Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The What's Next Syndrome

- At the Desert Retreat House -

Yesterday, I noticed that some neighbors had already put their Christmas tree out to the roadside to be picked up with the trash - it was only the day after Christmas. As I looked at that tree on the trash heap I wondered what it was that motivated them to throw away their tree so early in the holiday? It also made me wonder if perhaps, now that Christmas Day had come and gone, it was time to get ready for the next big event - maybe a New Year’s party or some other special occasion?

It seems to me that the tree in the trash on the day after Christmas 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 clothes, new furniture, a new car or even a new house and before long they get tired of it all and they start looking for something else - a newer model, perhaps something more expensive.  Some 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. Many people spend their days at work dreaming about that better job in anticipation of moving up the career ladder.

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 or perhaps they 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. It leads us 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 wonder if the people who have already moved on from the Christmas holidays, looking forward to “what’s next," may be missing the joy life has to offer.  That “magical moment” never happens in the future, it 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.

Today the feast is happening - life is available now.

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