My gut is tight as I walk fast on the trail. I am thinking I need to get this exercise over with, so I can go back home and work on a project. I look at my feet as my hiking boots crunch the graveled path. I inhale and smell the toyon tree. I see that it is bursting with red holly berries. I exhale. I catch up with my husband to chat.
Hey, I need an attitude adjustment.
What do you mean?
My focus is on the future, like getting this done. I need to focus on the present so I can enjoy this hike.
That is a good idea. I’ll do that too.
After a half hour on fairly flat terrain with the branches of green pepper trees bowing to gently lead us on our way, we come upon a sign. It says, “1.5 miles to Simmons Family Park. Level: Difficult.” We have never gone this way, but nod at each other and agree to take this trail. It is all uphill. Sweat appears on my neck and I begin to feel good from the workout I am getting, especially for my thighs and hips. As we ascend the winding path, I look to my right. The houses that were above us are now below us. Beyond them I can see mountains and then the ocean further west. Then my breathing gets more labored and my thighs get tired. In front of me is a sixty-five degree angle straight up. I think, “Well, it will be so nice climbing back down.” Oops. That is a future thought! I don’t say this aloud, due to my rule to stay in the present. I trudge up the hill.
I catch up with my husband (yes, he always goes faster than me) who is waiting at the top of that steep hill. He wipes his forehead and says, “It will be so nice going back down.” We both laugh. We finally make it to this park that seems like it is at the top of the world, with mowed green grass, a playground, and a pickleball court. There is a spectacular 360 degree view of the world below. We sit on a bench in the shade to rest. The endorphins from good exercise make a smile take over my face, like a flower blooming. They also seem to clear my head. As we walk down (and yes, it is much more pleasant going down than up) it hits me.
You know how I said I need to be in the present and not the future?
Well, when my legs were sore, my mind went to the future.
I think when you are suffering, it is natural to think of a better future.
Right, it gives you the hope to go on.
We scrambled down the hill, some places a little slippery but mostly pleasant. I saw a young shirtless man, with a red face coming the other way. As he glanced up the hill with a worried look, I said, “You are almost there.” I figured he needed a little hope for a less painful future.
There is a time to be in the present and enjoy the moment. And today I learned there is also a time to orient to the future. Unless we allow the brain to flood us with hopes and wishes for a better tomorrow, some of us would not make it up the hill. Survival of the fittest probably involved an ability to keep a spirit of hope alive, even in the most dire of times. We are all descendants of hopeful souls! So, thinking of the future has always had its place. When in pain, it is okay to think of a time of less pain. The brain is helping the body tolerate and persevere. This applies whether we are in physical or emotional pain. Today, I thank God for this ability of my brain to lead me all the way to the big pickle ball court in the sky.