DadClass 3: Stay in the Now.

Where are you?  Here.
What time is it?  Now.
What’s the most important thing?  This moment.

These are the three simple, yet profound questions my dad asked and answered for himself often.  It’s funny how simple some of the most profound things in life tend to be.
After reading Eckhart Tolle’s book, The Power of Now, my dad became obsessed with “staying in the now,” as he called it.  It was equal parts illuminating and frustrating.

Yes, frustrating!  Imagine trying to make plans for dinner and instead of receiving suggestions, all you hear is, “I don’t know, I’m enjoying right now.”

Food doesn’t just appear.  Plans have to be made.  Action must be taken.

But yet…

I watched as this focus on living in the moment wrapped him gently in an invincible sense of peace throughout the most difficult circumstances I’ve ever seen anyone put through.  And it is only now, amidst my current challenges, that I’ve experienced this kind of peace and have a more concrete understanding of this lesson to carry with me on my life’s journey.

Illness has a way of making us realize that we can only do one thing at a time, and that the present moment is the only place where our attention can dwell in peace.

This year, for the first 4th of July in many years, I fully appreciated were I was and what I was doing.  I allowed myself to experience the day just as it was.  Not wishing I could be somewhere else.  Not thinking it should be some other way.  Not imagining what would make it better.  Not dreaming up some pie in the sky notion of how it should be.

Not to say that I didn’t think of some other possibilities at all.  I mean, let’s be realistic…

I’m sick which made it impossible to participate in any of the traditional festivities, and I’m human (as my wise mom reminded me one day as I was fretting about not being able to stay in the moment as much as I’d like) which means I can’t do anything perfectly just like anyone else.

But as my mind wandered, the thoughts of things I wished I could do didn’t linger, and I didn’t dwell on them.  That’s the difference, I think.  It’s not about needing battle the thoughts or try to avoid them, but about simply acknowledging them when they appear and not allowing ourselves to get stuck in the sticky web they work so diligently to create.

Noticing the thoughts and kindly turning in a new direction, the direction of the present moment and the wonder it holds, created space for me to enjoy everything that made that 4th of July day feel special:  my brother’s company and the way he made me laugh, the delicious food he grilled with care, and the experiments we concocted for the only kind of childish fireworks (if you can even call them fireworks) that my sensory overloaded brain could stand.

We’re all physically in the moment, every minute of every day, whether we realize it or not.  And whether or not we do so consciously, we all get to answer these three simple questions for ourselves each day.  So why not ask and answer them today on purpose?

Where are you?  What time is it?  What’s the most important thing?

 

DadClass 2: What you tell yourself matters. Big time.

He whacks the tennis ball with dad-style force, and it flies over the net, heading my direction at top speed.  Once again, it arrives before I can get my feet planted, with my racquet set to return the hit.  My high school kid eyes widen with disbelief, “How could I have missed it again?  Ah, it was going WAY too fast!”  Just then, he motions to me, pointing from one ear to the other, and says, “It’s between the ears, kiddo.”  This was his shorthand reminder for me to believe in myself, that knowing I can do it is a key ingredient in making things happen.  And it was my introduction to a far reaching life lesson.

Fast forward about 5 years and you’d find my dad in the middle of the ultimate battle of his life – the battle FOR his life.  I remember the day he showed me the mask, plastic with tiny mesh-like holes.  Form fitting, it had been molded to fit around the contours of his face and around his entire head.  It held specific markings that indicated where to focus the radiation during treatments.  I was in awe and confused when he told me that while receiving each treatment, he’d tell himself that he wanted the experience – that he was choosing it because it was the path to shrinking the tumor, or to at least slowing its growth.

Fast forward another five years and you’ll find me where I am today – in a health situation of my own. Even though he’s not here to give me advice, I have his example to refer to for guidance and I have needed to put this lesson into action sooner than I ever would have thought.  So instead of saying, “I can’t eat that because it has too much sodium,” I tell myself “I choose not to eat it because I want to avoid the exaggeration of my symptoms that sodium causes.”  And I don’t “have” to do the vestibular rehabilitation exercises that make me feel worse but I “choose” to do them because I want to get better.

Changing our language from “I have to” to “I choose to” and from “I can’t” to “I choose not to” restores our sense of personal agency and puts us back in the role of protagonist within our story.  We have choices.  We make hundreds of them each and every day.  So we are not merely observers in the background without any say.

When have you noticed yourself with an “I have to,” “I can’t,” or “I shouldn’t” thought that makes you feel small?  How can you flip the language around in way that is empowering?  Maybe “I have to go to the grocery store,” becomes “I will go to the grocery store because I want to have healthy food choices at home.”  Or perhaps “I have to take out the trash” really means “I want to take out the trash because I like living in a house that doesn’t stink!” Consider the reason behind your choice to create a statement that you believe to be true – lying to yourself doesn’t do any good – and see how it feels.

 

DadClass 1: Face life’s challenges head on.

My dad had a way of looking life straight in the eye, no matter what it threw his way. He didn’t turn away; he faced every challenge with determination.  He didn’t retreat; he pressed forward.  He didn’t back down; he gave life his all.  And he did so, even when he didn’t feel he had any more to give.

He persevered.  I watched him try again and again to accomplish tasks, no matter how impossible they seemed.  And this made me admire him more than I ever thought possible.  It didn’t matter what the task was and it didn’t matter if he accomplished it or not.  He was and will forever remain victorious in my mind for having the courage to give it his all.

This experience leads me to a question:  How does our society characterize perseverance and determination?  All you have to do is Google quotations about these words and you’ll find that they are typically used in reference to achieving success and accomplishing specific goals. They’re about what you have to do in order to get something you want…

But my invitation is for us is to recognize the value of perseverance and determination in a way that is not contingent on the outcome.  When we do this, we are able to appreciate the process and admire the courage it requires.

It takes guts to work towards something that feels hard.  Running away from a challenge that presents itself often appears to be the easier, more comfortable path to travel.  And for good reason – lots of times, it is!  The only problem is that taking steps in the opposite direction to avoid the problem only gives it power and that power makes it grow.  And no one wants that!  Ick!  But the point is, even though it is not easy, I believe there is extraordinary value to be found in facing what challenges us.

There’s a popular quotation by Robert H. Schuller that goes, “What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?”  This question was never really my thing and I was surprised to discover that it didn’t resonate with Brene Brown, either!  What I love even more is the meaningful question she created to use in its place, “What is worth doing even if I fail?”

The tough stuff in life is worth doing and we can only discover what is possible by harnessing our determination to work hard and persevere.  But it’s not about whether or not we fail, it’s about whether or not we’re willing to take the leap and give the things that matter everything we’ve got, just like my dad.