I have always played this game with myself called “and then”. My mind begins to think, “I will just change myself for the better “and then” I will be happy.” I will change this about this person “and then” they will be a better partner. I will start down this path “and then” I will feel fulfilled. The problem with a game like “and then” is that it takes me directly out of the present moment, where all of the information I need is lying dormant, waiting for my attention. “And then” is a game of comfort to me because it is giving me the excuse to be unhappy in the present moment and giving me some false hope to work toward, a star to reach for that I will never touch because the game will always keep going.
This isn’t to say that goal setting, changing myself for the better, or growing alongside my parter aren’t important. Digging deeply into my roots and finding my best self, allowing for growth in my practice and evolving are all necessary. But instead of seeing these things through a lens of what ifs and tomorrows, I am wondering if I can shift my thinking to find all that is good and happening and transforming in this present moment. And once I have found it, can I lose attachment to the outcome of it all?
I think about the times when I have felt the most fulfilled, the most loved, the most “me”. They don’t happen during games of “and then”. They happen when something seemingly simple yet utterly divine delivers me right into the moment. My baby lying on my chest for a nap, sitting at the lake and watching the sunrise, a really good meal cooked for me by someone I love. They don’t occur when I am thinking about how to better the present moment or my life or the person sitting next to me or my relationship or the way I do X,Y or Z.
I played the “and then” game with my marriage quite a bit. I actually played this game with my entire life until I began to honor the work of the present moment. I would imagine what he and I could do that would make our house more cozy, so that I would feel more comfortable even though I wasn’t home yet in my own skin. I imagined where we could go on vacation so that we could all connect as a family even though I was not feeling connected to my Self in my everyday life. I wondered and thought about the rituals and traditions I could set up that would create a perfect childhood for my children and make me feel like I was doing my motherly duty, even though I would have never suspected that my real motherly duty was to be fully myself.
The games we play in our heads can seem benign, but when we build our entire lives around them, they create a dangerous version of reality. Once I was made aware of my perpetual “and thens” I was able to see them for what they were, an excuse. In our culture, if we feel like we are grinding or doing work or making things better, we also feel like we have an out. If I was working to make myself and the people around me better for the future versions of us, I didn’t have to look at the very painful facts of the moments unfolding right in front of my eyes.
A few years ago, I used this game in this way. By ignoring what was right in front of me in favor of tomorrows, I didn’t have to see that my now ex husband and I were not connecting fully. I didn’t have to see that I was gay. I didn’t have to see that I was wearing masks and roles like fancy clothes to parade around town. I didn’t have to see that I was losing the basic ability to enjoy and be. We can do all of the spiritual work in the world, but if we can’t be in the present moment with the happiness and the pain and the sadness and the joy, then we aren’t truly living. We are pretending. And then we have a problem.
We need to find our now, our contentment, our ability to relax into what is happening in the moment. Contentment is not part of “and then,” so let’s honor this incredibly powerful force, one that delivers us into the joys unfolding right in this present reality that we are so lucky to be a part of.