The "If Only" Syndrome

 Photo by @@mensroom

Photo by @@mensroom

Is it possible to find contentment consistently in the present moment? Is this not the goal of the yogic path, the epic pursuit of a life well-lived? Can one actually without moving to a monastery, spending all one’s time meditating, or cutting off relationship with the modern world, achieve a state of regular bliss?

I believe we can. I believe it is a conscious choice to notice when we get caught in the “if only” narrative. There are big “If only’s” such as “if I only could figure out how to change careers, then I’d be happy” or “If only I met the perfect partner, things would be great” or “if only they were still alive I would be able to feel good”. There are also the everyday “if only’s” that poke at us. “If only I would have woken up 10 minutes earlier” or “If only they had almond milk at the cafe” or “If only my coworker didn’t say that thing…today would have been great.” Similar to the grass is always greener platitude, a case of the “if only’s” can be one of the hardest patterns to break, for often times it moves through our consciousness before we have time to counter it. 


What would happen if we decided that nothing actually had to change in order for us to be happy? If we were to open to the present moment and everything that it contained, not living in an alternate possibility of a preferred future or manipulated past? We could train ourselves to accept whatever this moment had to offer. Some moments would present pain, others there would be pleasure. Some might be experienced without much action or heightened emotion. All of it would be okay. All of it would be part of the concoction of contentment. And there we would be, standing in the middle of a moment, at ease with whatever decided to grace our path. 

When we are not quite feeling our best, or feel removed from a sense of contentment, it is very accessible to chalk it up to an outside detail. Something is missing, something is wrong, something needs to change. It is often more accessible to point a finger out then to pause and truly examine what is present for us, how we feel, and most importantly how we are in relationship to ourselves during moments that we experience discomfort. 


It is not to say that there is a panacea to pain and suffering, but rather a refined ability to accept even the most heart wrenching of moments, even the most mundane of experiences, as part of the great contentment tapestry. When we allow ourselves to experience all of the colors and textures, we are blanketed in a sense of presence that can inspire joy no matter what the situation or context. This is a blanket that can keep us warm no matter how cold or unwelcoming the world may be. 

One way to weave a thread of consistent well-being through one’s life is the addition of a gratitude practice. Acknowledging three things we are grateful each day is practicing our capacity to see and be in the present moment. Too often we pass by the good and focus on the bad, on what could be different, and so calling attention to the details of our lives that light us up not only add light to the present moment, but train our minds, overtime, to more readily embrace the love and joy existent in the present moment. 

Give yourself permission to pause and steep in the details of this - right now. How deep can you breathe, how much sensation can you take in, how alive can you allow yourself to be? If we can refine our ability to step fully into what is here, we will undoubtedly be filled with what is always existent, what is always present, no matter how buried it may be: the great loving.