"Rocks of Ages"
Standing in line at a local supermarket yesterday I overheard someone in front of me telling the cashier: I am so sick of looking at my Christmas tree- I just can’t wait to take it down. I was actually quite “taken back” by that remark. After all, Christmas Day was barely over and that lady in the store was already tired of it all, ready to throw it in the trash.
As I reflect on it, I wonder if that one little statement in the market yesterday may be very iconic of life in today’s popular culture. We painstakingly plan and prepare for a future event and then when it finally arrives it’s often sort of disappointing or we get tired of it easily, and so we ask the question, what’s next? Then it’s on to something else, something newer, perhaps something bigger and better.
People buy new shoes or new clothes or even a new car, a new house and before long they get tired of it and start looking for something else, or people plan and prepare for months for the big vacation and before it’s even over they begin planning for their next trip hoping to do something a little more exciting next time.
The what’s next question is even applied to the way in which many people approach other people in their lives. They accumulate business contacts, acquaintances and even friends who perhaps are useful to them, but they tire of them easily, they get sick of looking at them or perhaps determine that they are no longer useful and then it’s on to someone else who may be more exciting or more valuable.
The what’s next syndrome is spiritually draining. It bloats up an already too-big ego and destroys relationships - all this leads down a slippery slope into the dead-end of greater suffering.
I think of something Buddhist monk and teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, once said:
In everyday life we are always looking for the right conditions
that we don’t yet have to make us happy,
and we ignore what is happening right in front of us.
We wait and hope for the magical moment,
always something in the future when everything will be as we want it to be,
forgetting that life is available only in the present moment.
There is a piece of Zen spiritual wisdom that teaches something very similar:
Treat each moment as your last.
It is not a preparation for something else.
I have been thinking about that woman in the supermarket yesterday eagerly anticipating taking down the tree that she no-doubt couldn’t wait to put up just a few weeks ago - throwing it to the trash two days after Christmas because she was sick of looking at it. I wondered if, as she was dragging the tree to the road for the trash pick-up, she may have been asking herself, what’s next - a New Year’s Eve party, maybe Valentine’s Day or the next vacation or maybe some new furniture to put in the house in the spot where the tree used to stand?
I also wondered if, like so many of us, that woman in the supermarket may be missing all the joy life has to offer because she is always looking for the magic to happen in the future when the magic only happens now?
Poet and author, John O’Donohue, once wisely observed:
Sometimes the urgency of our hunger blinds us to the fact that
we are already at the feast.
I think that the phrase what’s next should be excised from our spiritual lexicon. Today the feast is happening - life is available now.