Spring is arriving. It’s a cliche but true - with the budding of the trees and the blooming of the flowers, there comes an energy of excitement and opportunity. I know I’m grateful for this sense of possibility.
Yet, I find myself also wrestling with the attendant feelings of excitement. My ambivalence is maybe less cliche?
Caught up in the energy of the natural world coming to life around me, I am also eagerly anticipating all the ways my own life might blossom and grow. Exciting for sure. And, I’m also slowly realizing that as I press forward, imagining the next moment of possibility, I’m less present and grounded in my current life.
Sharon Salzberg wrote, “If we walked around all the time with our bodies leaning forward, can you imagine the kind of aching we would experience? Our backs, our necks, our legs would really hurt. In just the same way, our hearts really hurt because we are thrust forward all of the time, in wanting, in seeking, in leaning into things...”
Before this realization crept into my consciousness, I was searching online for different opportunities where I might transform myself this spring. Maybe a meditation retreat? Maybe another training or course? During my searching, I came across a beautiful website showing pictures of rolling hills and wildflowers, promising personal growth and transformative programs, showcasing nourishing meals served at charmingly elegant tables. “Jackpot,” I thought!
As I scrolled through the website, I came to a photo of someone sitting in meditation next to a green highway sign. You know - the kind of sign that tells you how many miles until the next rest stop. In this picture, the highway sign had been altered to say: “Breathe. You have arrived.”
“Yes!” I thought. ”I want to arrive there.”
While I had that wish to go there, I felt a twinge of discomfort. The urge to go elsewhere was counter to what I’ve been trying to practice in my daily life – to be here. To be with what is, in the present moment.
I’ve been trying to absorb and practice Buddhist teachings on suffering and the end of suffering. (Thanks Lodro Rinzler, Sharon Salzberg and so many others.) Buddhism teaches that we suffer because we are attached to the idea that things should be different than they are. We think – or at least, this rings true for me: “I’ll be happy when [fill in the blank: I lose 10 pounds, I get a new job, it’s the weekend, etc. etc.] The thing is that once we get this thing that we’ve been seeking - we lose the weight, we get the job, it IS the weekend - we might be happy for a little bit. And, then we pretty quickly move to wanting the next thing.
When we are in the habit of looking around us for the next thing that will make us happy, we never arrive. There is always something, just around the corner, that we are heading towards. The grasping for that thing that is always just out of reach - that causes us suffering.
Thich Nhat Hahn said: “We are very good at preparing to live, but not very good at living. We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma, and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house, and so on. But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.”
Thinking about the highway sign (“Breathe. You have arrived.”), I thought of the vacation my family took this past February. It was a “big” vacation - a total treat. We went skiing in Utah with friends. We had arrived. One of the things that I cherished most on that vacation was waking up in the morning, sitting on the couch and slowly drinking my coffee while chatting with friends and family. Some pieces of this cherished time are specific to vacation - like living without the rush of somewhere to be in the morning, in a condo with friends. But, some pieces - like savoring a cup of coffee - are really not specific to vacation at all. Why do I wait for vacation to savor my coffee? Why do I wait for vacation to “breathe and arrive” in the precious moments of the morning?
I’ve decided I don’t have to wait to arrive. While the website that I found - with pictures of rolling hills and promises of transformation - did look dreamy, I decided to hang up my own green highway sign next to my coffee pot. You know what it says? Yep. “Breathe. You have arrived.” I cannot recreate all aspects of vacation. But I can arrive in the present moment and enjoy the warmth and aroma of coffee in the morning. I can chat with my family and savor the moments when my kids are still home. I can attempt to breathe and arrive into my life as it unfolds around me.
I am trying to hold that same sign in mind as I go throughout my day. Sending emails: “Breath. You have arrived.” Picking up my dog’s poop: “Breathe. You have arrived.” Tucking my kids in at night: “Breathe. You have arrived.” Brushing my teeth: “Breathe. You have arrived.”
My wish for you, for myself, and all beings is that we are all able to arrive in each moment of our lives.
“Breathe. You have arrived.”