I want to share an insight this week. Actually it’s a revisiting of a lesson I learned several years ago when my first son Alex was a baby. Most mornings Alex would wake around 4 or 5 and I would pick him up from his crib, bring him to our bed and nurse him back to sleep.
On one such morning, I went through the same routine not unlike so many others. What was different however, is what happened next. As Alex snuggled up to his father, I lay there watching the two of them and became overwhelmed with joy and gratitude. I looked at them both slumbering and thought “This is the most perfect moment of my life! I have everything I could ever imagine right in front of me!” And so I watched. And I watched trying to soak up all of this perfect joy.
And that lasted about 15 seconds.
After that, I got up and went on with my day a little dumbfounded as to why the sensation of reaching nirvana seemed to occupy my attention span for only about 15 seconds before becoming “over” it. Well, not over it exactly, as I still remember it very clearly. That said, it wasn’t something that entranced me to the point of choosing to gaze on.
So the lesson I learned was this. Emotions; all emotions, positive or negative rarely, if ever seem to have the power we ascribe to them. We are simply incapable of sustaining them. That is both the bad news (when we want it to last) and the good news (when we fear they will overwhelm or destroy us). I suppose this coping mechanism is built in to our species DNA for survival the same as needing to pee is.
The reminder lesson came this past week with child number two. Andrew was at cello camp in Bloomington. It was his first time away from home and the camp lasted two weeks. Okay, it was my first time away from Andrew that long and it was excruciating for me. When I went up to visit, he stayed at the hotel with me instead of the dorm. So this idea I’m about to try and describe to you happened a couple of times over that visit.
I noticed when I first got to hug him, I hugged really hard. There is that sensation when you first make contact, that is new and fresh and seems to touch parts inside of you; even parts that aren’t making physical contact with the other person like warmth in your toes or joy in your heart. But it dissipates quickly. And if you try to hug harder or longer, the feeling doesn’t increase. Then, I noticed at other times, when I went to kiss him that, if I pressed my lips against his cheek the same thing occurred. The “reward” came in the first few seconds of the kiss. After that, pressing harder or longer just seemed weird or mechanical, like lip skin touching face skin, rather than the adoration of a kiss.
So I came away reminded again of the gap between our desire for wonderful things to last forever and the disappointing reality that they don’t, or maybe “can’t” is a better term. But like most things, the disappointment comes from expectation and ignorance rather than the events themselves.
If we could feel that level of joy all of the time, would it really mean the same to us? Remember the wisdom of the Budweiser Super Bowl commercial that tugged at our heart strings? The commercial featured a song by the group Passenger, “Let Her Go”. While it played, a man ultimately feels such joy reuniting with his horse after the two had been separated for a time. It was the absence that made his heart grow fonder.
The following excerpt from the lyrics are relevant:
Well, you only need the light when it’s burning low, Only miss the sun when it starts to snow, Staring at the bottom of your glass Hoping one day you’ll make a dream last But dreams come slow, and they go so fast
If we don’t expect the good to last forever, and can instead, appreciate it for what it is in the moment, we can greatly reduce our disappointment. And the flipside is that if we can remember that pain too, will not last, we can greatly reduce our fear.
How about practicing this week a willingness to let feelings come and go naturally without having to either hold on tightly or push them away.
I’d love to hear your stories about your experiences in this area.