The Next Wave is Always the Worst

Around a month ago my daughter had her tonsils taken out. We did this because they were huge and were blocking her Eustachian tubes, which in turn can cause a lot of ear infections, like it did for me. So it was definitely a good thing to do™. But it didn't feel that way before the surgery.

Back then I could tell you the odds of anything bad happening during a tonsillectomy. Statistically my daughter had a higher chance of dying on the drive to the hospital than she did dying of complications.

And it was during that time, while we were cuddling her close and taking pictures of her just in case that I realized something.

The next wave is always the most frightening. I'm pretty good at dealing with things in the present, we all are. We handle things, or we break entirely, but either way we're in the moment and we deal with the moment.

But future calamities, those are where the fear lives. And there's so little we can do about it. We can change current behaviors—in this case I could have cancelled the tonsillectomy and just let my daughter deal with ear infections and hearing loss like I did—but we can't change the future.

So how do we cope?

I've only found one way, and it seems foolish, but it works.

The only way to cope with the future is to think about it as little as possible.

I learned this about a year ago, in my MBA program. I was taking an accounting class that was killing me, and every time I looked at the syllabus it would kill me even more. I was trying to hold the entire class in my head and that doesn't work.

Instead I learned to look at the next assignment, the next quiz, the next test, and stop there. Once I'm into an assignment the wildly swirling cloud of possibilities condenses down to actual tasks that I have to accomplish and I can do that.

I'm late to the party on this realization, of course. Many philosophical and religious traditions address the concept of being in the present.

Taoism teaches us We Wu Wei, the art of not-doing.

Buddhism seeks for Nirvana. a state of no motion.

Even Christianity teaches:

Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. (KJV Matthew 6:34)

So instead of being terrified of the next wave, I'm seeking to put it out of my mind. I'm keeping an eye on the horizon so I have an idea of what's coming, but I'm trying not to obsess over the future. The joy of living in this liminal space is that I have this moment before the wave hits, and I can be satisfied in that.