A big event occurs. You graduate from high school or college, you win the lottery, get married, and what do you expect next from your life? You imagine the joy of seeing the winning numbers going on forever. You imagine the ceremony, the parties, the honeymoon. But after the celebrating, what then? Do you imagine cleaning the house? Taking out the trash?
We expect the world would be changed or we would be changed. That the quality of our experience of life would be better, heightened, maybe. Or the quality of our mind would be different. And it is, but not like we expected. We are always changing. But we easily get caught up in the idea or the story we tell ourselves instead of the reality or totality.
Especially today, when the level of anxiety is so high due to all the threats to so many of us, and so many aspects of our lives, including our sense of humanity and the climate, our health or control over our own bodies, it is easy to expect or hope for even more from any event than it could possibly produce. For example, we could work to successfully elect a candidate we trust, or to defeat one we knew had to be defeated, and afterwards, we expect all the threats to disappear, and the whole world would be changed. If only that were so.
Daniel Kahneman, professor of both psychology and public affairs described this as a “focusing illusion.” When we’re thinking about the graduation or the wedding, it is big, tremendous. When we’re in school, we might think that when we graduate, life will be so different. Or we’re in love and imagine that, once the love is celebrated and wrapped in the marriage license, we will feel more secure and loved. But what we find is a new moment, another day, another call for action. We forget how we adapt to situations, to living with a spouse or a new job or whatever it is we do after a big event.
We forget where feelings come from. We think the achievement itself creates the thrill of success. We think the person we love creates the love. We forget that to feel loved one must love. To be touched, one must touch. Jack Kornfield wrote a book called After the Ecstasy, The Laundry: How the Heart Grows Wise on the Spiritual Path. We can even view enlightenment, whatever that is, in the same way. “Once I get enlightened, all will be different.” Or “If only I’d get enlightened…” If only this or that.
All we ever have is moments, and moments are too slippery to ever own. They are less a thing and more what or who we are. Hopefully, most will be spent with more clarity than confusion, more compassion than anger, more love than greed. We do the best we can in the moment to learn from whatever occurs, and then let it go. To perceive and honor what is there for us without blinding ourselves with self-judgments or turning a passing moment into a permanent monument to a self. Monuments don’t feel and what isn’t perceived can’t be acted upon….
*To read the whole piece, please go to The Good Men Project.