We went to Galveston beach this week. It was my kids’ first time seeing and playing in the ocean. I felt fully prepared with all the essential S’s. You know: sunscreen, swim vests, sand toys, and snacks. However, having never taken them to the ocean, I admit to being apprehensive about how they would behave. Mostly I was curious whether they’d be afraid at all of the water, especially our 3 year old. We’d even talked about how dangerous the current can be, the importance of staying close to Mommy, and not running off or going more than knee-deep into the water. I knew I’d have other members of our family with eyes on them, but still as their mom, I told myself over and over that I should remain vigilant.
To say these kids enjoyed their first trip to the beach would be a vast understatement. The 3 year old was rolling around in the water and as the waves crashed into him, he’d just wipe his little face, stand back up, and say “Again! Again!” Over and over for hours this went on. It struck me how naturally present children are, and what we can learn from them about the joy that being open to each new experience can bring.
Obviously kids aren’t burdened with grown up stuff like jobs, health woes or mortgages. But I’ve not found worrying to be a productive past-time despite endless attempts on my part to prove otherwise. Of course, we have to think of the future in order to make plans, take action, and keep moving forward, but how tempting it is to weigh ourselves down with doubt, worry, and hundreds of possible outcomes. We sometimes become attached to the outcome we want the most and obsess over it in our minds until any deviation leads to certain disappointment and even devastation. In the meantime, we’ve also lost focus on what (or who) is right in front of us. We call this being distracted.
Earlier this week, I attended a presentation on the dangers of driving while distracted (DWD). A recent study showed we are 4 times more likely to be involved in a car accident than we are for someone driving under the influence of alcohol, yet it is not yet illegal (neither is using a waffle iron while you drive by the way – would you do that??). I also learned that there are 3 types of distraction: manual, visual, and cognitive. A manual example is taking your hands off the wheel to fiddle with the radio dial; visual would be actually looking at the radio dial; cognitive would be thinking about what song you want to hear instead of what’s ahead of you on the road. (By the way, texting is an activity that overlaps all 3 types of distraction. Don’t give in to the temptation!) I had my own lesson with cognitive distraction (now known in our house as “the garage incident”) so I know first hand what the speaker described. (This concludes the DWD PSA.)
Other than the obvious dangers of driving while distracted, there are also many other less obvious dangers of cognitive distraction that threaten our happiness and well-being everyday. Sometimes it’s as simple as thinking about an earlier conversation we were having or what we want for lunch, and we miss an opportunity of some kind. Something we would have liked to do or more often an opportunity to be the fullest expression of ourselves with another human being. In the past, I have been so distracted with things I needed to follow up on at work and conversations I needed to have, that I would be completely distracted from being with my family in the evenings or on weekends. There was a time, when I was working loads of overtime and completely heart-broken about missing out on things at home. Yet when I was physically home, my energetic presence was elsewhere. Ironically, I told myself that I was “multi-tasking” and getting more accomplished. I was making it work, making it all fit. But the truth is, each task was only getting part of my mental energy and my loved ones were very often getting a fraction of me. All those opportunities for me to get home and truly be home with my kids. To relax and recharge rather than incessantly worrying about something or someone else.
I’m reminded of Dory from Finding Nemo, the fish with short-term memory loss who is blissfully ignorant to the past, completely free of guilt and regret, and consistently jovial. “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.” Now I don’t aspire to be Dory, (frankly she really annoyed Marlin in the beginning) but I do appreciate the lesson: Breathe in, handle this moment, focus on just this person or task, and then move to the next.
Most kids are blissfully opportunistic. They see what is right in front of them and jump in with reckless abandon. Either in word or deed, they say yes to the moment without knowing the outcome. The fact is none of us know what the outcome will be, but taking a page from a child’s book and being present to what is here now without worry of tomorrow or going over the past is a surefire way to bring more joy into today.
All we ever have is right now, this present moment; it just keeps moving along with us from one moment to the next. The more I practice holding my focus on what’s right in front of me in my daily life, the more effective I am, the more radiant I become, and the more joyful I feel. Find ways to bring this practice into your own life, and you just might too find yourself waking up each morning saying “Again! Again!”