We were driving on a road out in the countryside the other day when we saw the most amazing rainbow. The rainbow was back-dropped on a dramatic grey sky; contrasted by golden fields of grass, glimmering under the late afternoon sun. As we kept driving down this long windy road, it seemed as if the rainbow was always ahead of us. One could easily imagine that, if we were to carry on down this road, we would reach it’s end. This made me think about the old Irish myth where the Leprechaun hid his pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Of course, we know that we can’t reach a rainbow and a rainbow has no end, because technically it’s a circle. We usually only see about a half or a quarter of it. But this myth can teach us a lot about life, especially as we enter the new year.
Maybe you have some hopes and dreams for the new year – some goals you want to achieve. I know I do; in-fact, I have some big changes to make. And I often find myself thinking, “once I do this or achieve that, everything will be cool”. This is my proverbial “pot of gold” at the end of the rainbow. This proverbial pot of gold can take many forms depending on the person. The point of the myth is that a rainbow only appears for a fleeting moment and then it vanishes; just like every moment. Yet, we tend to believe that there’s something beyond this moment that we need to chase after.
We’re not fully present on Monday, because we’re reaching for Friday; I’m not happy in this year, because I’m holding out for the new year; we’re not fully present in our jobs, our families or our relationships, because our minds are grasping at something other than this moment. We’re forever chasing the end of the rainbow, until it vanishes. We die and the moment is gone forever.
This is both depressing and liberating, but perhaps the secret to happiness is not to chase the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow. Perhaps the secret to happiness is to realize that there is no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and to make peace with that. Quite literally speaking, the new year isn’t a given; tomorrow and it’s spoils isn’t even a given; the sun might explode and kill us all. We don’t know. The only thing that is a given is this moment. But this is not what culture will tell you and, if we’re honest with ourselves, it’s not what we want to hear either.
Imagine reading a horoscope that simply says, “nothing happening this month”. No one wants to hear that there’s no pot of gold at the end of the rainbow, because that’s the point isn’t it? To get that thing. Go to any motivational seminar or read any motivational book and it all aims at teaching you one thing – how to get that thing; whatever that thing may be – happiness, love, success etc. “Follow this formula and then all your hopes and dreams will come true” is the basic sales pitch. But that thing is always somewhere in the future or sometimes in the past (maybe you had the pot of gold and then you lost it and now you want it back). But it’s never just now. Even church tells you that it’s in the future; either when Jesus comes back or when you die and go to heaven. Then you’ll get your pot of gold (assuming that you spent your life converting heathens to Christianity).
But all the great spiritual teachers put a bigger emphasis on being fully present in the here and now. For them, it was never about achieving some goal in the future. I have often struggled with this; I mean, what’s the big deal about being present in this moment? Say I meditate and now I’m fully present in this moment. Great, but now what? How does that solve anything? But I am beginning to understand what they were getting at and it’s pretty simple. Now is all there is. This moment is the only moment that is really real, the rest are just dreams and illusions. This moment is the only moment where we are truly alive, but we’re missing so much of this moment, because our minds are forever fixated on the pot of gold awaiting us in the next moment.
It’s not that it’s wrong to have hopes and dreams for the future, but if you can’t be happy in this moment, what makes you think it will be so easy to be happy in the next? And when you realize how much the pursuit of happiness in the future robs us of happiness now, it’s frightening. And if you think about it, how we approach this moment will also determine the quality of the next moment. So, even with the future in mind, it makes sense to approach each moment with awareness and presence.
My son and I were driving around the other day. I had to buy some groceries and I had gotten him a new PlayStation game, so he was anxious to get home. But I was also looking for a type of cable and I couldn’t find it so I had to go to a few different stores. Traffic was really insane that day, so my son was getting more and more annoyed. What I told him is something that, admittedly, I struggle with myself. I told him that he has to get used to the mundane moments in between the exciting moments where he gets to do fun stuff. Like I said, I struggle with this myself. When I’m driving, I often reach for a cigarette or find myself wanting to listen to music or a podcast or something. Anything to make this mundane moment seem less mundane.
When you think about what driving a car really means, it’s actually quite crazy. There are these big metal machines that weigh about one and a half tons and thousands of them are flying around at high speeds and we’re sitting in them. Every time you get into a car you are participating in an extreme sport, yet we find it mundane. The thing about driving is that, once you get the hang of it, you don’t have to concentrate on it anymore, so you tend to become bored. You go into autopilot mode so you might as well be sitting there doing nothing and then we easily forget how insane it really is.
And truth be told, that’s how we live most of our lives. We are in autopilot mode most of the time, so we’re not even aware of what a miracle it is to be here. We’re always fixated on getting to the destination – that magical pot of gold at the end of the rainbow – that we’re missing out on the journey.
If we can enter the new year with one attitude, then let it be this: Now is where it’s at. Let’s approach each moment with awareness and presence. Don’t wait for the new year, next weekend, the next job or the next relationship to be happy. Be happy now. Don’t wait for tomorrow, because tomorrow isn’t a given. Whatever you need to do, do it now.