By Ron Culberson. With a master’s degree in social work, Ron Culberson spent the first part of his career working in a large hospice organization as a clinical social worker, middle manager, and senior leader. As a speaker, humorist, and author of "Do it Well. Make it Fun.The Key to Success in Life, Death, and Almost Everything in Between", he has delivered more than 1,000 presentations to associations, government agencies, non-profit organizations, and corporations. His mission is to change the workplace culture so that organizations are more productive and staff are more content. He was also the 2012-2013 president of the National Speakers Association and is a recognized expert on the benefits of humor and laughter.
I recently got demoted by United Airlines. Well, that’s not exactly true. They didn’t really demote me. I just didn’t fly as much last year so my frequent flyer status is lower. In the big scheme of things, this is not a big deal. It’s not a serious illness; it’s not a car accident; it’s not a popcorn kernel that cracks an expensive dental crown. It’s just that I had gotten a bit spoiled by the free upgrades, the free food, and the free drinks.
Even though the change in my airline status is not that significant, I still tend to pine about it just a touch. But maybe there is another way to embrace this experience.
Recently, I was reading M Train by Patti Smith and was captivated by the way she travels through life. She recognizes her existence as a meaningful journey and not some obligatory trip from Point A to Point B. She has this way of seeing the poignancy in every experience and then sharing her insights through creative writing and artistic expressions.
Patti’s work routine is pretty simple. She reads, she observes, she feels, and then she creates. And when all of these elements come together, it’s magic. In one essay, she describes the closing of her favorite coffee shop. Prior to that she had brilliantly described her many visits to the cafe and commented on the location of her usual table, the feel of her chair, the taste of the coffee, and the interactions she had with her server. Patti sensed how each of these encounters affected her in that particular space rather than overlooking their interconnected significance.
For fifty-seven years, I have been an “anticipator.” I tend to always anticipate the next event. At 10:00 a.m., I’m thinking about lunch. At the airport, I’m thinking about my destination. At Thanksgiving, I’m thinking about Christmas. Perhaps this is why I’ve been so intrigued by mindfulness over the past couple of years. Mindfulness is about being present in the current moment and not about anticipating the next experience. In fact, by always anticipating what’s next, I may have been cheated out of my 10:00 a.m.’s, my airports, and my Thanksgivings.
Patti Smith seems to remain tenderly focused on the present. Oh, I’m sure she has moments of longing for things to be different, especially when she remembers a loved one who has died or embarks on a trip that doesn’t go as planned. But she does not sacrifice the particular moment for the memory or the mishap. Instead, she integrates the whole of the experience and makes the moment even richer. I suspect most of us like to avoid the less-than-positive experiences. For instance, we love the soothing sensation of a hot shower after working hard in the yard but we’re not so keen about the shock of a cold shower when the water heater is broken. Yet, both are rich, sensory-filled experiences nonetheless.
Recently, I attended a retreat in Costa Rica where it was easy to stay in the moment when I was surrounded by the beauty of the rain forest. It’s almost impossible to ignore spider monkeys and toucans in the tops of the trees. However, a few weeks later when I was at the United gate waiting in the Group Two line because I had lost my Group One status, I quickly resorted to being an anticipator again.
I worried that the Group One people would fill up the overhead space. I longed to be upgraded to First Class where I’d get a free drink, a filling snack, and a comfortable seat. And when I saw that I was thirty-seventh on the upgrade list, I feared that I would be hungry and uncomfortable after being offered a measly cup of water, five tiny pretzels, and an elbow in my rib from the oversized person in the undersized middle seat…in Coach. And then, I landed, so to speak, on the most common anticipation of all—I just longed to get home.
In hindsight, I wonder what I missed when my mind was full of anticipations. Perhaps there was someone in line next to me whose conversation would have enriched my travel experience. Or maybe I would have seen a funny sign that I could have shared with readers on my blog. Or perhaps I could have spent some of the time standing in line simply being grateful for the many people, places, and things I get to encounter because I have a pretty darn good existence.
The richness of truly being is the ability to realize and embrace the interconnectedness of who we are in a world full of people, places, and things—all of which are also connected to us and each other. It requires that we shut off the anticipatory noise in our mind and allow our eyes, ears, and hearts to do the work they were designed to do.
Patti Smith does this brilliantly and she shares her own sense of being with us through her music, her writing, and her art.
Sometimes I secretly want to be Patti Smith. And then I realize that the only way I can be remotely similar to her is to open my own senses to everything around me. And then, I won’t really need to anticipate anymore because I’ll already be exactly where I should be.
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