One Step At A Time

Yesterday morning was very foggy where I live and I was struck by how it reflected the feeling I’ve been having over the past couple of months.  I have felt very burdened with responsibility about the success or failure of a project coupled with a couple of other work-related endeavors that have had their ups and downs and my way through it all seemed unclear. But, gratefully as the sun rose and the fog lifted, I, too, felt like I was finally beginning to see my life and these projects more clearly.

“One step at a time,” I told myself. It was clear that my continued small efforts each day, coupled with good intentions had paid off. I wish I had been able to tell myself this while I was going through the challenges. But, taking time to reflect on it now might help me in the future and help you if you are finding yourself in a state of less than ease about your life.

It is nearing the end of January and this might be a time when you look back over the month and become discouraged that you haven’t fulfilled your New Year’s Resolutions (if you made them) or gotten everything done that you wanted to do. Alternatively, you might be looking forward and thinking of all of the things that you need to do and get overwhelmed.  This looking back and looking forward with regret or anxiety is one of the habits of mind that gets in the way of living with ease and joy as well as accomplishing the things you want.

Additionally, you might find yourself focused on problems large and small that seem insurmountable. Sometimes you have little to no control over the situations or people involved and, even when you do think you have control, there is only so much you can do and much is determined by other forces out of your reach. Trying too hard to fix something or giving up and ignoring it are two strategies that also take us out of the flow of life.

When we focus on “one step at a time” then we are living fully in the present moment. Add the qualities of kindness and curiosity to your steps and you can find yourself in sync with life as it wants to unfold. We may not always like the way it’s unfolding but we can learn to partner with life in the moment so that we can navigate it with more clarity and compassion. Not resisting life, as it is, while working to make it the best it can be, is one of the most beneficial lessons we can learn.

“One step at a time” is one of the foundational instructions in twelve step programs. Listening to a talk one day at an AA meeting, I will never forget the man who was sharing say “If I bring my attention back to what is actually happening in this moment, I’m okay. I have everything I need. But, if I focus on what happened before or what might happen next, then I’m more likely to go out and drink.”  Focusing on this next moment is really all we can do.

That’s not to say that we don’t intentionally sit down and plan things. Setting goals and making plans is different than ruminating and obsessing about them. Set your intentions and then focus on the next best step. Or, as I was told when I was writing my dissertation, “Don’t Rush Into the Next Moment and Suffer.”  In other words, take care of “Now” and the next moment will take care of itself.  That meant in writing my dissertation, I only focused on the sentence or the paragraph I was writing. If I focused on the whole thing I would quickly become overwhelmed.  

So, don’t overlook the moment that’s right in front of you and get lost in the fog. Come back to where the sun is rising and things will be much clearer. Take a step with heart and trust in the process.