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The Grass-is-Greener

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Greener Grass Sacred Circle

Mandala: Greener Grass Sacred Circle


“Nothing happens next. This is it.”


The Grass-is-Greener Syndrome:
Challenges to Being Present

Have you ever had an experience like this: you might be walking on a beautiful wooded trail, or watching a sunset over water, or relaxing with good friends at the end of a day’s work; you are doing something at least mildly enjoyable or pleasant, and you begin to think about the last time you did something like this, or about what you’re going to do when you get home, or that your cat needs her toenails cut…

It’s easy to understand the desire to exit the present moment in the midst of a difficult life situation or while experiencing physical or emotional pain. But what about when your mind takes you away from a present moment that is perfectly agreeable, in favor of a past or future moment that presumably either was or will be better or more important than this moment?

This tendency for the mind to roam here and there and away from the moment is simply what minds do. But there is also an assumption implicit in the pull toward the past or future and away from the present, that some other time must be more important than this moment.  This underlying belief, that the grass is always greener on the other side of here-and-now, effectively blocks our ability to show up in this moment.

When I speak about presence in my groups, I use a cartoon by Gahan Wilson that shows two monks sitting side by side. The older, presumably wiser one, is saying to the younger monk, who has a look of dismay on his face, “Nothing happens next. This is it.”

It seems we all, Zen monks included, tend to ignore the present as we look toward the next best thing, or perhaps try to re-live the last good thing. I have noticed an amusing pattern in my own mind that reminds me of the young monk.

I meditate most mornings. Meditation, for me, is a helpful way to practice presence. My mind goes on its little trips of planning, remembering, worrying and so on.  When I become aware that I’m rehearsing a conversation I’ll be having with a colleague later, or replaying– again –the last phone call with my daughter, I bring myself gently back, as best as I can, to simple awareness of my breath, my body, here, now.

Recently, I noticed the irony of one of my little recurring mind trips. While meditating, I imagine how calm and mindful I will be when I get up from the cushion. I see myself slowly walking into the kitchen, fully present, feeling the floor under my feet with each step, feeling my whole body moving through space, taking in the colors and shapes of the house with my eyes as I mindfully walk from one room to the other.

It’s a lovely fantasy, but I chuckled to myself when I realized that there I was meditating with no other intention than to be present, and my mind was off in the future imagining how present I was going to be!  The grass-is-greener syndrome… Thinking about being present in the moment is still thinking, not presence.

When I realize I’m on automatic pilot, or my mind says the grass is greener “there, then” while my body is “here, now,” I think of a haiku that was written by the Japanese poet Basho over 300 years ago:

“Even in Kyoto-

Hearing the cuckoo’s cry

I long for Kyoto.”

It helps me to know that humans have been working with these habits of mind for centuries. It helps me soften toward myself and smile inwardly at my chattering mind. And sometimes, it helps me slow down and wake up to this very moment.


Adapted from “Finding the Deep River Within: A Woman’s Guide to Recovering Balance and Meaning in Everyday Life” by Abby Seixas -psychotherapist, author and speaker specializing in issues of life balance.

She offers workshops, retreats and individualized coaching as well as her popular “Deep River”TM groups.  Her television appearances include NBC’s The Today Show and the Hallmark Channel and her work has been featured in O. The Oprah Magazine, Self, Woman’s Day, Fitness, Body + Soul, and The Boston Globe.

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16 Comments

  1. A gem of Zen, and a good reminder. I think I’ll write “Nothing happens next. This is it.” in big letters on a piece of paper and stick it on the wall, over my desk.

    Thanks for sharing this nice piece of writing. 🙂

    • Dear Thomas,
      Thank you so much for your kind words about this article…I’m so glad to hear that it was a helpful reminder…your being reminded reminds me!…and so builds the virtual sangha 🙂
      With warm wishes,
      Abby

  2. i agree that sometimes it is so hard to concentrate on the present. i’ve always heard of and reminded myself of the here and now, but still, there are times when my mind wanders to the past and future. and true, i also do that — rehearsing a conversation with someone i got to meet later and then shake the thought off and try to bring myself back to the present. hmm, i’ve experienced to be in the here and now a few times, and i could say being in the here and now is simply amazing. 🙂

    • Dear “chicacorn chronicles,”
      It’s so true that this practice of presence is easier said than done! As Jon Kabat-Zinn says, “To be present may be the hardest work in the world. And forget about the ‘may be.’ It IS the hardest work in the world–at least to sustain presence.” So, at least we know we’re not alone when we find it difficult to tame our ‘monkey minds!’
      My experience is as you say…when I am able to drop fully into the present moment, it is “simply amazing.” Well said!!
      Thanks so much for your comment,
      Abby

  3. Lovely.

    “I realized that there I was meditating with no other intention than to be present, and my mind was off in the future imagining how present I was going to be!”

    I learned during an extremely painful period in my life, to stop, look around myself at where I was in ‘this’ moment and the people around that loved me, and remind myself that every thing was OK. That I was fine, in this moment. I pretty much spent every waking hour practicing this. The regret of the past (depression) and fear of the future (anxiety) was just too much.

    • Dear Jared,
      I think this is many people’s experience…sometimes it’s great difficulty that ignites our intention to stay present. I love this perspective from meditation teacher Michele McDonald: “When we have difficult times in our life, the only refuge there is, is to connect to the present moment. We struggle like a fish out of water, and we finally learn that the refuge IS being in the present moment, going THROUGH the experience, as best we can.”
      Thank you for your comment!
      Wishing you ease of well-being, here and now, and in future good and bad times…
      Abby

  4. For me, it is hard to quiet my mind sometimes…….like this post suggests…..I try to focus on breathing to bring me back……

    I really enjoyed reading this post, great reminder!

    • Dear “Wayfaring Wanderer,”
      I’m so glad you enjoyed the reminder!
      Wishing you many moments of presence in your wanderings… 🙂
      Warm wishes,
      Abby

  5. Beautiful and inspiring as always, Abby. Thank you for the gentle reminder.

    • Thank you Karly!
      You are a gem,
      Abby

  6. Abby, this was a perfect theme right now. I have been more conscious of my own sense of presence lately as Rita, Mary Ann and I are facilitating a Deep River Group. It is so gratifying to see more women trying to find presence in our ever busy culture. Thank you for continuing this worthy work.

    • Dear Kathleen,
      Thanks for your comment. Knowing that this work is ‘rippling out’ makes it all worthwhile for me.
      Blessings to you,
      Abby

  7. Abby,

    I find it amusing how much I run from the present moment even when it’s good. Of course, when it’s uncomfortable, I want to flee, too… Thank you for normalizing this for me.

    I love your gentle reminder to come back. And I love your compassion – yes, this is just what minds do!

    Thank you for the gift of your words this morning. I feel so grateful for your work!

    In love and gratitude, Karly

    • Thanks Karly! It’s a sign of deepening practice–-don’t you think?–when we can find the urge to escape the present (even the pleasant-present) amusing. I’m glad my experience spoke to you. Wishing you many moments of presence (and amusement 🙂 over the coming holidays…. ~Abby

  8. I love it!
    It really brings home the message of living in the now. I understand clearly why we use the breath as an anchor for mindfulness meditation, it can only happen now.
    Thank you for this inspiration.
    Be well.

    • Hello, Dave….4 years later, I’m appreciating your comment 😉 Thank you! Blessings of wellness right back to you! ~Abby

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