Last fall, one year ago, as I was wandering home one day from my local LCBO (that just so happens to be the huge and beautiful Summerhill location), I got to thinking about gratitude and presence.
As I walked up the long sloping hill of Yonge street, between Alcorn Avenue and Balmoral, I reflected on what an amazing stroll it was, through such a pleasant and welcoming neighbourhood. Not only is the best wine-stop only an eight minute walk from my then new apartment, but there is also an abundance of fancy foodie shops, grand restaurants, superb home decor stores, and plenty of coffee houses nearby to cozy up in for tea. My hot yoga studio is around the corner, there are two grocery stores within a stone's throw, I can see the subway station from my balcony, and I can walk to my workplace in under 25 minutes!
For the first time in all my years living in Toronto, I felt 150 per cent completely and utterly happy about where I resided. Not only did I declare my adoration for the 'hood, but I really loved my new flat and all that I have furnished and designed within it. Sure, at that point, there was still a lot I could have done to make it "homier," but it was perfect as it was, and I loved it right then. I have moved a total of 13 times in my 11 years in Toronto. Consistently, I would move and then soon begin to long for something a wee bit better, bigger, cooler...I figured that "only when I have" a better flat, my life will be perfect. I had developed a bad case of the habitat "when I have's."
That day I also consciously noted that I was really into my job. Like, really. I have been plugging away at my career in TV for years, and almost from day one I was already striving to do the next thing. Once I got comfy in one role, I became unhappy, needed change, got miserable, and looked for new work. Once I nailed that perfect gig somewhere else, the cycle would begin again...get good, get sad, get resentful, leave.
Eventually I worked my way to the "top" as far as I was concerned, as a director in live TV news at the ripe old age of 27. Pretty great, right? Well it didn't take long for my high about that position to wear off either, and I quit that too.
It took my "phoenix years" rolling around in 2010 to finally snap me out of it. After dabbling in various fields outside of TV that year, and taking on only freelance and contract work for most of the year following, I finally landed the role that saved me. In September of 2011 I started a full time job that served me very well. I have spent the last year going into work with a huge smile on my face every day. Every. Single. Day. It has been pretty great. I have loved it just fine, in the moment, as that was what I had. In the moment. For the first time ever, I acknowledged the greatness that was.
Now, this is not to say that weren't a few instances when I felt a tad restless in my role as it related to my other business, MAP Wellness. I had to rein in my mind-spin more than a few times when I (in the words of my gal Gabby Bernstein) "future-tripped" about the day that I would leave TV fully and focus all of my time and energy on my true passions.
Yes, I had a few hurry-up-and-get-there thoughts creep in on me to be sure. But I resisted, held on, and knew the leaves of change would fall when they were supposed to. And, now that I have officially resigned from that role, I can honestly say that I did so not because I grew restless in it, but because I truly and authentically GREW out of it. Being present in my life really taught me what was truly important, and this time, the decision was conscious, real, and inspired. More on that to come in a later post...
I have lived for my "when I have's" for 30 years. I have been in a perpetual state of anxiety about the future. When I get those jeans, nab that boyfriend, lose those 10 pounds, learn that dance move, I will be happy...
I have always had this sinking feeling that I was waiting for something. Something to happen, something to change, something to make my life perfect. But my life IS perfect. I have a life after all, and every single second is beautiful and precious and needs to be acknowledged and given great attention.
Why am I choosing to write about this today if I have already sorted all this out? Because I haven't. As much as I try to practice detachment, as much as I sit in mindful in-the-moment meditation, and as much as I spew positive mantra after positive mantra, it can still be an ongoing battle within to truly be in the now, happily. And I also bring this to attention because it seems to be that more and more people I know appear to be getting lost in the future. Even some of the people that I once turned to for guidance in navigating this emotional ego-driven universe inside my head seem to have fallen into this trap.
So this is my reminder, to me and to you, to give up the "when I have's" and live with gratitude for what you have now, who you are in the present, and why everything you know is just fine for you here. Happiness is always available within you, it is merely a matter of perception.
Parents have the unenviable job of having to saying no to almost everything: No, we don't scream and hit and shove; no, we don't take all the toys; no, we don't eat sprinkles on our breakfast cereal. But aunties, uncles, grandparents and godparents? These eminent personages can be the beacons of yes. Not being the kids' parents, you can.
If only every day could be lived like a travel day (with access to one's own bathroom, of course) -- when you have that buzzy ability to notice the sparkling other-ness of everything. Instead, and it's probably inevitable, we start to get lazy, treating our neighborhood the way we do our spouse: barely noticing changes, even forgetting what attracted us to it in the first place from wherever it was we were before. To take best advantage of where you are right now and follow the "If it can't be done in X, then I'm in..." rule -- is where you grew up, where you used to live, where you're going to live or where you hope to never live again. As in "Green-chilie bagel? They sure don't have those in my hometown Chicago. Lay it on me." Or "Hike a mountain? Not really possible in Kansas, so... count me in." If nothing else, you'll have some great dinner-table-story material next time you're back in good old X.
Even on a date.
One of my main regrets in life is having said no to a delicacy known as "baby squid in its own ink." This happened 13 years ago, when an outrageously kind family in Spain's Basque country invited me to dine with them. I doubt I thought at all about how much work it was for them to put me up for the night, let alone to prepare the feast they offered. What I mostly remember is a vegetarian's panic at the lush array of regional delicacies. But now I know: Inviting an outsider to a family dinner is such a sweet variety of hospitality and trust. Whether it's a friend, boyfriend or people you barely know setting a place for you at the table, family dinners are always dos.
You're going to make a fool of yourself, and it doesn't matter. Ice-skating is made for the uncoordinated. There is nothing quite like that "deer skittering on the frozen pond" feeling to make you feel as if you're getting the most out of the puffy-breath, pink-cheeks season.
Going to bed early is one of the greatest luxuries there is. Because everything, repeat EVERYTHING, is going to seem better when you're well rested.
Admit it, no matter how invested you are in your "pulled myself up by my bootstraps" mythology, at some point you must have been helped out in one way or another by an older-and-wiser executive/restaurateur/teacher/artist/whatever. Maybe someone scored you your first interview, maybe she passed along a job lead, maybe she just offered you a gem of eerily relevant advice. She might not even remember it. But you do. It's possible your life wouldn't be the same without it. So yes, of course, you're too busy, but take a moment to look over a friend's niece's résumé or have lunch with someone who thinks they want the soul-sucking job you used to have.
There is something you've been saying no to for years. Only you know for sure what that is. It might be a slight matter -- a daring haircut, a second slice of pie. It might be a deeper, primordial thing -- allowing yourself to dive into a friendship with the abandon you once afforded love affairs, revisiting your religion -- but it's there somewhere, huddling between the maybes and impossibles. As Wallace Stevens wrote in his poem "The Well Dressed Man with the Beard," "After the final no there comes a yes; And on that yes the future world depends."
My grandmother taught English at a public high school -- and came home to four children to contend with. So she made it her habit to, as soon as she'd walk in the door from work but before she started making dinner for the family, go into the bathroom, lock the door and take a bath with a peanut butter sandwich and a mystery novel. This is the bath we all need in our lives. The bath has to happen before you are too tired (when instead of relaxation time, it becomes a risk-of-drowning time). The moment to oneself can be put off indefinitely, until the possibility dissolves, as it will, if you blink. It doesn't matter that you need to do a million things first. It doesn't matter if you took a shower earlier. It's not about getting clean. It's about getting calm.
Always -- you know this -- say yes to love. It is, after all, the only way to live.
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