I went on a walk yesterday, down streets and sidewalks and a trail that eventually brought me to this scene.

It was beautiful, yes. But it wasn’t the sun-dappled path or the depth of green that made me stand there and wait for the bicycle guy to pedal around the bend so I could snap a photo. Floating across the path were dozens of tiny cottonwood seeds, each held aloft by a little ball of white fuzz. But picture after picture failed to capture even a single one. They were too small, too unassuming.

But each of these unassuming, unphotographable puffs, one of the hundreds or maybe even thousands that wafted by during my walk, holds within it the potential to become a tree that could someday release seeds of her own. It’s the forward march of nature, slow and consistent, without any push or struggle. These trees—and Cottonwoods, correct me if I’m wrong—don’t release the seeds because of the guiding hope that someday their seeds will grow into trees. They release their seeds because when it’s time, that’s just what they do.

What would it be like to simply do what needed to be done when it was time to do it? Or to live without the guiding hope of some future moment dragging me toward the next milestone? Writing without the hope of creating something good. Exercising without the hope of losing weight. Doing dishes without the hope of returning to my Netflix marathon as quickly as possible. Without the hope of some better future moment, what would I be left with? The quiet moments alone with my words. The sun on my face as I walk down the trail. The smell of the soap, the feel of the water, and the clink of the plate as I put it back in the cabinet with the others.

Sounds great! Where do I sign up? But obviously, it’s not that easy.

We’re constantly bombarded by messages that we can (and should try to) become healthier, happier, smarter, calmer, and more successful versions of ourselves. And if I’m being honest, I spend quite a bit of time gazing into the future, dreaming of this better I’ve been promised. But chasing better is like chasing a rainbow – no matter how far you travel toward it, you can’t actually get there. Better is an illusion. Not because I’m perfect and there’s no room for improvement (hah!). But focusing on becoming better or on a future moment forces us out of the present where real life can happen.

Sometimes I can find my way back to this truth through reading or meditating. Other times it takes a path full of cottonwood seeds, glinting in the sun like summer snow. But however I get there, the result is the same. When I can return to the present moment, I become more like the cottonwood quietly releasing her seeds. I write my story, I take a walk, I clean the kitchen – not because I’m trying to accomplish something in the future – but because that’s just what I do.

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