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The Gratitude Project, A Millennial’s Quest to Find Happiness: Day 10 – Staying Present

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Heart silhouette photo via Shutterstock

By Maria Russo

Day 10 – I am grateful for the desires in my heart.

More than ever I find myself saying: Where does the time go?

I remember first hearing this phrase when I was around seven-years-old sitting at the dinner table watching my mother chat with my father about work, bills and the summer that “was flying by”. I never really understood what it meant because as a child the time never seemed to go anywhere. Yes, it ticked away, but in a slower under water-like way that freezes the great moments and drowns the bad.

Even in high school I never felt time slip away until the day I graduated. It was the first time in my life that I felt like I needed more of it and in a desperate wrenchingly longing way I wanted it back. I can remember thinking in swirls of memories that almost seemed to fly through my mind; of images of happy moments that I couldn’t get back; of faces that had been at the very core of my world and just like that, I was moving on. Where had the time gone?

When you enter adulthood and things like, a job, money, a house, a baby and retirement begin to consume your thoughts you enter this vicious pattern of always thinking about the future. The present is no longer good enough and the past is a distant memory that at some points seems like another life. For most of us, every day is about striving towards something we want: freedom, success, happiness, travel…yet the perfect moment we are in never satiates the lust for something else, something greater.

I am also guilty of this “striving” mentality. I am constantly thinking about what I have yet to accomplish in my life rather than focusing on the one and only thing that exists: the present moment. The present is a gift that we are trained to ignore, abuse and belittle. For most of the developed world, we are taught to believe that we should always be looking for more, working for more, climbing the latter for more.

Almost four years ago, my cousin passed away, he was 48. He was diagnosed with stage four Multiple Myeloma, a horrible form of cancer of the plasma cells. I can remember the morning my mother alerted me of his condition. I was driving to work and when the words cancer spilled from her mouth, I felt like someone had thrown a brick at my chest, the glaze of streaming tears blurring the road with no windshield wipers to swish them away. The first thing I thought of was his wife and two children. What would they do without him? What would WE do without him?

Over the next couple years, Anthony and I made every effort possible to see our cousin. And for me, it was like getting a second chance to appreciate the beautiful, kind, loving and funny man that he was. Years before, I would have lackadaisically taken advantage of the time we spent at family parties. Sure, I appreciated his incredible knack for successfully preforming practical jokes on every one of my little cousins (and certain gullible adults) and his deep theoretical conversations about space, computers and nature, but when I knew he was sick, I hung on to every word, I laughed a little louder and I stayed a little longer. Time seemed to move in that slow under water-like way just as it did when I was a kid. I was present in every moment.

When my cousin passed away, the grief was not lessened because I had been present (truly present) during the last years of his life, but I did feel as though I had something genuine to carry with me – real memories filled with images, emotions and sound bites that remained in my heart and continue to remain in my heart as I carry his memory with me.

Now more than ever, I know the importance of living in the present, yet most days my mind is with the future. I spend time trying to accept the present — my life as it is in that very moment — and sometimes I do, but often I don’t. I know that if I continue to strive for the next “goal”, “dream”, “accomplishment” I will find myself asking my husband at the dinner table where the time has gone over and over until it is gone.

During a yoga class I took today, the teacher said that what we want will come if we desire it. This may sound like a Disney tagline to some, but it struck a cord within me. I interpreted it as a way to stay present while at the same time keeping all my wishes in my heart, just as I do with the memory of my cousin. The desires will always exist and that’s OK because we all have a purpose and that purpose should be lived out. But perhaps we can let go of the striving and embrace the desires, as we do any emotion of the heart, and let the mind stay present, open and at peace.


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The Culture-ist