The wind whips around my face, as I sit in the cab of the 40,000 pound, red and white moving toolbox, with a 500 gallon tank of water at its center, and sirens wailing. Time seems to slow to a standstill, as the anticipation of the unknown brings me to the cliff’s edge of the present moment.
To be sure, one of the best things about riding on the busy fire truck, is that, with outstretched and open arms, I fully accept and embrace the fact that I am leaving my day in the hands of the Universe.
And by that, I mean that I move through the day expecting the unexpected.
Funny how that is…..
Because sometimes when I am off duty, at home, in mom-mode, if I am not careful, I default to Mom Standard Operating Procedures–and I become the Planner. Yes the dreaded Planner.
Oh yeah, she can plan.
She plans her grocery list. She plans her day. She plans the kids’ activities. She plans family vacations. She plans the dog’s day. And if something doesn’t go according to the plan–ha! Watch out.
Embrace the Unknown
Back on the fire truck, however, my mindset becomes serene and philosophical. I move through my twenty-four hour shift, trusting that the unexpected will show up.
For example, we may have live fire burns scheduled on the drill grounds, classes to keep our certifications current, or business safety inspections to complete.
A day that begins with these good intentions may end up looking like a three car pile up, a stroke, a possible heart attack, a sheared fire hydrant, an assault, a car into a structure, CPR and defibrillation, a mutual aid dispatch for a fast spreading wildland fire, making it back to the station by 2200 hours, and then responding to five more emergencies during the night.
On the fire truck, do we flinch, or even bat an eye, when the Unexpected rears it’s mischievous head and tosses a curve ball or two our way? Not on your life. The Unexpected is greeted and even welcomed as a natural part of our day.
I remember when a friend from my youth would get frustrated and upset. “But I just wasn’t expecting that!” he would complain.
What can we really ever expect?
I try to take what I’ve learned on the fire truck into my own life. We are always dancing with the unknown, I remind myself. Sure we can plan and plan and even over plan. We never really know what will happen. In fact, we are one step ahead of the game if we actually expect the unexpected, I have learned.
It is even quite possible that we’ve given the unknown a bad rap. The unknown need not be inherently bad. Do we remember that while we may not always be able to control outer circumstances, that it is the way we choose to deal with the unknown that makes the difference? Do we take it in stride? Do we believe that we can work it out? Do we even trust that at some level it will all be ok?
Live in the Present
As firefighters tackle various emergency challenges–attending to the child whose foot is stuck between the iron fence bars, pulling the hose toward the heat of the orange glow, or helping the senior citizen who breaks a hip after a fall—firefighters become Zen masters, focused completely on the Now.
I have often thought that this constant opportunity to live in the present is one of the reasons that those of us who serve in this career, love it the way we do.
When I am completely focused on my assignment, my mind cannot wander. Like the athlete, artist, or musician who is completely focused in the moment, being in the pure creative now is thrilling and invigorating. It is where real living resides.
However, when we let our thoughts distract us, we have immediately removed ourselves from the present moment. When we let our thoughts unceremoniously hi-jack us from this place of the powerful now, we have entered a virtual time machine, because our thoughts are either ones about the future or those of the past.
Our thoughts can be compulsive if we are not aware. Out of the present, we may become caged by our thoughts. We may over-identify with our thoughts. When we are absorbed in our thoughts, are we judging, admonishing, planning, regretting, wishing, wallowing, wondering, analyzing? When we let our thoughts run rampant, we are often not in a place of joy.
What if we were to live most of our moments, completely focused on the present? Even as we wash the dishes or wash our cars, what if we focused completely on what was in front of us? I am often amazed at how even seemingly mundane chores become enlivening when I am fully present. When we focus on the now, we might find that being present is very fulfilling.
Like the fire crew on the emergency scene, let us embrace the unknown and focus on the present moment. Here in the clarity of the now, where we are willing to greet the unknown, release our thoughts and become one with the present, we will have entered the realms of fulfillment and joy.
Come ride along on the fire truck! You may just become a Zen master.