Did you make a New Year’s resolution? If you cringe at the formality of a resolution, maybe you decided to just make some ‘changes’ for 2013? I am one of those who cringe at resolutions…I find it impossibly difficult to commit to just one! There are so many things that I could and should do differently or better, how do I choose?! This year, as I mulled the pros and cons of practical changes like financial planning, exercise and local produce against the bigger work of spiritual discovery and fostering a spirit of giving…I determined one thing for certain…I needed more chocolate! The many options were completely stressing me out.
Several chocolates and one hot toddy later I reached a decision. My resolution would be none of the above! It would instead be something along the lines of the beloved and oft equally hated, “Live in the moment”. Beloved because who would not want to stop and smell the roses, glory in the sunshine on your face, relish each new development in your child’s life? But yes, this notion or phrase often drives people to turn purple in the face and sputter about ‘hippy, happy crap’ and ‘who has the time’! I see two problems with ‘living in the moment’. One issue is that there are plenty of moments that just downright suck! Staying in those moments is a topic for another blog. The second issue is what I will delve into for this post, and that is the fact that by choosing to ‘live in the moment’ we have to accept that we will accomplish less. But here’s the punch line…while you are accomplishing less, you will (I promise) be experiencing so much more.
In order to do this, you must say goodbye to an old friend, your trusty autopilot! Or at least be willing to send him or her away more often. And so, my New Year’s Resolution is to disengage my autopilot more often. I have an essay that I wrote shortly after my diagnosis of MS, at a time when my autopilot was completely unreliable. I would find myself in a room (or a parking lot!) with no idea why I was there, sit on a toilet only to find that the seat was up, put milk in the cupboard and detergent in the fridge. It drove me crazy. It also forced me to stay in the moment. No more multi-tasking. It is not you alone doing the multi-tasking. It is you and your autopilot. While your body may be accomplishing much more, you are only experiencing a portion of it. Your autopilot gets the benefit of the rest.
Now I know you probably don’t mind if your autopilot gets the experience of bringing in the mail or cleaning the toilet. But I expect that you want the experience of hearing your child say “I love you” and YOU would like to be the one that says it back. Unfortunately, when our autopilot is engaged, we don’t have control…the autopilot does. You might be the one stirring the spaghetti sauce and making a mental shopping list while your autopilot is responding to the kids. Once you turn the autopilot on you don’t get to choose which of your multiple moments you are fully engaged in.
No matter what your New Year’s resolution is, I believe you have a much greater chance at success if you first disengage the autopilot. I was able, after a bit of time, to see the benefit of losing my autopilot during the early years of my MS. As I accomplished less, it became clear how much more ‘in the moment’ I was. It also became clear that this was a better way to experience life. As my body responded to treatments, my brain mended itself a bit, and my autopilot returned. At first I was reluctant to use it, but as time wore on and our society of busy-ness lured me in, I found myself again relying on my autopilot in order to ‘accomplish’ as much as I felt expected of me. And as I accomplish more, I experience less.
I often don’t remember at all, or vaguely recollect at best, the work that is done by this other me. When I am stressed my autopilot eats chocolate instead of heading outdoors for a short walk. My autopilot does most of my grocery shopping, purchasing out of habit, rather than looking for ‘locally produced’ stickers. My autopilot goes to Starbucks and orders a latte, instead of making coffee at home. In fact, my autopilot does far too much of my spending and eating! My autopilot steers me through the office so that I don’t have to look around, missing many opportunities to give a gift of kindness. It steers my car home in the evenings, while my mind wanders and I ignore the beautiful sunset reflecting on the water or the snowcapped peaks of the Olympics in the distance. Before bed it encourages a half hour of web browsing rather than a soul-nurturing book.
When I am reading email, I am tempted to let my autopilot listen to my son tell me about his video game, because I don’t actually have an interest in this topic. But I do have an interest in my son and my autopilot is not going to listen carefully for those moments when a door is opened. Talking about video games can be the way a teenager shares their world. Somewhere in the explanation of Halo a sentence may be casually thrown in, “Steve said he got a girl pregnant” or “Amber posted on Facebook that she got suspended for having pot in her backpack”. If I miss these moments they are not likely to be mentioned again.