While getting our shoes on one day before heading out, my 7-year-old son said something that stopped me in my tracks. Coming from an adult, it wouldn't have meant much. But hearing it from a kid -- one who thought of it all in his own little (extremely brilliant and amazing) brain -- was what made it stand out for me.
He said, "Mommy, have you ever thought that this is the only time we'll ever live this exact moment?"
I know, this question very likely didn't blow you away. It (and variations of it) are spouted off by adults all the time: "Live in the moment," "All we have is this moment, "Enjoy every moment," blah, blah, blah.
A few days ago we got back from a family vacation. It was a two-part trip, starting on the beautiful Sunshine Coast of BC and ending in the sunny Okanagan. Each time we would leave a particular location, Sammy would say, "This is probably the last time I'll ever stand here," or "We'll never be here again," or "This is the last time I'll ever see this." (Did I mention he has a hard time with transitions?).
This got me thinking: How many moments am I missing because I'm in such a rush to get to the next thing? What 'here and now's' am I wishing away (even if not consciously) because I just want to do something else or be somewhere else? What experiences am I hurrying mindlessly through now that will later in life be some of my most cherished memories?
For instance: When my daughter turned 9, it occurred to me that her childhood was exactly half over. I realized that in about nine years, she would likely go off to college or move away to enjoy life as an independent person. Away from me. Her mommy.
Shortly after this realization, another incident occurred that 'woke me up' a bit, so to speak. Every year since I can remember, the kids and I sat down a few weeks before each major holiday to cut out and color pictures to hang in our front window. Bunny families at Easter, gifts and mangers at Christmas, pumpkins and candy at Halloween.
This past Easter, I had everything prepared: colorful papers, scissors, markers and treats. Time to make our pictures! And my daughter's response? "I think I'd rather play with my friends, mommy." It made me realize: that stage of her life is over. Sure, there will be other fun, meaningful traditions that we'll create together, but that one is done.
Over the past couple of years, I've really been trying hard to be in the moment, particularly when it comes to my kids. During their infant, toddler and preschool years, life was often chaotic, rushed and unpredictable, and living in the moment wasn't something I even thought about. Who focuses on 'enjoying this moment' when your toddler is having his 10th tantrum of the day?
And yet, I'm beginning to realize that at every stage of life, stopping to be mindful of the present moment is actually a pretty cool way to get the most out of life. Following are four ways I've been trying to get better at living in the moment.
1. Savor the good moments -- even when there are very few. When your baby is up for the fifth time and you're delirious from sleep deprivation, it can be hard. But even in the midst of this, there may be a moment: a sweet smile, a quick cuddle or a brief look of adoration on your child's face. Enjoy those moments, however brief, before rushing on to the next thing.
2. Think about how this moment contributes to your story. When things are bad, thinking about how you would tell it as a story can give you some much-needed perspective. For instance, if your child has just dumped his fourth bowl of cereal on the floor, tell the story in your head: "And JUST as I had finished cleaning up the third bowl...." Framing your situation as a story in one way removes you a bit from the situation; but in another way, it can allow you to see the moment from another perspective, and perhaps give you the ability to enjoy it more fully.
3. Stop rushing for a moment -- when you can. When I lay with my son at night to help him fall asleep, it's often easy to think about all the other things I could be doing. But when I take a few deep breaths and really take in the moment -- to breathe in the smell of his hair, to feel his warm little legs all wrapped up in mine, to listen to the rhythmic sound of his breathing after he falls asleep -- I realize there is really no other place I want to be.
4. Make the conscious decision to get out of your head and actually LIVE the moment. This is a tough one for me. As an introvert, my temptation is often to do much of my 'living' in my head. To think about what I'm going to do next, to imagine what the future holds, to look forward to the next big event. But I've noticed that this doesn't work all that well with kids. They want you... ALL of you, at every moment. They don't just want you to be physically present, they need you to be emotionally present and available. To stop thinking so much, and just to enjoy living with them. To build the sandcastle without worrying about how you look in your bathing suit. To sing funny songs to make them laugh, even though you have a particularly unappealing voice. To hang out with them and their friends instead of hiding out in the house, engaging with them about the things they care about.
Living in the moment is hard for me, and it's something I'm sure I'll be working on until the day I die. But I hope I'm able to slow down and enjoy enough moments with my kids that I never have to regret rushing mindlessly through their childhood.
In my experience, no matter how much you try to plan and prepare for perfect moments, it's the unexpected moments that usually end up being the most special. I'm learning to let go of my plans and expectations, and instead be mindful of the joy and meaning that can only be found in the small, unplanned moments.
Do you struggle with living in the moment? What strategies do you have for slowing down and living mindfully?