I pulled behind a van at a red light this morning and noticed that my front right headlight was out. Well, it wasn’t that I noticed, I knew it had been out for weeks. I was just reminded or perhaps kicked again in the head at another in the very long list of things that needed to get done and wasn’t. I still have the old sticker from the DMV on my windshield with the new one taped beside it. How long would it take me to fix it? 15 minutes? 20 minutes max to scrape it off? But every time there always seems to be another task more pressing. A contractor at the house that needs to be watched, groceries to buy, a work project to finish, a class to teach, etc., etc., etc.
Each of us has a broken headlight to fix, a door to paint, an e-mail to send, an errand to run, or some project that just doesn’t get finished. I keep thinking that one day I will get all of these things finished, all the little loose ends finished, all the bills caught up, all the paperwork filed, all the e-mails returned, all the cracks patched. But you know what, that day is not ever coming. Ever. Really. Never. There will never be a perfect day when all our projects are complete, we will die with a list unfinished. There will be items on the To Do list that don’t ever get crossed off.
A teacher I have studied with once said at a talk, “there is no better you.” He was saying that often we believe that one day we’ll be a better meditator, a better partner, a better employee, a better boss, or a better whatever. He kept repeating that phrase, “there is no better you.” You are that person now, there is no better you, there is only you in this moment, in this action, in this thought.
When I first heard these words, I took them very negatively. I thought what’s the point of this meditation practice if there is no “better me”? If I can’t improve, then why even try? Isn’t this the practice I’m trying to follow? I’m trying to “become a better person.” But the longer I’ve thought about it, I’ve found that thought very powerful. It forces me to stay in the present. There is no alternative.
There is no end to our To Do list. There is always something to add, always another improvement that we can make in our personal or our professional lives. We can get caught in this feeling of never being satisfied, of always chasing the next item on the list and we end up in this spiral of elation for crossing off the item and disappointment when we remember another item. No matter how much we get done, that deep feeling of guilt, of nagging failure creeps in when we realize (or when a spouse or partner points out) another item we have failed to do. It’s exhausting.
We need to have To Do lists. Writing this blog was my first item on the list this morning, but it was also on the list for the past six days. But it didn’t get done, other items became more pressing and it was pushed to the back. This isn’t a blog about how to have better time management, but it is a thought about how to have better mental management. The shift is in changing how we respond to the success or failure of tasks.
Take a few minutes to meditate on who you would be if everything on your list was done. Feel the elation, perhaps the relief, the satisfaction. Now, take a few minutes to meditate on how you feel when you don’t get things done. Feel the disappointment, the frustration. Sit with that feeling.
Both of them are you. There is no better you, there is just you in this moment with a long To Do list that will never get finished. That is you.
Ok, so I admit it, getting my headlight fixed is pretty important and a safety concern and should be at the top of my priority list, I promise it’s the next thing on my list today, of course right after I do that other thing ....