I envy people who enjoy life as it occurs. The present feels to me like the space between magnets’ similar poles—sliding one way or the other, slipping to reconsideration or anticipation, never settling with just, this, second. After the fact, I can enjoy having drawn a vase of flowers or having watched a movie I’d meant to see or having exercised for an hour or having written a post or having gone to dinner with friends, but while I’m at it, I can’t look it in the face. My eyes edge left or right as much my mind does.
“The best preparation for the future,” Einstein said, “is to live as if there were none.” But my faith in the future is too strong—there is always a “Next!”—and ignoring anything but this moment, this breath, seems denial instead of living. Though breathing and perceiving is the very definition of being alive, accomplishment rules me. The check marks, the efforts recorded, all the material proofs of productivity sustain me. Without them, I’m inert or lazy or a worthless sack of shit.
My childhood memories of finding adventure seem so abstract now. Once I left the house at nine or ten o’clock to meet friends and wander among activities and conversations, never sure that something or anything might happen today. I’d be home for dinner, that’s all I knew. Pooh asks Piglet what day it is and, learning it’s today, Pooh says “My favorite day!” Once I played games with no thought anything existed outside them. I still remember. The day unfolded as infinite origami, another space revealed in each undoing. No activity occupies that position now. What do any of us do to erase self-consciousness? Is it possible to commit an act without tweeting or youtubing or vining or facebook-ing or instagramming or snap-chatting or blogging the act? How can we willfully forget schedules await us? How can we breathe, and notice we do?
Writing may not help either. Paragraphs code experience, rendering as sentences what might be mystery. The passage of a bird in peripheral vision becomes recordable. I envy the bird because it knows no necessity other than continuing. It’s always occupied with the business of life. Martha Graham said, “Make the moment important, vital, and worth living. Do not let it slip away unnoticed and unused.” How do we use the present if we can’t see it for the past or future? How do we notice it and also live it innocently?
At school, I’m busy planning a project on mindfulness, “the gentle effort to be continuously present with experience,” yet I feel unqualified. My mindfulness is ever on mindfulness itself, the effort to be… just so I can later I say, “I’ve been.”
Why is being-here-now so challenging when, clearly, all of us are here now whether we like it or not? It’s effort finally, we believe whatever happens happens through trying. Our intentions and not our existence give us meaning. As much as I might wish for presence, the only presence is consciously knowing how this moment plays in an aspirational whole.
It may be wrong for me to say the modern world colludes against me, but I wonder what sort of being-here-now our time can accommodate when so much of living seems devoted to memory and ambition. We have a million ways to organize and record and comment and save and store and revise… and so few ways to simply live.