My Workout in "The Now"

I’ve had quite a few friends who were, and still are, serious body-builders (heavy lifting, in order to get ‘definition’ or to ‘bulk up’). At one point (long ago), I trained with a friend of mine who was hoping to compete nationally. Karen did brutal short, fast repetitions with progressively heavier weights, while I (pathetically) mimicked her workout with lighter ones. I came to admire the discipline that chasing the perfect, chiseled physique requires. Not just the commitment to hours at the gym, but restrictive diets and the comprehensive mindset of the lifestyle. For me, personally, much of that lifestyle depended upon the daily (sometimes hourly) exertion of willpower, self-control, and extreme focus.

I flashed-back to “powering through” intense and exhausting workouts as I listened to – my term, hopefully not sounding too cheeky – a Wellness Guru. As it happens, one of Deepak Chopra’s daughters. The story she shared was about her in-person interview with author Eckhart Tolle (his best-known book, “The Power of Now”). Ms. Chopra shared with her audience that she’d tried for months to gain access to Tolle (despite the ‘intro’ she had, with her father and Eckhart already being friends and colleagues). But with Tolle’s schedule (and him not being very inclined to travel), it was proving almost impossible. Then one day, when she’d almost given up on the idea, the author’s assistant called:  could Ms. Chopra meet Mr. Tolle in Stockholm?

“The Power of Now” is all about controlling The Mind. From Tolle’s perspective, there is no Past and no Future; only the Present Moment exists. We’ve heard this before, but Tolle lives this ‘mental workout’, as Chopra discovered. At first, she shared, Chopra thought the author was playing a game with her. Try as she might to get him to talk about his personal and professional journey, to each question she asked about his Past, his response re-directed her to the very moment of the experience the two of them were sharing in the interview.

Chopra said that it took her awhile to get the ‘hang’ of Tolle’s process. His assistant had allocated 2 hours for the interview, but – Chopra confided during her talk – she’d spent a frustrating ninety minutes asking (the wrong type of) questions and being rebuffed. Tolle’s focus was so consistently in the Present Moment that it seemed (to Chopra) to be almost beyond belief; almost beyond human ability and understanding.

On a slow day, I might be able to clear my mind to meditate for maybe five minutes. If I’m honest, two or three minutes are spent ‘working’ at it, which I know is not the point. On a more typical day, my tendency to plan, structure and execute whatever’s on my To-Do list seems like a much better use of my time. Often, I catch myself either Troubleshooting, via Past recall, or trying to peer-into the Future, struggling to anticipate any and all scenarios.

For the novice trying to focus on The Now, Tolle suggests a thought experiment:  Try to pinpoint where one thought ends, and the next one begins (perhaps while looking at a painting, or a flower – something simple). This space between thoughts Tolle calls The Gap. I’m paraphrasing from his book:  “When you find it, step into it and see how long you can stay there without the next conscious thought pushing you out of the Gap.”

I’ve been practicing this ‘In the Now’ exercise for awhile now; stretching my time in The Gap feels like testing already-sore mental muscles. But when I do get there (in the Gap), it’s the most amazing sense of calm imaginable; it’s just really hard to sustain. One thing I have learned through this discipline is just how strong my preoccupation with Yesterday and Tomorrow is. I have imaginary ‘arguments’ with Tolle:  “How can I possibly plan what I want for my Life without a review of my Past, and without fantasizing over my vision and hopes for my Future?”

I can still recall the day I officially gave a ‘hard pass’ to the competitive body-building workout. A friend and I went downtown, to the old-school Carnation Soda Fountain. I ordered the most decadent item on the menu:  a triple-chocolate sundae. These days, I’ve accepted the fact that whatever feels like a ‘workout’ to me probably isn’t going to work out for me, in the long run. I’ll continue trying to coax my ever-busy mind into The Gap whenever I can remind myself to. But I’m finding that balance is much more fun than perfection.

Being "Set"

I try not to consciously compare myself to others in my age group – in any major category of ‘status’ (health and well-being, financial stability, the successes of our children out in the world). But sometimes the differences smack me in the face, urging me to take a look at The Good Stuff in my life. If anyone ever asked me, I’d share that my achievements feel somewhat random and accidental:  I’ve made some big blunders along the way, and am grateful that I didn’t do more damage to myself or those I love.

Talking recently with a friend (who also lives across the street from me), added to my sense of gratitude. And wonderment. A “There, but for the grace of God” moment. We don’t know each other that well, but more than just superficially. His cancer-scare. The current downward spiral of two of his adult children. The recent death of his father – a pillar in his world, now ashes in an urn on the mantle. Over time, I’ve discovered that my friend’s outward appearance of Success (a beautiful house; a cabin in the mountains; a wide array of vehicles; four- now adult- children that had apparently never given him much concern growing up) is only a small part of his Story.

We’ve all heard and read about Glass Half Full, and Glass Half Empty people. Even though Pop-Psych tends to rely on super-simplistic ways of organizing complex human stories, sometimes it does ‘nail’ it. What I recently learned, however, is that the human heart can actually talk itself into either perspective. So, my friend/neighbor (calling him Dan, here) and I were discussing the stage in life – so adverts, articles and even greeting cards would have us believe – where ‘carefree living’ is finally accessible. I call it, being “set”. Money in the bank; work that you love; vacay when you choose; a comfortable home space; and of course, health and well-being.

But the unspoken truth is that being “set” is really more about the heart than the head. You might think that you have all of the trappings of it, but then something or someone ‘tanks’ your happiness in a way that causes a re-think. So it was, with Dan. It wasn’t his own personal situation gone awry, but the decisions and actions of one of his adult children that suddenly put Dan into a tailspin. When he put his angst into words, it came out like this:  “This isn’t how it’s supposed to go! At this stage of Life, my children are supposed to be a comfort, not a worry!” (I couldn’t help but think – Wow:  did I miss the Memo guaranteeing ‘Golden Years’?)

Turns out, Dan’s 30-something son appeared to be “set”, then did a 180 and nose-dived into personal and financial crisis. The (married, with children) son had boomeranged back home, needing all sorts of emotional and material care. Dan stepped-up, as he felt he needed to do as Papa, and took-charge. But then, once he’d taken charge, he resented having his Peace obliterated by an adult who had the emotional power to pluck heart strings.

Trying not to feel smug – that always provokes a humbling ‘poke’ from The Universe – I listened to a perspective (Dan’s) that reinforced what I’ve learned along the way. Being “set” isn’t what media, especially social media, would have us think it is. It’s like the difference between ‘doing’ and ‘feeling’:  the former producing something; the latter being fluid and kind of ephemeral. Turns out, whatever feels like it should be ‘in stone’ seldom is. Careers, love affairs, seemingly ‘successful’ (whatever that means) adult children, friendships; and, stages in life that we’re led to believe will be ‘carefree’.

Over this past weekend I traveled to California’s beautiful Central Coast and watched – for a long while – the surfers enjoying what appeared to be very decent waves. Wet-suited (our Pacific being notoriously cold), tenacious (no matter how many times they were tossed under Winter’s gray-blue waves they popped up like corks) and exuberant as they deftly (and not so deftly) tried to stay poised and balanced for The Best Ride.

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