We’re always hearing about the importance of ‘Living in the now’. Children and dogs do it really well: they forgive mistakes, don’t hold grudges, are rarely judgemental and can be distracted from misery to happiness in a heartbeat.
Grown-ups; not so much. We live in the past, dwelling on mistakes, re-living better days, yearning for the time when we had a decent job, a lunch break and enough money to buy stuff without feeling guilty (or maybe that’s just the mums!). Or we live for the future: the weekend, the promotion, the new car, the holiday, Christmas, retirement. Even when we are in the now, we moan about it.
“God, I’m ill/tired/stressed.”
We don’t look around and see the beauty in the world. We don’t look at the rain and think, That means the grass is going to grow for another season. That’s topping up the rivers so I can turn on my tap and have a nice cool drink of water. Our minds are like skittish kittens, darting from one shiny thought to the next.
Mindfulness (as I understand it) teaches about living in the now: about being present in the moment without judging it. I don’t know a lot about Mindfulness as a theory, because I have little patience for self-help books. Not that I don’t believe in them, just I don’t seem to be able to read them without looking at myself with loathing and thus spiralling down into darkness. That’s just me. But I understand the principle. Life doesn’t fly by so fast if we can concentrate on the present rather than worrying about the past or future. We enjoy life more if we can give each moment our full attention without judging or criticising ourselves or others or the situation.
However, there are times when I wonder if it is dangerous to live always in the now. Human beings are very good at forgetting: Mothers would never have more than one child if they couldn’t forget the pain of childbirth. We’d never fall in love more than once if the brain didn’t soften the pain of rejection in our memories. Those are good things.
But it’s also easy to look at the rain and think “It’s been raining for weeks! It always rains. When did the sun last shine? I’m so sick of it.” When, actually, the sun shone yesterday. The summer was amazing.
It has rained more or less nonstop here for two weeks (My poor sister, they had the worst of the year’s weather during their visit) but that doesn’t mean it’s been raining forever.
The same happens when we’re ill. A cold, viewed from the outside, is pretty trivial. I joke with my hubbie that I’m only ever sympathetic when I succumb to the same virus. Because, on the inside, it feels like it’s going to last forever; that I never felt well before and my head has ached since the dawn of time. Then it goes, and slowly wellness creeps up, and we take it for granted, until we’re ill again.
Depression can be like that. Down in the pit of despair, it can feel like there is absolutely nothing in the world to live for. That the world will be dark forever and ever. Those who suffer from long-term depression have it the worst because they know that beyond the rise of the next hill is another dark valley. But at the point in which you’re sitting in that pit; that is definitely not the time to live in the now. That’s the time to remember past happiness and look forward to future joy.
One of the bloggers I follow, Michelle Holland of Mummylovestowrite, is currently in one of those deep dips. I want to reach in and pull her out, even though her recent post could have described the inside of my mind two weeks ago (not to the same extremity, as I don’t have chronic depression or anxiety, but close enough). I want to tell her she will laugh again, that she will find something to live for. Except she already knows. She is a strong person. She writes “The real me likes to read, write, enjoy music and interact with others.”
The real me.
Sometimes in the now, especially in a dark now of exhaustion or depression or calamity, we forget who the real us is. That’s when it’s important to look to the past, to remind us, and to concentrate on a brighter future. It’s important not to let the now define us.
Below is the next installment in my novel Two-Hundred Steps Home: written in daily posts since 1st January as part of my 2013 365 Challenge. Read about the challenge here.You can catch up by downloading the free ebook volumes on the right hand side of the blog:
Claire pulled out her phone and glanced at the screen to see who was calling. A smile spread across her face and she looked around for somewhere to sit before selecting answer.
“Hi, Conor.” Her voice rang out into the afternoon sunshine, and she blushed as two passers-by turned to stare.
“Good afternoon, Claire, how’re things?”
Claire looked down the high street and wondered whether to be honest. “Great, they’re great. I’m in Torquay.”
“How’s Kim?” Conor’s voice held a hint of wariness.
“Good, I hope. She’s with her parents.” Claire chose not to reveal that she’d taken a day off to drive her friend home.
“Oh.” She waited while Conor processed the information. “For the best, I suspect. I wish her a speedy recovery.”
The business-like tone of his voice caused the smile on Claire’s face to falter. Just when she felt she knew him, he said or did something that reminded her he was her boss.
As if in confirmation, Conor continued in a brisk tone. “How is the report coming along? I know it’s only been a week, but three months will fly by.” He didn’t need to add that his neck was on the line alongside hers.
Claire was startled to realise she had been home from New Zealand for so long. It felt like only a day or two since Conor had collected her from the airport.
“Er, yeah, good. Spending time in the English Riviera has helped to frame things.”
“It’s a nice part of the country,” Conor said without inflection.
Claire wondered if he thought all places inferior to the Isle of Purbeck or whether he was disappointed that she hadn’t travelled further in the few days she’d been on the road. With a flush she realised she’d spent half her time dealing with Kim and the rest buying and getting used to her new car.
If I’m not careful I’m going to get sacked before I receive my first pay cheque.
She vowed to spend the next twenty-four hours writing something up before Conor called her bluff and asked for an initial report.
“It occurred to me that we haven’t provided you with the means to compile your findings or send regular updates. I’m in the area tomorrow evening, ready for a meeting first thing Monday. I’ll bring a laptop with me, and you can update me on your first impressions.”
Claire’s heart plummeted and the bacon and brie Panini she’d just eaten sat heavy in her stomach.
“Where are you heading tomorrow?” Conor continued. “My meeting is in Plymouth so I’ll be staying in the town overnight. I can recommend the hostel at Salacombe for tonight, if they have space. It’s about an hour from Plymouth but I won’t be in town until the evening anyway. The views are amazing. It’s closing down later in the year as they haven’t been able to renew their lease with the National Trust. It would be a shame to miss out.”
The casual way Conor demonstrated his thorough knowledge of the local area made Claire’s ears buzz with fear.
I am so out of my depth. I thought this would be an easy assignment – a jaunt around a few more hostels and a quick presentation at the end of it. There is so much I have no idea about.
Conscious of how much needed to be done in the next twenty-four hours; Claire took note of where Conor wanted to meet up, and made her excuses.
Time to get to work.
- Most Days When It Rains – A Poem (neverendingstorydepository.wordpress.com)