An Overdue Trip to Here and Now

It’s been a whirlwind month: two business trips to the mainland that took a 60-hour chunk out of my life just in commute time. And this doesn’t even count the extra day stuck in Chicago due to fog.

The good news is the gigs made the commutes worth it. (Hey I love my job, what can I say?) And who would have the audacity to complain about going to work in these tough times anyway? Lots of blessings to count even as I vent.

What’s scary is I’m getting used to the airports and long plane rides. Lot’s of ways to cope but they all center around finding quality in the moment, something I’ve been focusing on this past week.

The toughest part of any mainland gig is “getting to work”. More often than not my destinations are in the Midwest and Deep South, which means I arrive in the morning, at best with a couple hours of sleep under my belt (that is when I’m lucky enough not to be seated next to a screaming kid). Worst case I don’t sleep at all. But when I’m really lucky the airline lets me cash in frequent flier miles for the privilege to sit in First Class. So far no screaming kids have made it to the front of the plane.

So I arrive at my work destination in the morning. Rather than twiddling my thumbs all day in a hotel room, I do my first gig directly off the red-eye, usually an afternoon session in Japanese. I always worry that in such a sleep-deprived state my “Japanese brain” might somehow shut down, but it’s never happened. If anything, I get in a zone and everything flows.

After the gig I grab dinner, hang on til 9:00 pm then hit the sack. The next day I’m up at 6:00 am bright-eyed and bushy-tailed , knowing my toughest day is behind me. Then I do my thing for a few days until it’s time to head home. The return flight to Hawaii is so much happier than the somber red-eye to the mainland. And when I’m surrounded by all theses happy, excited folks on vacation, it makes me appreciate living in Hawaii that much more.

But the first day of any mainland trip is never as bad as my hyper-active imagination would have me believe. And herein lies a lesson I’ve learned sitting on airplanes for 9-hours at a time: fretting about a future event out of one’s control is a very low-quality way to spend time and energy. A much better approach is to focus your attention on finding quality in the here and now. I call this the “Zen mindset.”

The Zen Mindset

In previous posts I’ve alluded to the “Zen Mind”. I use this expression not in a “religious” sense, but rather to describe a state of mind that dwells not on the past nor frets about the future, a mind immersed in the quality moments available only here, only now.

My concept of the Zen mind came together after years of observing Japanese mentors attack problems in factories (viewed within the framework of Pirsig’s “Metaphysics of Quality”). Whenever problems occurred, my mentors would never fail to “go to the spot”; they all had the uncanny ability to jump into the “here-and-now” at will, to forget about their assumptions from past experiences, and stay disciplined enough not to jump to conclusions awaiting in the future. Their focus was always on “understanding the current situation” before taking any action. They all wanted to know, What’s happening now!

I’ve learned to appreciate the value of here and now. And now when I find myself on a cramped airplane or stuck in Chicago–or just spending too much time on the internet–I seek refuge in the here-and-now.

On airplanes I read, write, sleep or listen to my ipod. I ponder what’s important in life and focus on appreciating everything I have.

And when I got stuck in Chicago this last time, the here and now didn’t disappoint. I made the best of the situation by spending quality time with my 3 younger siblings, munching on deep-dish pizza, enjoying our time together. It was a blessing because I chose to appreciate the moment.

How’s that for a Zen experience?

Reflecting on the plane ride back it dawned on me that I don’t spend nearly enough time here and now. So last week, to put balance back into my universe, I tore myself away from the computer (for the most part), away from work, away from the past and future, and just putzed around my yard aimlessly. My motivation? Beautify everything in site and get my garden ready.

Now I just need to manifest a truckload of dirt, plant my seeds and enjoy the ride. Stay tuned.

For more on Tim’s poor gardening practices and warped sense of Zen, you won’t want to miss my next post, “So Easy a Caveman Can Build It“.

Copyright © Tim Sullivan 2009

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