Living in the now is a phrase bantered around a lot these days. And it sounds so good because it offers the opportunity to let go of worrying and anxiety and just be present to the space, place and moment right before you. Yes it sounds good but as many will admit, it is very hard to do.
As humans, we have huge connections to our past and are equally focused on our future and trying to get ‘there’ somehow. By the time we’re done with that, who the heck has time for the now?
Through the journey of our lives, the past plants the seeds of expectations for the future. Those expectations grow up and take root throughout our childhood as we experience the constant barrage of incoming information and situations and learn to deal with them. As children, we will often ‘water’ an expectation for the future, watch it grow and then become attached to it as the best plant in our garden of life. Doing this seems to satisfy the constant question of ‘what are you going to do when you grow up’ and gives order to a world that can feel so chaotic for a child. But the reality is that doing this in childhood defines the garden of our life journey too soon. It can prevent us from being present to ‘new seeds of the now’ that will show up along the way that we might enjoy far more.
As a counselor I see this time and again as an adult comes in seeking help in a life that isn’t working out quite like they ‘expected’. Together we’ll discover that their attachment to that expectation is the source of their angst. But knowing that doesn’t make it any easier to let go of that expectation even when they can see it isn’t working out despite all their efforts. I’ve heard stories of doubling and tripling down on making their expectation work out—decades having passed—and they still can’t let go. It’s as if the pulling that plant out of their garden will result in a ruined garden while I’m trying to show them—no, go ahead, weed it out! It will open a beautiful space for a new plant that is better suited to the garden of life you want to live in!
Recently I was working with a woman whose expectation defined how her family would all grow up and be one big happy family that lived near each other, had Sunday meals every week, took vacations together and in general be the center of her universe. She’d been attached to that expectation since she was 20! Now at 68, it hadn’t happened at all. Her daughter didn’t talk to her, her son and his family were pushing her away now that the grandkids were no longer babies and they didn’t need her for childcare. She admitted she lived for her grandchildren as the one last grasp to make her expectation of the happy family work out. She was desperately lonely and angry with everyone for ruining her expectation.
I tried to point out to her that in order for her expectations to come true it was requiring all these other people to put their own garden on hold and live in hers exclusively. They clearly were not interested in doing this and why should they. Her answer? Because her expectation was good for them! I held her feet to the fire and asked—“Why is your expectation good for them? “
“Because I’m giving so much to them!” she answered. I shook my head and said “No, you’re refusing to honor them as humans who have the right to tend their own garden of life. You think they’ll be so happy in your garden; that you’ll do everything for them and they can just enjoy it. All they have to do is just see how your expectation benefits them so much. Only it doesn’t. You sit here in my office telling me you’re so lonely because they won’t come stay in your garden! And I’m telling you that as soon as you let go of your attachment to this expectation and be happy for them to tend their own garden is when your loneliness will go. Then you can live in your garden and focus your energy on filling the space of that old expectation with living in the now. Discover new passions, make new friends, and enjoy watching your children tend their own gardens of life in whatever way they want.”
Our “past”—childhood, teenage and young adult years create the expectations for our future. When those expectations become attachments—they must happen or our life isn’t working out—we surrender living in the now. We become so busy trying to grow that expectation into fulfillment instead of seeing the beauty of the new seeds of opportunity that come from living in the present moment. We’re staring at that expectation and screaming at it to grow! The intense disappointment that comes when it doesn’t grow the way you expected goes away when you let go of the attachment and live in the now. Banish your attachment to expectations and everything becomes easier and living in the now quite possible.