Our Son Zach is nearly 23 years old.  His birthday is just a few months away and he is already busy reviewing his desired attendee list.  It’s a daily ritual we move into after the holidays are over and there are no more to look forward to.  Funny, but I think Zach has the deep understanding of the importance of having something to get excited for.  So much so that this birthday conversation is one that we will have daily, until his birthday rolls around again this May.

But what happens when we have nothing fun looming on the horizon?  We can all relate to this since COVID has essentially decimated our regular social and travel calendars for the last two years.  But now, the world is opening back up.  What do we have to look forward to and why does it matter?

When we study mindfulness, we seek to make conscious contact with the self that lives beneath the hovering of the “Big I”.  This is not the self that attacks us mentally, judges and criticizes us every moment of every day.  It is not the voice we hear that says we are not enough, and never will be.  Below the surface of the “Big I” is the one who whispers “Everything is ok right now.”  It’s the self that lives in the present moment and flickers like a sole burning candle when all the other lights have gone dark.  

There is wisdom in our 22 year old Son, and in what lives beneath the “Big I.”  What both Zachary and I (at my core) know is that relatively speaking, there are not many moments that actually matter.  Most of what we do day-to-day is comprised of meaningless logistics.  Much of our time may be spent worrying and planning.  And so much of this energy is simply wasted, since a lot of what we worry about never happens, and many of our “plans” never come to pass.

But the wisdom, is that at the end of the day, what happens in the background of life is far more impactful than what happens on the surface.  If we take a step back and look at the elements of life that truly feed us, they have little to do with worrying and planning and lots to do with our values and our ability to access our current experience.  Identifying these elements can help us put time into creating that background, as we interact and increase the quality of our engagements through our ability to show up.

Zach shows up for everything.  He plays with his beads and marbles, makes music on his piano, dances like he’s the only one in the room and smiles in a way that can melt your heart in an instant.  He’s not obsessed with being anywhere but here.  His mind isn’t racing with ways to improve himself, or racking his brain with guilt over something he said or did.  But he does bask in the knowing that special things are on the horizon.  He doesn’t miss a chance to remind himself, and the rest of us that there is more to come!

Even when we focus on the present moment, we can’t help but think about those occasions this year, or this decade that will be truly magical.  I say magical, because our souls and spirits get lifted in certain environments, interacting with specific people, and at a few events that will stand out this year as being awesome.  And this “Looking Ahead” that Zach does is a way of reminding ourselves that the people and experiences that make us feel most alive, are not limited or extinct.  They are on the way in the coming months, even if we are not living it in this moment.

Looking ahead, can be a reminder that there is more life to be lived.  This is especially important during times of profound grief.  And even if we are not loving where we are this instant, we know that spiritual replenishment is on its way.  In a few days, weeks or months we will get that dose of what we value, above all else, to re-fuel us until the next such event.  We can be mindful, and also look ahead at the same time.

What events or celebrations come to mind for you, when you think about what you are looking forward to?  Will you try something new?  Is there a trip you are excited about?  Maybe the graduation of a loved one, or as in Zach’s case, a birthday blow out is coming?  If you are looking ahead to something that brings you Joy, take some time to identify what about this event, is making you happy?  What elements of this “future” fun are essential to the “positive” experience?  

Once we identify the components of a truly meaningful experience, we can get even more mindful about what those are, and look ahead for more opportunities to create these rejuvenating experiences.  Using Zach’s birthday example, hands down I know one of the major elements of Joy for him is simply the condition of having his loved ones around.  It’s not his “birthday” per se, that he is excited about, but the friends and family that come, the music, the laid back celebration that spans every Memorial Day Weekend.

And I am looking forward to that too.  Since Zach and I agree that it is the loving people in our lives, and the way we feel when we are with them that make a birthday, a celebration and that make a house a home.  We don’t have to choose between mindfulness and enthusiasm for the future when assessing our calendars.  In fact mindfulness can actually be the doorway to understanding what we truly value, and thus make it easier to seek interactions that encompass our values.

Think of an event or a time you deeply enjoyed.  Who was there?  What time of year was it?  Were you in nature?  In the theatre?  At a concert?  What made it so worthwhile?  Why is it something you’d like to replicate? 

Answering questions like these can help us make sure that when we “look ahead” to a future point in time, that the juice will actually be worth the squeeze.  And the answers will provide clues so that our time can be spent doing more of the things feed us, instead of the things that deplete us.

We all need something to look forward to!  What’s on your calendar?

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