Kudos to Mikel and David for their faithful blogging week after week. I am impressed by your dedication and delighted that you still welcome me when I occasion to drop by, which is almost never on a Wednesday, even though that was my originally designated day.
A word on being “present,” which is a big concept in the spiritual (and not-so-spiritual) circles in which I run.
Americans (at least the ones I know) are busy. They always have lots to do and lots to get done. I think this is human. I know that it is at least “upper-middle-class-American” (which is the bracket that I tend to fall into even as a grad student living below the poverty line). This busyness is one of the things that keeps us from being present. Because we are always thinking about what we need to do or what we didn’t do and very rarely about the thing we are doing. Even as I am writing this blog I am thinking about a call I need to make, a book I need to read, an e-mail I need to send, and the tea that is brewing in the kitchen (Licorice Spice). Keeping my head in the “here” or “now” (whatever exactly that means) is something I’m still learning.
On top of that, there is the matter of my own personality and perception. In a previous life I was diagnosed by a spiritual director as being “chronically discontent”. At the time I was a year out of college, recently relocated, looking for a job, looking for a place to live, and not at all doing what I wanted to be doing when I finished my degree (which was living in Europe and teaching ESL and having a terribly romantic life). I had also just gotten a flat tire and I wasn’t feeling particularly hopeful. I spent so much time wishing for what had not yet happened and longing for what had already passed that I saw nothing good in my present situation. This wasn’t true “100% all the time,” but it was true “over 50% most of the time”. And it had been for a large part of my life.
One of the reasons that this happened is that I have a terribly vivid memory. I can play and replay pieces of my life like tracks on a CD or scenes in a movie–over and over and in rose-colored detail. And because the past is often rose-colored, it often seemed ever-so-much-better than the present. I didn’t appreciate the present until it was a memory. At some point I realized this and decided take on a new perspective. If I regularly projected myself into the future and looked back on the present moment as though it were the past, then maybe I could appreciate in the “now” the things I knew I would miss later.
It’s strange, I know. Like something out of Alice in Wonderland or a time-bending tale of travel, but it had a surprisingly positive effect, and is a practice I come back to every now and then, especially when the “now” seems particularly dire. For example, as I am writing this, I am sitting at a desk watching the sun stream in through my bedroom window and onto the clothes that are still hanging on my drying rack. The window wears curtain that used to hang on a shower rod in my parents’ bathroom. There are piles of paper everywhere and books in stacks on the bed stand, the dresser, the desk and the floor. My life feels haphazard. My life feels messy. But my life will never again be the way that it is right now. In four months I will be moving out of this apartment, I might even be leaving Oakland. I will return the desk to the faculty member who loaned it to me 18 months ago. My clothes will be folded up and shoved into boxes and suitcases and clear plastic tubs. I will not be workshopping essays or showing up for internships. I will not be making tea midday in my kitchen and running around the Marina on a Monday afternoon. And when I remember that in the future all of these things will be a piece of the past, I tend to hold onto them just a little more tightly. I am present to them now, because I never will be again.
It might seem a little mind-bending to continually shift perspective, but it’s something that has helped me to be a more grateful and graceful person. It has tempered my chronic discontent, replacing it with a genuine presence, giving me the ability to crystallize memories and the desire to share experiences. If I remember that today will be yesterday’s tomorrow, I spend more time in today, wanting to take it for all that it is.