Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Enjoying What Will Be the Time of My Life

It’s funny to me how people often say that high school was the best time of their life. Really? Because I was a neurotic mess until I was 24 or 25, and some people I know will tell you I still am. In all seriousness, I remember my high school years as often being lonely, confusing, and full of anxiety. The best time of my life? I think when I have a chance to look back on it, I’ll tell you it’s right now. Yet even knowing this, on a daily basis I struggle to be mindful of my life. Right now it’s the same day-to-day, the daily grind, too much work, too little time, and nothing new, but I know that in 10 or 15 years I’ll remember the underlying joy I have for and the pleasure I take in skating. Knowing this, I fight daily to “not sweat the small stuff” and enjoy the things I have and am doing right now.

I didn’t learn about mindfulness until after my dad died and I was apathetically perusing the “grief” section at Barnes & Noble during my lunch break. Sometimes I get an idea in my head during the work day, and working within walking distance of an urban shopping Mecca proves all too easy to make a purchase or two on a whim. This was one of those whims. I had gone months without ever picking up a book on bereavement or death or chicken soup for this rash that won’t go away, but that day I decided I needed a book on grief.

If you’re ever already depressed, it’s probably not a good idea to go stand in the grief section of a major bookstore chain, because once you start reading the titles you’re bound to feel not only depressed but also hopeless now too. As I stood there I could imagine a salesperson saying “With such a wide selection, there’s a book on grief for everyone!” and me responding to the imaginary salesperson, “Book for everyone, my ass!” With rows of books titled things like Gay Nephews Remembering Their Uncles, How to Go on when Someone You Love Dies, and Jesus Suggests You Take up Underwater Basket Weaving to Deal, I almost walked out; I wasn’t a gay nephew, a hippie Christian, or suicidal – I just wanted something to help me sort through my intense and often inexplicable waves of emotion. Then, just when I had given up hope for finding anything normal, I saw a title called Grieving Mindfully.

The book was not only practical, offering real explanations for my rollercoaster ride of emotions, but it also introduced me to mindfulness – a concept I could kind of already relate to and that I would research even more over the following weeks. In a nutshell, mindfulness is the calm awareness of your body, feelings, emotions, and intent at any one moment. Although I never did finish the book, I liked their take on using mindfulness to acknowledge each feeling I had associated with the death of my dad.

Outside of using mindfulness to help deal with grief, I’ve also tried to use it in daily life. If you know me, then you know my outlook on life is simple: have as much fun in the small amount of time you have here; life is short, enjoy it. This does not mean I’m a proponent of doing whatever the fuck you want without any regard to rules or responsibility or respecting others. This does mean I try my hardest to appreciate what I have in the moment and make the best of it, but like I said earlier, it’s a struggle to keep up this train of thought, especially when you’re working 12-hour days and have little time to yourself.

When I tried out for the All Stars last February, I hoped and prayed and have been anxious to play with my team at Nationals. Recently, however, I’ve been ready for Nationals to be over already. And it’s not just me, too. Even some of the most die-hard derby players on my team often joke when discussing our impending “off season” that they don’t know if they’ll even last that long.

At a time when I should be kicking things up a notch, I feel as if I’ve been coasting in a lower gear – staying just within sight of the rest of my team and that destination ahead of us: Nationals. It’s not that I don’t want to go to Nationals or that I don’t want to skate, but I’m tired, and the rest of life has been demanding my attention even though I know and want to be spending that time on derby.

The other day I was talking to a teammate who was feeling similarly, only on this day she couldn’t even hide it at practice. As she wore her outlook on life and derby on her sleeve, I couldn’t help but preach what I’ve been recently unable to practice. “Look around you,” I said, “Things aren’t so bad here, today.” I went on to tell her that this is our year – we’ve worked hard, and we will go to Nationals – and when she looks back on this time, 20 years from now, she’ll remember this as the time of her life, so she should enjoy it now while she’s living it. I couldn’t have put it better if I was telling it to myself, and I wouldn’t have said it at all if it wasn’t for her.

I need to follow a bit of my own advice. Life is for having fun, and this will likely be the most fun I ever have, so I should be mindful and enjoy it, despite the nagging everyday stresses that don’t mean dick when everything’s said and done.

You take the good, you take the bad, you take them both and there you have… Yeah, I wrote it, The Facts of Life! Enjoy yourself today.

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