How to know the right thing to do in every moment
At some point in our lives, we have wished to be somewhere else, doing something else or with someone else, questioning What If… and If Only This…
- What If I had started this career earlier?
- What If I was still in a relationship with this person?
- If Only I had discovered yoga/meditation/fitness in my 20’s
- If Only it didn’t take me until 50 years old to take care of my health
It’s a very difficult thing to be present to where we are – even if where we are is a “good” place – because we’re always thinking about the next best thing. In every moment, we’re already looking at where we aren’t and where we aren’t is exactly where we think we should be.
We believe that if we know exactly what to do and when to do it, we will live life in exactly the way in which we want to experience it. We think the precise alchemic combination of circumstance and action will take us exactly where we need to be. Problem is, even when we arrive at that destination, we’re never really present to see that we’ve actually arrived. We’re constantly caught in a cycle of impatience and a fear of missing out (#FOMO) fueled by What If’s and If Only’s.
The Three Questions
There once was a king who decided that if he knew who the most important people to be with were, and what the most important thing to do was, and when the best time to do each thing was, that he would certainly be the finest king ever to rule the land. Although he had asked his advisors, none had been able to give him a good answer to these questions.
At last he decided to ask the advice of a wise hermit. The king dressed himself in the clothes of a commoner and set out for the forest. When he neared the hermit’s hut, he ordered his knights to stay back at a distance, and he rode the last section of the trail alone.
The king found the hermit digging in his garden. The old man greeted him but continued digging. The king told the hermit that he had come to find answers to his three questions. The hermit listened but gave no answer and continued working. The king observed that the hermit was frail and elderly and that the work was very difficult for him. The king offered to take over the digging, and the hermit allowed it.
The king dug for one hour. Then he repeated the questions, but the hermit did not answer. He worked again for another hour, and then repeated his questions with the same results. This continued for a few more hours until the sun began to sink low in the sky. Finally, the king became discouraged, “I came to you for answers wise man. If you have none, tell me and I will return home.”
Just then, someone came running up the path. They turned to see a man with his hands pressed to his stomach and blood flowing between them. He dropped to the ground at the king’s feet.
The king and the hermit knelt down and began tending to the man. The king washed and bandaged the man’s wounds. The blood continued to flow so he kept having to change the bandages. The king also helped the hermit get fresh water, and he helped the man drink.
Finally, the man slept. The king too slept upon the ground, waking often to watch over the man. In the morning the man woke up and looked at the king.
“Forgive me,” he said to the king.
“You have nothing to forgive me for,” the king answered.
“Oh, but I do,” he said. “You were my enemy, and I had sworn to take revenge on you for killing my brother and taking my land. I knew that you were coming here today, and I decided to kill you on the trail. But when you did not return for many hours I left my hideout to find you. Your guards recognized me and wounded me. I escaped them, but I would have bled to death if you had not cared for me. I meant to kill you, but you have saved my life. If I live, I shall gladly serve you for the rest of my days.”
The king was so happy to have been reconciled with an old enemy that he immediately forgave him and promised to return his land. Then the king called for his knights to carry the man back to his castle to be cared for by his own doctor.
After the wounded man had gone, the king asked the hermit once more if he would not give him the answers to his questions.
“Your questions have already been answered,” the hermit replied.
“But how?” the king retorted, perplexed.
“How?” the hermit repeated. “If you had not taken pity on my weakness yesterday and helped me instead of returning home, that man would have ambushed and killed you on the trail. Therefore, the most important time was when you were digging my garden beds; and I was the most important person; and the most important thing to do was to do good for me. Later, when the man came running to us, the most important thing to do was to care for him. If you had not bound up his wounds, he would have died without making peace with you. Therefore, the most important person was that man, and what you did was the most important thing, and the right time was the time in which you were doing it.
You see, the most important time is always the present moment. It is the only time that is important because it is the only time that we have control over. The past we can look back on and wish we had done differently. The future we can only imagine. The most important person is always the person you are with in the present moment, and the only important deed is the deed that does what is best for others.”
At last the king understood. He returned to rule wisely, one moment at a time.
For me, this story was a poignant reminder to be here now and to trust that that’s exactly where I am meant to be. With so much of my life uncertain, it’s hard to trust that everything is unfolding exactly as it should. But, when I look back to other difficult times in my life, I can see how every event that transpired, once I surrendered to whatever it was, ultimately led down the right path, at exactly the right time:
- Not cutting the grades I needed to in Chemistry in college, steered me on a path toward a degree in Secondary Education English, putting me back in touch with my passion for writing.
- Not landing what I considered my “dream teaching job” right out of college, allowed me to land the real dream job – team-teaching a Humanities Course down at the Reading Public Museum.
- Not finding a teaching job when I moved back home to Philly after 5 years of teaching in Reading, led me to work at Athleta, which then put me on the path of teaching fitness.
- Not being hired at various studios where I thought I “needed” to be, ultimately led me to LifeTime.
Looking back has me wonder, What if in this moment, when things are uncertain and difficult – what if this was exactly where I needed to be? What if everything I’ve gone through and I’m currently up against is actually something I’ve asked for? What if in order to create impact, in order to truly influence and impact the lives of others in a meaningful and life-changing way, requires me to know, understand and live the very things I teach?
We often think the hardest task we face is figuring out how to get where we’re going or knowing when it’s the right thing to do and the right time to do it. But really, the hardest work we’ll ever do is learning how to surrender to this moment and to be there fully, trusting that wherever we are, is exactly where we are meant to be. In these moments, life will ask us to surrender to uncertainty and it will challenge us to accept that life isn’t about knowing what the “lesson” is or why we are ever in any particular situation at any given time. We will be reminded through the things that trigger us, that life isn’t about having it all figured out. It’s not about what someone else is getting or what someone else is doing. Life will constantly echo: Their path is their path. Your path is yours. Trust in this moment for it is the only moment that matters. But, only if we choose to be here now, will we hear its message and be open to the unfolding of what’s next.
What if in this moment, you are exactly where you are meant to be?
This week, try to be more aware of being where you are right now, instead of concerning yourself with where you think you ought to be. When your mind presses you with questions about what to do or say and when to act, remember the answers are right in front of you: The most important time is this moment; the most important thing to do is the thing that does good by others or yourself; and the most important person is the person you are with in the present moment (and sometimes, that person is you).
It’s really that simple.
The Three Questions, excerpt from “Doorways to the Soul: 52 Wisdom Tales from Around the World”