For two decades I was blessed with every journalism grad’s dream job—being “on air” --asking questions of leaders and successful business types as a way of making a living. I was likewise blessed to be working alongside my co-host and business partner, Teddy Bart, a man known in these parts for being one of the greatest interviewers to ever grace a microphone.
Teddy is naturally inquisitive, on mic and off, which means I was taught by the best to dig beneath the surface of things quickly. Very often this starts with something as basic as “What makes them tick?”
I recall him once asking me (off mic; over lunch) “When are you happiest?” a question I now ask myself regularly as a sort of “soul inventory check”. At the time, my honest, soul-sought answer was “When the red light is on.” (Meaning when we were “live” and on the air.) It wasn’t a trite answer; Teddy and I talked about human happiness a lot, as I personally believe recognizing when you’re happiest is a key indicator as to whether or not you’re living your life to the fullest. My answer at the time, tying my own to when I was “on air” was not about ego; it was (as I explained to him) “because when the light is on, I MUST be fully present, or else we’ll have a crappy interview.” In other words, as an interviewer, you’ll miss some great opportunities if you’re thinking too much, or tied up in your next question, or trying to show how smart you are instead of listening to what your guest is saying. Spontaneity is critical to good interviewing skills. Listening to what is (and isn't) being said, is where good questioners prevail over average ones.
In those days, when I wasn’t on mic, a good deal of my thought energy was spent in past or future mode, which is to say NOT in the moment…a habit shared by many.
If we could tabulate our thoughts over the course of a 24-hour day, we’d probably be amazed (if not appalled) at how much mindless thought energy gets wasted on things (or people) we could not change if we wanted to. We’re either reliving the past (in glory or regret), dwelling on what did or didn’t happen, OR, (as is my tendency) we’re contemplating the future, giving SO much time pondering (if not worrying about) tomorrow, again, robbing ourselves of the “now” moment which is the only thing we have to affect change in this world.
Today, it doesn’t take a microphone to bring me back to center. The goal was then and is more so now, to recognize, then stop myself when my thoughts get caught in a loop, as I like to say. When I find myself dwelling just a little too long on a problem, or anticipating (with a little too much concern) some situation that 9 times out of 10 never comes to pass anyway, I have trained myself to hit pause, (though granted, some days I do it quicker than others).
If only our Western culture valued this priceless commodity—our power to choose what thoughts we let stay and which we dismiss, for thoughts as we know, bring up emotions, which stir up feelings…the combination of which make for one whale of a powerful resource when used properly.
These days, when I ask myself “When am I happiest?” the answer is still tied to when I’m present, but my present moments no longer require an audience. Today’s happiest moments come in the smallest of things--A puppy that can't stop hiccuping.... Laughing when a baby goat plans a surprise jump on my back....Tilling my soil…Singing to plants... This “Happy check” is to me, the barometer by which I steer my life these days; with its opposite nemesis (unhappiness), being likewise as important.
I was talking with a minister friend the other day, troubled by something going on in his congregation…something that was brewing, but like the proverbial pink elephant, never directly addressed. My concluding comment as we began to hang up was “I’m so excited for you! Can't wait to see the change!”
“How can you be so sure?” he asked.
“Because the first step of change always starts with discontent." Book it. Take it to the bank. It is not in our nature to walk around with a rock in our shoe. Eventually, if we get tired enough, sore enough, sick of the blister it’s forming, smart people will stop, take off the shoe and shake the pestering, blistering rock out.
Anymore, I’ve come to embrace my moments of what I call “Divine Discontent” as I’ve realigned my thinking to now recognize that these are my soul’s early warning signs that change is on the way.
Approached in this manner, you can actually skip a bunch of worry time, and jump right into watch mode for solutions coming your way (which, as Einstein taught us, never come at the level of the problem).
While I certainly haven’t mastered “living in the now” at all times, the good news is, with practice and discipline, you can catch yourself quicker, and jump off that train of thought going absolutely nowhere the second you spot it. If nothing else, I’ve come to value and even cherish my thoughts (both good and bad), recognizing that the best soil for thinking (for me at least) comes in quiet moments of reflection, which is another reason to have a garden. Dirt nurtures more than just seedlings if you let it. It restoreth my soul…as the Psalmist says. Again, another reason why I recommend it highly.