Monday, February 25, 2013

Happiness in the Present

I'm reading Augusten Burrough's book This is How and in it he makes a pretty strong and repeated pitch for being present. He does this through writing and so do I. (It's nice when I agree with someone who sells a lot of books and gives me hope.) I've been thinking about how my happiness is almost directly correlated to my presence. When I'm in the moment, I'm almost always happy, unless that moment is one in which someone has lowered an engine block onto my foot. Today there were two such chances for me to be present and find happiness.

The first chance came at school when I was teaching and trying to help kids learn. We were talking mostly, about a poem in one class, about plagiarism in another, about schools in a third, and about waking up in the fourth. Whatever the case, I found myself engaging with the kids at the level I often hope to be at. I was listening more than speaking. I was bouncing their ideas off of one another. It was a busy place with lots of things happening, but I didn't feel rushed. Nothing about it was frantic.

It occurred to me afterward that it would usually have been at least a little frantic. There is a lot to measure in any school and that's true at the alternative program where I teach. Kids need lots of good attention and I'm the one to manage most of that in the class. Doing so is tiring and requires a lot of brain power. None of that energy is reduced when I'm present, but it is all directed into doing what I want to be doing and what the kids need me to do. It's calming to have that energy going to all the right places.

More than calming, I sensed in the moment of doing and in the time of reflecting on it, how happy I was. It was like sipping a really good glass of bourbon. The taste opening up on the tongue, the smooth finish, and the warm glow afterward. In talking with the kids, helping them learn, I could feel their energy, my own, and how we were all enjoying ourselves. It's tough to be anything but happy when that occurs.

After school, after my physical therapy appointment, I came home and got ready for a run. I've mentioned that I haven't run much since my surgery back in early December and so I'm out of shape for running. I knew that going in, but reading Burroughs' book had me thinking that limits are all too often excuses I make to quit what I'm doing. So instead of deciding how far I could run, I headed out the door in a direction that offered me options.

That said, I didn't think much about those options as I ran down the street. I was set on my path for the first mile and a half and knew that I could make the decision as to what direction to take when I got to the fork in the road. I concentrated on being in the run, hearing my breath, feeling my body. I'm not the only runner whose brain quits before his body, but when my brain is so engaged in discovering the present, I tend to keep going. Instead of telling myself that I feel tired, I ask myself how my legs feel. Then I take stock of my breathing. From there I notice that my shoulders are sore and take a moment to shake them out. And so on. I kept running through that mile and a half and I felt not just good, but happy. When I took stock of myself further, I noticed that I was smiling.

I did four and three-quarter miles including a nice little uphill and I was just over a ten-minute mile pace. That's good. I like it. But what really makes me happy is that I felt good in body and mind throughout. All that because I waited until I was at the fork to make decisions and remained present through the run.

The key to happiness seems obvious to me now. Not that I'm going to keep that in mind every moment of the rest of my life. That's not the goal. The goal is to keep growing, to keep becoming. Being present is at the heart of all that. Running, for me, is too. And of course, there's few better ways for me to be happy than to write on.