I wrote this for my other blog, but it’s about a money dilemma and a big part of my personal philosophy, which translates into a more frugal lifestyle. Plus my friend told me to post it here.
It was the middle of the night in June four years ago. I was on a shuttle to an airport motel outside of Paris with a backpack and a rejected debit card. I was alone. It was raining. I had taken an ill-advised last-minute weekend trip to France while studying abroad in Spain, and now I didn’t know where I was going to sleep or how I was going to pay for anything. And I barely spoke a word of French.
In short, I was freaking out.
I was sitting in that shuttle, on the verge of tears, when I thought about the only thing I could to calm myself down. Right then, at that exact moment, on that bus, I was warm and dry, not hungry or in danger. Right there, at that second, everything was okay. Ten minutes later, when we pulled up to the hotel, it might not be, but all I had to deal with was that moment.
I’m naturally a planner, a worrier, full of both nostalgia and dreams for the future. I’m constantly trying to figure out how to optimize my life – how to go everywhere I want to go, do fulfilling work, improve my finances, figure out how the heck dating works, be healthy, keep learning – how to live a life I’ll be proud of.
All that planning has served me well. But when you’re always planning for something better, now is always just something to get through.
When you’re a planner, every goal is followed by another. Contentment is hard to find, because there’s always something better to reach for and plan for and count down to, whether it’s a vacation or a promotion or running a marathon.
I was listening to On Being the other day, a podcast that focuses on spirituality and “the big questions.” I don’t consider myself a very spiritual person, but I’m fascinated by the human experience, and Krista Tippet, the host, always has guests who are wise and thoughtful. This most recent episode featured Fr. Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has dedicated his life to providing gang members with education and jobs. He’s an inspiring person, who has helped countless people change their lives. He’s also a very busy man, running multiple companies, speaking about his nonprofit, and mentoring the men and women he works with. He told Krista that he takes his mantra from a Broadway show: Now. Here. This.
Those three words encompass what I’m always making a concerted effort to do: be here now.
It’s hard, on a normal workday or when I’m just killing time on the computer or driving around running errands. Sometimes it’s hard even when I’m with good friends or out for a walk on a beautiful day or on some trip I’ve been looking forward to for months. Our human brains are wired towards planning – it’s how we’ve made it this far.
And yet I’m always happier when I’m present. I still plan – I make to-do lists for my weekends, it’s just the way I am – but I do it intentionally, and try to avoid having it as a constantly running loop in my brain. I take time to write down plans and lists and schedules for things I want to do, so that when I’m doing them I don’t have to keep thinking about what’s next. So that when I’m out for a walk listening to a podcast, I’m not worrying about the work I need to do when I get back from my lunch break.
That shuttle eventually pulled up to the hotel. I was able to use their wifi to call my bank back in the US via Skype and worked with them to unblock my debit card. I spent a pile of money to stay in that hotel and was safe and dry and warm for the night. The next three days were a mess, but they were also full of some beautiful moments, like the incredibly friendly and helpful Parisians I met (seriously, they defied every stereotype). I survived that weekend moment-to-moment, swinging wildly from fighting with my roommates to seeing the Louvre, from being lost in the city at midnight to stumbling across a neighborhood market the next morning. I only got through it by focusing solely on the moment I was in.
That weekend turned into one of my favorite stories from studying abroad, and one of my most vivid memories. When you’re truly in the moment, you connect with the world around you in a different way. Problems become more manageable and great moments aren’t just noticed in retrospect.
I was walking in the rain today at lunch. It’s kind of cold out and it’s a Monday, so that’s already a bummer. Then I remembered the podcast, and paused. I listened to the rain on my umbrella. I looked at the river rushing past. I smelled the air, fresh from the rain. I focused on my awesome fuzzy pink gloves. I took a moment to notice the world around me. And it was pretty great.