Reflections: Focusing on the present, one step at a time

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Don't look too far ahead and don't look back. Just keep walking. I recently walked up a hill near my house and came to a life-altering realization.

Climbing hills is often long and tedious. This particular hill is always a challenge to tackle, but I was especially tired that day. I decided, as I plodded up, to find a way to make it easier and less tiresome. "Maybe there's a mind game I can play," I thought. When I glanced ahead I saw only the vast spiral upward and thought "I'll never make it." If I looked backward I would realize that I had already come a long way and consequently should be exhausted. Both those alternatives caused my legs to balk.

Then I looked down at the pavement on which I was walking. I found that if I stepped and looked down I couldn't see the slant of the road. Looking at my feet and the street directly in front of me brought me closer to my destination without realizing I was going uphill. I couldn't see the height that I must climb if I kept my eyes on each step rather than what was before me. It became like walking on flat land. Only my heart rate could tell the difference.

All of life is like climbing the hill in my neighborhood. It is all in how you tackle what's in front of you. Everything begins at the bottom, regardless of whether you're building a house, starting a career, raising a child or learning a new skill. If you look too far ahead or glance backward at what could have been you'll become discouraged. Paying attention to the present eventually gets you where you want to go. The slow turtle has often been used as an example for taking your time, refusing to rush, not expecting too much too soon or feeling down because you seem to be at the bottom of the heap.

Such was my dilemma with climbing the hill to reach my house. That was indeed an obstacle because I walk every day. When I begin my routine journey each morning or evening, I often choose another route in which to exercise to avoid fighting that hill.

When I am the most fatigued is when I am forced to perform the most difficult part of my workout -- climbing the hill. Isn't living like that? God knew of our tendency to look back, to want to quit when difficulty arrives and wishing for what might have been.

After the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, God advised Lot's wife to refrain from looking back to what once was. She failed to listen to God's advice and looked back at the cities' destruction. Consequently Lot's wife turned into a pillar of salt. (Genesis 19: 17, 26) The woman did not focus on the immediate task of leaving, starting a new life and letting go of the past.

Despite what challenges you may face, remember there's a way to overcome your obstacles. Usually the remedy is simple and one that comes naturally. It's when one resists, avoids or shirks what he must do, that dread, fear or anger arise. Focus on the moment, the chore or the problem little by little. Your goal will seem effortless if you climb your hill one step at a time without looking too far ahead or too far backward.

Ellen Shuck holds degrees in psychology, religious education and spiritual direction and provides spiritual direction to people at her office.

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