April 28, 2009

The Present

One of the more interesting side effects of my Zen Buddhism studies has been learning to focus on the present. It's a common theme in many spiritual/philosophical pursuits, and a difficult one for most of us, I think.

In particular, I sometimes struggle with the inherent conflict between setting goals, planning, and living in the present. In some sense, setting goals and planning is living in the future, letting desire for another time eat up the precious time I have right now. But, in another, more pragmatic sense, planning and goal setting is necessary in order to execute on anything complex.

This weekend, I realized a connection between the two that I had somehow missed despite slowly implementing it thanks to E, my Zen studies, and, learning to expect the unexpected through life's surprises.

The big huge revelation?

Good planning and goal setting, so long as I am not wedded to the plan, allows me to structure my life so that I have a higher likelihood of being able to be present in each moment.

E taught me this concept when we first started traveling together and we alternated days of the trip. I'd pack my days full of local activities that excited me. He'd call his days, "do nothing days" and we'd sleep in, read, and fit in (maybe) one or two activities spontaneously. I was shocked to find that I felt more relaxed and felt more on vacation on E's days then on my own. How had I never taken the time to allocate a day on vacation to do nothing?

Of course, I'm me, so despite rediscovering the beauty of the unplanned day of childhood, I've never stopped planning and goal setting. I've always expected the unexpected with money and over-allocated towards my financial goals to ensure I can execute on them. But, over the years, I have learned to apply this concept to time as well. I've stopped trying to fit so much in and I've started planning on necessary downtime to recover, relax, and to handle the unexpected in order to ensure that the things I really want to do actually have a high likelihood of getting done.

I've started accepting that in my personal life, just like in my professional life, often quantity comes at the expense of quality, so if I'm truly committed to quality, I have to do less.

This weekend, I fit in quite a bit, but not too much -- and I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I also sent my regrets to two party invitations because I realized there was no way to fit them in as well. This was difficult because I wanted to see folks at both of those parties and it meant I didn't get to spend the weekend with E -- he wanted to attend one of the parties more than he wanted to do gardening with my sister, brother, and neice.

I didn't take his preference personally. We see my family fairly regularly. Many friends of his he hadn't seen in at least a year were going to be at the party. And, well, there really isn't enough time to do everything in life.

Another realization I had this weekend, is that I can be present in the moment in the act of planning and goal setting. Which is a good thing, because I'm in the process of planning some very big changes in my life.

It was a relief to realize that I don't have to live for the future just because I am planning for it. I am trying to enjoy each step along the journey. Sometimes, the step I'm at is thinking, and calmly evaluating what makes the most sense in the search for my goals, and deciding on that plan.

This step is actually very important and a great opportunity for growth. It requires me to be honest with myself about what I *really* want in life and then to make the appropriate decisions to increase the likelihood that I will end up with what I *really* want. It is hard, sometimes, to be honest with myself and to admit that I am childish and want everything even though I know it is not possible. It is difficult to make the decisions about what I want to do and where my values lie because every choice involves a committed rejection, often of things I like and enjoy. Life is full of hard choices and being present while I make some of them is a good thing.

So, yay! I don't feel tension over the conflict anymore. Planning, goal setting, and spontaneity and flexibility are part of the yin and yang of time for me.

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