In the chaos of today, give yourself a mindful moment
Steve at Dunkin Donuts smiled at me. It wasn’t that pleasant, “Happy Sunday, enjoy your run!” kind of neighborly smile. It was that little bit toothy, little bit creepy, “I could use a morning snack and you just might do,” kind of smile. Most weekend mornings when I run by Dunkin’s, Steve pays no attention to me. He just sits there, baking in the direct tropical sun. I usually slow down and acknowledge his presence, but today was the first time he acknowledged mine. And let me tell you something…
It’s a little disconcerting when an alligator leers at you.
I kept running, somewhat comforted by the thought that Steve didn’t look especially motivated to climb the canal embankment and chase me. Though today was the first time that thought had actually crossed my mind.
A quarter mile further down the canal was Bob. Bob always ignores me but that’s ok. I enjoy watching him glide under the surface of the water, creating smooth waves and scattering the fish. I find it odd that Bob is always alone. Every other time I spot river otters, they’re in pairs, but Bob is always by himself in the canal, always a safe distance from Steve.
Billy the blue heron was out. Oscar the osprey was not, but he only makes occasional appearances. Numerous other turtles, egrets, and ibises were wandering the canal – too many for me to name. I love my weekend runs because it’s an opportunity to notice them all. To notice the slight smokey smell in the air, due to the spring fires that have cremated acres of land in the past three months. To notice the increasing humidity, signaling afternoon showers. To notice my fellow path cyclists, runners and walkers, including Toby who dutifully makes his way to Dunkin’s every Sunday morning, (he’s an actual human). To pay attention to what’s happening around me, right now, because when the moment passes, when my run is done, I’m off to the next part of my day and this moment will live in the past.
And these days, I’m thinking all about the past, the present and the future. And it’s a little bit chaotic. So practicing a little mindfulness on my morning run is the least I can do to try to anchor my sanity.
And I know you’re feeling it too.
Because it’s graduation season. Many of you are like me: you have children who have reached this milestone. College, high school, middle school… heck, kindergarten… it’s the public recognition of the passage of time. And as a parent, you are naturally looking back… looking forward… and feeling slightly panicked about the present moment.
Many of you have celebrations planned. You have relatives coming in to town. Where is everyone sleeping? How are we feeding everyone? What’s the timing of all the events? Who’s driving?
Many of you have high school and college graduates moving on to the next phase of their lives. Which college are they going to and how far away is that? When is move-in date? How are you paying tuition? What will happen when he’s all alone without you? Is it a mistake if he doesn’t go to college right away? Does she have a job to go with that psychology degree? Can she afford to support herself? Are they planning to move back home?
So understandably, there’s a lot going on in your brain right now. A lot of planning, a lot of coordinating, a lot of other people’s chaos impacting all your efforts. And it’s all a lot of external stuff. It’s not about you. It’s not even really your stuff. But you’re in the thick of it all, trying to keep it all together.
So you may or may not have taken a moment to realize that this is a significant transition time for you. Amid the chaos of planning parties, coordinating relatives schedules, worrying about graduation gifts and supporting your children into the next phase of their lives, how much attention have you paid to yours?
If you have a graduate, life is about to change. For you and your graduate. And for any siblings still left at home. And when dynamics in the home environment shifts, relationships shift. Expectations shift. Life changes. And if you’re an empty nester now, there is no longer a burst of teen energy blasting in and out of your house, perhaps not demanding your dedicated hand-holding, but still requiring that you have a presence. And food. Soon, there is only yourself to face. And perhaps your spouse.
And that’s the chaos in your head: the big, unknown changes looming in the future, the nostalgia of the past, and the chaos of today – change in real-time.
So I invite you do to something for yourself. For the next few weeks, for just a few minutes a day, give yourself a mindful moment. Does the empty nest mean you have a midlife crisis pending? Not necessarily. But you definitely are in the midst of an amazing midlife opportunity. But you’re also in the midst of a lot of swirling energy, and you’re still feeling responsible for it all.
The chaos of the next few weeks – relatives, parties, goodbyes, summer jobs, dorm move-in dates, new full time jobs with limited vacation time and stingy pay – is not insignificant. And you are all impacted. But a little mindfulness now, amid the chaos, might allow you the little mental space to embrace it, not just endure it.
Embrace that today’s frenetic activities and annoying advice from older relatives signals a new curve in your journey. Embrace that you’re about to set off on your own adventure, with a different set of circumstances and perhaps a different view. Embrace that you’ve conquered the child-rearing phase. Your offspring are exactly that – springing off into their own full fledged adventures. You’ve prepared them as only you can.
Steve was my mindful moment this morning. As he raised his gnarly snout in my direction and flashed that smile, he reminded me that every moment has something in it to be savored. My moment with Steve had a bit of an adrenaline rush as I calculated my run speed (slow) with his motivation to climb the embankment (low… thankfully). It was a reminder that I live in a beautiful, wild place where I have weekly encounters with alligators and ospreys and river otters. It was a reminder that my son, David, graduates in five days. And then in 90 days, he heads west to follow his California dream. It was a reminder that I want to enjoy every single day I have left with him. It was a reminder that Liam, who’s 15, and I will need to figure out the new house dynamics when there’s only two of us.
It was a reminder that by paying attention to where I am in the moment, I get to enjoy that moment and not lose myself in nostalgia or regret for the past, or worry and anxiety for an unknown future. And for a few moments, I am not confused or overwhelmed by the present. I am enjoying a mindful moment that reminds me that there is a bigger picture. And it is both completely within, and completely outside, of my control.