Monday, August 13, 2012

Gratitude

Midnight. New York City. Lying in a sleeping bag on a cot in the American Museum of Natural History,  staring up at  amorphous images that float across the ceiling panels 150 feet above my head. Next to me, my boys sleep in their sleeping bags, happily exhausted. It was a great moment. A great evening.  And I was grateful for it.

The somewhat fuzzy view of sleeping quarters
 from the top of the stairs.
That's not unusual. I often feel grateful for all the opportunities we have. But there was something different in how I processed this gratitude the other night. I started out thinking as I often do about how lucky we were are to be able to do these things; but I changed that thought. What I was really grateful for wasn't just the opportunity to do events like this. It was for this particular thing. This sleepover at the museum. 

This night

This moment.

There's a huge difference -- at least for me. 

I have a friend who I always felt did things - travelled, had adventures, lived life as if he was building a giant list of events that he could check off when he completed them. Been there. Done that. 

It's not that the adventures weren't worth having -- just the opposite, they were cool, and full of fun, but the purpose of the adventure shouldn't be simply to have done it. You can't live a moment with the express intent of creating a memory of it. 

To me, that's the difference between living in the present and living in the future.  And it comes back to gratitude. To say, I'm so grateful that I get to do these things, there's the implicit expectation of future things to come --  for events, moments that I expect will continue. That's laden with problems. It speeds up the moment, rushes it to completion instead of inviting it to linger.  It shifts the focus from the present to the future. If living in the past can fill you with regret and longing, living in the future can only fill you with anxiety and pressure.

If I can let go of the expectations of the future, I can abandon the anxiety that comes with it. I can trust that living in the present will be both its own reward, and the foundation for a good future. 

As I lay on the cot at the museum, I wasn't sleeping, but I wasn't stressed about the lack of sleep. I wasn't doing what I would typically do -- which is think, "I need to get to sleep now so I can get 7 hours of sleep. Okay. Really need to sleep NOW so I get 6 hours of sleep." 

Instead, as I listened to the sounds of the room, I focused on how cool this particular moment was. I let go of the anxiety of getting enough sleep. If I was awake all night, I thought, so what. I would get to spend the entire night lying under a giant suspended whale, and staring at the cool shapes transform themselves, all the while knowing that my boys were happily sleeping while having "the best birthday ever." 

It was a good moment.  A great moment. And that was more than enough.