ready for vacation. I had to make something of my free time before the school bell rings in August.
I jetted off to lunch with the pit in my stomach worsening. Why was I being so hard on myself? I was supposed to take it easy this summer, but instead I found my inner critic berating my perceived idleness. Why do I find it so hard to relax? Why do I always have to feel bad for doing absolutely nothing?
I'm beginning to realize more and more that I've relied on self-imposed fear to provide intrinsic motivation for most of my life. In high school, I was afraid to fail because I knew I would be made fun of (I was also afraid to succeed because the same thing would happen, but that's another blog post for another day). I have this internal gauge which goes off the rails whenever I think I'm being lazy/sub-par/a failure, and it never lets me rest. As a secondary result, it also means that I'm taking out of the moment quite often, constantly thinking about the past or the future.
I returned home with this train of thought and retreated to my backyard. I needed to do something to get my mind off, well, my own mind. I picked up a book on running and meditation and stole a spot in the shade of a large tree. As I lay there on a yoga mat, my eyes desperately trying to get in the rhythm of reading, I glanced up through the branches of the tree, the sunlight filtering through onto my face. It was then when everything in my mind went quiet.
I'm not sure if my internal quiet was triggered by something I read in my book...or if it was the sunlight bleeding through the trees...or if it was the pollen gently floating along on the breeze in the sky...but I suddenly wasn't thinking about what I was going to do in 5 minutes, in the next hour, within the next day, or the next week. As Matilda says in the Broadway musical, everything was just..."quiet."
I chuckled, involuntarily. Here I was, laying underneath a tree in the cold grass with my dog at my side, and I found momentary bliss watching the pollen bundles trip through the air. It was silly. It was simple. It was honest.
I know it sounds hard to believe, but the rest of the afternoon, I was extremely calm and peaceful. I wasn't thinking about what tasks I would check off my list or what summer milestones I should reach by dinnertime. I just became suddenly invested in my reading...in my lounging...heck, even in my tanning. I paid attention to the matter at hand, even if it was only watching my dog find a cool spot to lie on the grass besides me.
Today served as a powerful reminder of the power of now. There will always be things to occupy your attention in the future, but there is a marked difference between planning and worrying. Worrying does nothing but to occupy your precious present, and that's extremely fleeting.
The next time I start to worry and anxiety sneaks up behind me, I'm going to take a cue from today and steal a few minutes under my tree, reminding myself to sit back and watch the pollen fly.
And if it's winter, then I'll revel in the snowflakes.
Kate is the owner of 'See, Here's the Thing' (seeheresthething.com), a blog where pop culture and humor collides. She is also the co-host of its supplemental podcast, 'See, Here's the Podcast' (seeheresthepodcast.podomatic.com). Kate enjoys running, biking, and traveling. She will see Italy for the second time this summer, and plans to drink a lot more wine than the first time.