Surrender to the Now

writing in notebook

Before family vacations, big projects, or perhaps a new year, we often find ourselves caught in a neverending series of tasks, moving from one chore or problem to another and asking, “Now what?” Here, Becky Allender reflects on that question and how it unsettles her, wondering about how to be more grounded in the present moment. This post originally appeared on Red Tent Living.

Lists, don’t we hate lists? I mean I like them. They create order. They allow for a plan to get things done so we aren’t left in a bind later. I love them on one hand but on the other, they bring pressure and frenzy. And that is what I am trying to power through now. There are so many things crying out to get done, therefore the list is growing instead of dwindling. I feel frazzled and being frazzled is not on my list.

Today is the day before we go on a family trip and each time I sit and write I remember something else that should be done. I leave my writing “perch” and go upstairs and pack a few more items and while doing that I think, “maybe I should pack this.” Or, “I forgot to call this person.” And then I see my essential oils and wonder what if someone has trouble breathing maybe I should pack this too. Then I remember I originally was sitting on the south side of the house (hoping to catch a few seconds of sunlight) writing this essay. The essay that I definitely don’t want to do with thirteen family members on a beach, so I trod back to my writing chair and remember a prescription that needs refilling.

The phrase, “now what?” brings pressure and more diversions than I’d like to admit. It creates chaos because it requires a list and the more items on a list the more pressure I feel. It becomes an endless cycle of demands, interrupted focus and anxiety. In fact, I cannot imagine a scenario where “now what” brings anything but dread.

“Now what,” after a family member dies brings pressure of the burial, the funeral, the process of the will, and all the final bills paid. Where is the moment to grieve when everything about “now what” intrudes?

When a grandchild is born and first visit draws to an end, “now what” brings up how to get all the debris of the hospital room delivered to the parents’ home while tending to the older siblings in the exhaustion and mania of a new baby.

When long awaited guests depart from your home and your heart aches feeling their absence, “now what” implies washing sheets, loading the dishwasher and cleaning the house to get things in order to annul the pain.

When a vacation ends and you make your way to the long-term parking lot and return to a cold house and look at the pile of bills to be paid, “now what” makes the ending of a long-awaited trip even more difficult.

I actually hate that phrase. I didn’t know it until I was caught in this bind of preparing to leave and writing about “now what.” I am better off without it. I am better off to live without thinking of the next thing because I am fearful that the next thing will always lead to another thing that I won’t sufficiently accomplish. And if I do accomplish it with flying colors—still, there will always be another “now what” that takes me to the slavery of doing and not being.

What might happen if I simply surrender to living into the moment?

So, “now what?” I need to confess that I am ambivalent about these hours that are slipping by. More packing and other chores are getting done but the joy—the joy in being and looking out the window, of eating homemade mushroom soup, and watching the birds eat the madrona tree berries are all no longer present as I focus on “now what.” I want more joy. More delight. More curiosity. More love. Less pressure. Less fear. Less dread.

The longer I thought of the bind of “now what,” it dawned on me that my conundrum might be as simple as switching the words to: “What now?” What if I freed myself from the ‘what’ and relinquished myself to the ‘now?’

What might happen if I simply surrender to living into the moment?

I don’t question I am strange but that simple transposition let me drop my shoulders and take in the deepest breath of this day.

I will ponder the miracle of breath, life, home, possessions, and my beloved husband who loves me and cares for me and his children and grandchildren. I will help him put on the trailer cover that blew off last night in the wind and I will then come back in and look around and say, “what now” with a smile and an added word—“What now, Jesus?” May he guide me to take in the breath of the ‘now’ before I set my hands to the labor of the ‘what.’