Present over perfect

For a while now I’ve been getting this error message on my laptop: hurry, you’re running out of disk space! It suggests, or rather assumes, that I can and should do something about this reoccurring issue. The problem is, it keeps happening. And for the life of me, I can’t figure out why. I mean, I’ve done everything I know how to do such as installing a “clean my mac” app and running it frequently (ok…running it when I remember to do so). Each time it runs I get a celebration message that I’ve cleaned several gigs from my system. Yet, days or maybe weeks later, just like clock work, I’m right back where I started. Running out of disk space.

This isn’t just a computer problem, in many ways it’s a metaphor for my life. I like to think that I do the things that I’m supposed to do, the types of consistently de-stressing activities that are supposed to provide margin and sanity. I rise early each day for quiet time, exercise, go to bed early, (attempt to) eat healthy, etc. Yet, I constantly find myself on the margins looking for more time, more rest, simply more. That’s probably part of the problem. My insatiable desire for more, even of good things, comes with its drawbacks. Right now, I’m relaxing in the mountainside of North Georgia’s beautiful Blue Ridge with my family, and it takes everything in me not to wish I had more time than just this week away. Meanwhile, somewhere off in the cabin, or outside in the woods, life is happening.

It seems like this is a trait I’ve passed on to at least one of my daughters. The other night while tucking Olivia into bed, she said to me: daddy, I know I should be thankful for my nice home and warm bed and good life, and I am. But…I feel like something is missing… I wonder where she learned (or inherited, or both) this spirit of restlessness from? The thing is, I get it. And in that moment, though I was probably a little disappointed, I was also understanding because I get the tension that apparently she at a young age is starting to feel. More than our other daughters, Olivia is definitely our daughter who struggles the most with being content. So, in that moment I walked over to her bed, calmly stroked her head and told her my honest truth. Baby girl, I think what you’re struggling to say is that you’re grateful. I know, sometimes I have a hard time appreciating where I am too.

Unfortunately I didn’t have a clear solution for how to solve our mutual problem, just a coping mechanism. When I feel myself fighting against the desire to be here, now…I am learning to things that help me take in the moment. I’m still not particularly good at it yet, but practice will make better. Sometimes I write. A lot of times I write. Writing helps me to slow things down, make sense of my experiences and appreciate them more fully. Sometimes, like this morning while doing yoga outside on the balcony, I try to take as many pictures and videos as I can. This inevitably leads me away from the moment (it’s strange how when you’re trying to capture the moment, your mind inevitably goes away from the present moment to the future moment when you hope to remember the past). So, instead, I try to force myself to put my phone away and take mental pictures. It feels better, but I’m not convinced they last as long. I sure hope they do.

Sometimes I play music. But not just any music, it has to be slow jams. My wife remarked to me this morning while I was cooking breakfast that I’m a slow jam kind of guy. What’s funny is that my internal pace is wired so fast, I constantly feel like I’m in overdrive. So, in order to slow my mind and my pace down, I need slow jams. My wife on the other hand has a calm and steady, slow beat as her internal clock. That’s why you’re more likely to hear an upbeat Beyonce tune if she’s DJing.

My favorite, and most effective method of slowing down is getting away. It’s the reason why we’re here in the mountains (my absolute favorite place to vacation). Nothing changes your perspective like changing your location. I literally and figuratively have a new point of view. I don’t always have to escape to the mountains though to get it. Sometimes it’s simply going outside for a walk. Other times it’s going to someplace new or exploring somewhere in my neighborhood I’ve never been before.

My best moments of refreshment and rejuvenation happen when I put myself in position to be most open to something new. That’s what I’m learning is the trick to managing life between the balance of chaos and order. I’ll never fully control circumstances (I’m slowly coming to terms with this reality). However, if I’m honest with myself, I don’t want to anyway. That takes all the fun of spontaneity out of life. What I want is to remember the lessons that I learn while I’m experiencing these mindful moments. Because I know that real life (like winter) is coming. And in order to be prepared for the onslaught of real life, with its real demands and expectations, I’ve got to be prepared.

So, while reading this morning, I was reminded of a quote from Shauna Niequist’s Present Over Perfect, and I’ve decided to take a page out of her book:

My goal upon returning to real life after lake life is to keep my summer heart—my flexible, silly, ready-to-play, ever-so-slightly irresponsible heart. What I’ve been delighted to find is that it’s not that our real life is all wrong, by any means—it’s not that I’m doing work I hate or that I’m ill-fit for the life we’ve made. It’s that for all sorts of reasons, I default to hustle mode all too often. Hustle is the opposite of heart.

What would our lives be like if our days were studded by tiny, completely unproductive, silly, nonstrategic, wild and beautiful five-minute breaks, reminders that our days are for loving and learning and laughing, not for pushing and planning, reminders that it’s all about the heart, not about the hustle?

Present Over Perfect by Shauna Niequist

Who knows if I’ll find my rhythm, my own hustle and flow so to speak. What I do know is that perfect doesn’t exist. All we have is the present, and it’s a gift, that’s why they call it the present. (I said this to my daughter Riley this morning and she didn’t get it at first either). I’ll keep trying. In the meantime, I believe there’s a foosball battle awaiting me. That’s probably a great first step.


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