It’s easy to lose focus in the midst of a busy life. We forget what we were doing, we lose track of what we want, and we rarely stop long enough to remember what we need. And yet, paying attention is really all there is. Without it, we’re just going through the motions, most likely detached from ourselves. At best, our wagons are hitched to some faraway star we dreamed of years ago. Most of us haven’t even checked lately to see if that’s still what we really want.
When we’re young, if we’re lucky, time is our greatest resource. If we’re really lucky, we’re aware of that fact, but the treasure of time doesn’t usually strike us until it is much more limited. In what feels like the infinite hours of our youth, we imagine lives that are rich with lovely people, amazing adventures, and bountiful fulfillment. If I just do the work, we think to ourselves, all of that will be possible. And in so many ways, this is the truth of life. We work at everything—our jobs, our relationships, our finances, and even our hobbies—all for that lovely prize of happiness and contentment.
If I had it to do over ... I’d do less, I’d do it more slowly, and I’d keep my eyes open for every sunrise and every random autumn leaf.
Most of us are aware enough to know that we’re supposed to be stopping to smell the roses along the way, but many times this becomes just another goal to attempt. Our lengthy to-do lists now include things like “Take a Break,” “Relax,” “Meditate,” or “Do Something Fun.” I think we truly believe that once we get through this or that, there will be an open meadow with a hammock and a good book, and we’ll finally get to enjoy what we’ve achieved.
One of the most surprising aspects of being in my late 60s is the profound feeling of time flying by. At this age, we’re smart enough to know that we can’t redo the past, but there doesn’t seem like nearly enough hours to experience everything we’ve dreamed of in our lives. One of my strongest feelings is being overwhelmed by all I want to do even still. At the same time, I don’t want to just continue to overschedule as I did for so many years before this. If I had it all to do over again, I’d try to learn early on that more is not better. I’d do less, I’d do it more slowly, and I’d keep my eyes open for every sunrise and every random autumn leaf. I’d save gobs of money so I felt freer now to go where I want to go when ever I want to go. And more than anything, I’d make it my true goal to be where I am at the moment.
As with so many discoveries I’m making at this end of life, it’s not too late to start a new habit. But it’s so out of character for me to do less and notice more that I have to retrain myself several times an hour. In the process, though, I’m discovering the power of being here now. It turns out there is no better antidote for anxiety or depression than to look up and see what’s here—to get lost in what is right in front of me. And, at this point in my life, when I’m eager to learn new things, practicing this skill is right in my wheelhouse.
It doesn’t hurt that all of the life that is occurring at this moment is richer and more real than anything I could possibly dream up in some reverie about what I’d rather be doing. I love the grounding feeling I get when I look out the window in the morning to see the pink light coming up over my neighbor’s house. It used to remind me immediately that I needed to get outside to run so I wouldn’t be late to work. These days, it makes me feel grateful to live where I live. And even if I do need to run and then head out for some job or task, it's such a good practice to start my day with a slower brain. A good goal, whether it's on my to-do list or not.