If you know me (from a book, a class, or posted in regular earshot by role as friend or family member), you’ve surely been introduced to my time-is-an-illusion view. Well, time’s not so much an illusion as a common agreement to help us make sure, as Einstein said, “everything doesn’t happen all at once.” Define it how you will, time’s just not a thing, as any watch-wearing quantum physicist will confirm, even if she doesn’t quite grasp why. (And who really does?)
The point of my anti-chronologicalness is not to confound or irritate (though it has that effect on my oldest son), but to help us all remember/discover/come to understand that now is all there is (clocks and calendars notwithstanding). I do this because I teach mindfulness (learning more about the subject daily), and I’ve noticed that most people love to stick themselves in the past or the future, but very infrequently, in ThisVeryMinute.
We regret the past, feel bitter or sad about it, wish it were different. As for the future, we worry and contort all sorts of “worst case” possibilities that seldom manifest as anything other than menacing whispers. Still, we faithfully devote our energy, hearts, minds, and what seems like our time, to those demanding emotional phantoms. In an effort to find relief from time’s tyranny, I spend a lot of it explaining how to un-trap ourselves from the Not-Now.
It seems to help.
What I hear more and more from students is that they are increasing their joy factor through a heightened focus on all the Good Stuff right in front of them, rather than lamenting ancient woes, or agonizing over potential dangers. In ThisVeryMinute, they have created new adventures, opened their hearts, relinquished judgments, loved bigger, and skipped over anxieties that once plagued them. It’s really miraculous to hear the stories!
I’ve been teaching this concept for a while now, thoroughly convinced that ThisVeryMinute is always the best place to be (while freely admitting I am not always there). Recently, however, I encountered an big, fat, fabulous caveat.
Jason, a very dear friend of ours, is exuberance incarnate. He is witty and fun, and brims with love and laughter. His quintessential joy offered me a ThisVeryMinute “tweak” that I have already begun gratefully incorporating and sharing as often as possible. I define what I call The Jason Clause as, “the effervescent application of anticipatory joy to ThisVeryMoment (thereby magnifying EVERY angle of joy!)”
Here’s how it showed up and wow-ed me. There we were—Jason, Denise, Bob, Mikey, and I—enjoying a picnic at 30,000 feet, laughing, sharing snacks and stories, when suddenly, Jason looked up at us from behind his cheese plate and announced with elated certainty, “Oh, I’m going to be soooo happy about this moment for years to come!” The smile across his face absolutely confirmed it.
I was bowled over by this, especially from a grown man. We adults are all so “busy,” we’ve even been known to miss the fun while it’s happening! But to simultaneously conjure future joy while genuinely experiencing it ThisVeryMoment, as Jason did, is a genius expansion technique to living in the now. His future intention did nothing to diminish his in-the-moment joy (just the opposite): he was 100% here-and-now, a fact which will beautifully nurture many future moments. Brilliant.
Most grown ups can remember certain past events fondly, sure, but to intentionally stockpile future joy using ThisVeryMinute, to make the joy factor infinitely exponential, is not something we practice very much. Ahhhh, but just imagine all the happier we could create by learning/remembering Jason’s awesome trick. (And fortunately, we don’t have to imagine, since those helpful researchers have been at it again…in a method similar to Jason’s, they’ve discovered that anticipating something exciting creates “happy hormones” along the brain’s mesolimbic dopamine pathway, AKA the brain’s reward system.)
Here’s a way we might practice The Jason Clause…The next time you’re smack-dab in the middle of a Very Happy Moment, consciously stop yourself, and just appreciate THAT MOMENT. It could be a high school football game, a sunset, or a delicious cup of tea with a friend—it really doesn’t matter. Now that you have so mindfully noted the moment, take a picture in your heart. Let the feeling settle in your body. Smile about it just a bit longer than you ordinarily would, so it registers in your hippocampus (and then in your neocortex and amygdala), and actively slide it in your “moments that are going to make me happy for years to come” file. You will not only upgrade your experience at the time, but you’ll make more joy-filled memories, AND improve the structure of your brain…simultaneously!
Thanks, Jason, you Joy Genius!