Before You Can Answer, “What’s Next?” You Have to Ask, “What’s Now?”

Before you ask what the future may hold, try asking, “What’s now?”, “What’s present?”, “What’s here?” and “What am I doing, feeling, experiencing, already?”
April 3, 2020

Before You Can Answer, “What’s Next?” You Have to Ask, “What’s Now?”

In the first few months of every New Year, I’m constantly asking myself to look into the future and imagine what the year could entail.

I look back on the year-that-was and story it into meaning and memory.

I try to predict what’s coming.

I choose a couple of words to try to define my sense of what my year could be.

I contemplate themes.

I try to foresee the outward-facing or extroverted “seasons” of my year, in which I’ll be doing big, expressive things like a lot of talking and teaching, or creating and sharing, or coaching or traveling.

Then, I try to anticipate those seasons’ endings and the natural “inward” or introverted pull that I know always follows them: little autumns in which I can safely predict that I’ll get tired of the talking, and need to fall quiet; when I’ll feel over-exposed, or a little empty, and have to pause, and turn in, and take a contemplative, restorative break.

I do this at this beginning of the year, every year.

It’s not because I care so much about “how much” I can do or achieve in a year. But because I care about how deeply and meaningfully I attempt to live my life.

This process is my process for tapping into a precious inner resource: caring. It’s how I try to utilize caring as a resource for moving my life in ways that I suspect will be fulfilling.

I know you care a lot about these same ideas, which is why I share resources like these with you.

But I’ve also come to realize that future-looking questions can only ever get us so far into that imagined future.

Questions that you may be familiar with asking yourself every year, such as, “How do I want to feel?” and “What’s possible?” and “What would I do if I knew I could not fail?” can only ever really get us so far.

No matter how hard, how often, or how committed you can be to being forward-looking, the act of looking forward has its natural limitations.

This has been affirmed to us all over these last few strange and anxious weeks, in particular.

At tumultuous times such as these, when we cannot even seem to know what tomorrow holds — let alone what the next month, or two months, or summer, or autumn, could possibly entail — continuing to ask forward-looking questions can feel pointless, or self-defeating, or like a fool’s errand.

The good news is this:

Long before this pandemic befell our sense of normalcy, I understood there to be an essential prerequisite — a vital and necessary starting point — for seeing, sensing, or anticipating the future.

That starting point?

It’s to first understand our present moment, as best we can.

Before we can ever really answer the question of “What’s next?”, we have to first ask ourselves the question, “What’s now?”

Before we can answer, “How do I want to feel?” we have to first ask ourselves, “How am I feeling right now?”

Before we can answer, “What’s possible?” we have to first ask ourselves, “What’s present? What’s here?”

Before we can answer, “What would I do if…?” we have to first ask ourselves, “What am I doing already? Why? Is this what I need? Is this what I desire?”

Before we can ever really answer the question of “What’s next?”, we owe it to ourselves to first ask ourselves some clarifying, illuminating, awareness-building questions about the here and now.

About what’s present.

About the truth of what we are feeling, and why.

Around where our energy is going, and what is consuming our attention.

About what words we are using to build our proverbial “houses” these days.

Before you ask yourself what the future may hold, try first asking yourself questions such as, “What’s now?” and “What’s present?” and “What’s here?” and “What am I doing, feeling, experiencing, already?”

These questions — “now” questions, or inquiries into our present moment and present selves — are crucial first steps, the essential foundation, for the eventuality of sensing into, predicting, imagining or envisioning our ideal and fulfilling futures.

So, if you’re stuck at home, or stressed beyond belief, or worried about your loved ones, or managing an impossible number of pressing and anxiety-inducing matters right now, know that that is really all you need to be doing.

Managing.

Getting through.

Persevering.

Being here.

Being now.

This has been a very challenging time for so many people, and it’s almost overwhelming to contemplate the magnitude of what so many are dealing with amid this ongoing pandemic, its many interconnected crises, and the urgent and responsible effort that we are all making now on a collective level.

Because I feel I am in a privileged position and can afford to offer to my words, my time, my ideas, and my encouragement, I want you to know that I am here for you if I can be of support, service, or help to you at this time.

I may not have very much to offer, but I believe in offering what I can, when I can.

Email me if I can be a resource in supporting you somehow.

At the very least, I hope you can find relief in the knowledge that you do not, right now, need to worry about answering any future-looking questions — as tall and far-away a task as that seems for any of us right now — even if you have gone to great lengths to try to answer those questions along with me over these first few months of 2020.

The forward-looking questions that we ask will be there for us when we are ready to engage them again.

The future will meet us, whether we ask them or not.

And, the future is bright.

Do what you can. You’ll be ready for its arrival.

If you, like me, are in any position to be able to afford to spend some time, effort, or energy asking “now” questions like those above, I would encourage you to do so.

I invite you to use your “now” questions to ask yourself how you can step up, help out, or make a difference.

Use your “now” questions as self-prompts to offer generosity, or to donate a few dollars, or to support your local food bank, or to give blood, or to call a loved one and offer to run their errands so they don’t have to, or to knock on a neighbor’s door and say hello, or to help those around you who may be struggling more mightily than you realize.

Pandemic or not, crisis or not, social distancing or not, it is only by standing in a place of deep and present self-understanding — by pausing and inquiring and answering the question, “What’s now?” — that we begin to shape our ideal, envisioned, hopeful, united, and more loving future.

Wishing you and yours health, wellness, patience, and blessings.