I recently had the opportunity to see my son compete in a collegiate cross-country meet. He has been competing since September, but since his college is 12 hours away, and I’ve been coaching cross country myself, this was my first opportunity to make the trek and go cheer him on. Needless to say, we had an incredible time!
I saw him when I arrived in the late evening, and we stayed up even later, excited to catch up. The next morning, I bolted out to attend his meet. We walked around his course excited to talk about anything and nothing. I took so many photos trying to remember every nook and cranny of his meet, that I actually had to go back to my car before his race for 20 minutes and charge my phone! I was making sure to take in the smells of the crisp fall air, the wet grass, my hot coffee. I was listening to the parents excited, nervous chatter about their runners. Hell, I even found myself running my hands over the course ropes to remember their texture. I knew what I was doing. I could hear a quiet whisper in the corner of my mind, while the happiness of seeing my son stayed in the forefront. “Try to solidify these memories, they have to last me a lifetime.” What? I thought. The whisper continued. “Who knows what your relationship will be like after this weekend.”
I paused. What was going on, and where was this voice coming from? I was truly happy to see Daniel. Using all of my mental-emotional tools to take in and remember as much from our time together as possible was a normal thing for me; yet, something felt different. Something was high-jacking my attention from creating the rich, full memories that usually came easily when we were together.
It was sadness. Sad longing for the way our relationship used to be. There was also fear. Fear that things weren’t going to be the same (it already wasn’t, but I think I was in a bit of ‘parent denial’ 😊), and so I was grasping at the fleeting moments of this short-lived trip. While I was forcing all of my mental and emotional tools to try and record all that took place, I was neglecting the most significant tool that had always allowed my richest and longest-lasting memories to be created in the first place: being fully present in the moment.
As long as my mind was years in the past with, “I remember what it used to be like…” and fear of a future where my son and I barely spoke, I had shut off any ability I had to make memories in the present. Because, in reality, I truly wasn’t there. Instead I was spending most of my time in a past that didn’t exist anymore, and a future that hadn’t happened.
So, how do I stay in the present moment? How does anyone? How do we appreciate the moments that we have, while our uncomfortable emotions are flooding our brains with, “Oh my God! I’m going to have to have to leave.” Or better yet, “our relationship isn’t what it was!”
Trust your relationships can handle change.
Because in reality… every meaningful relationship that you have has been changing whether you know it or not (in big clumps or in small doses) since you’ve developed them. None of the relationships that you have been in have stayed the same. You don’t have the same relationship with you parents, your friends, or anyone that’s worth salt in your life. One of the most important reasons why you can remember the times you have spent with all those people you care about, and your mental-emotional toolbox was so effective in all those situations, was that those relationships allowed you and another to be authentically yourselves and fully present in the moment. All of your energy and focus is right where you are and with the person in the present moment. Secondly…
Trust that when you are fully present, you are building memories.
Any time you make an authentic connection, your mind will more easily remember the sights, sounds, and images that take place. It’s not something that you have to force. It’s not something you have to push or manipulate. Now granted, it’s wonderful to be able to enhance your memories by recalling the flavors of a fantastic steak dinner you had with a friend, or intentionally recalling a full-bellied laugh you share with your son at a movie. But, the mental-emotional tools you practice are only as effective as your ability to be mindful.
I’m grateful that I caught myself so that I could stop, acknowledge how I was feeling, and then decide what it was that I really wanted from this visit, which was to be fully and authentically present with my son! I will hold the memory of my visit and the authentic connection I had with my son. I will draw on this memory when I find myself missing how things ‘used to be,’ so I can trust that our relationship will grow as it did this weekend.
Have you ever caught yourself grasping so hard to hold onto a moment that you were actually stopping yourself from making an authentic connection with someone you loved? What did you do to enable yourself to be fully present?