I often re-centre by asking myself: if I were the heroine of a novel, would I be pleased with her right now?
What this exercise does is remove me from the mess of thoughts fighting for attention in my mind, placing me instead as an observer, viewing the present moment in literary context. Or within the frame of the silver screen, perhaps. It takes me away from the buzz of the past and anticipation of the future, and brings me back to the Mrs Dalloway or the Amèlie of everyday life right now.
Returning to the present seems to be the answer to every question I ask myself.
How do I recover from anxiety? How do I move forward? What do I write for this week’s blog post?
I have been writing a lot of lists lately – lists of ways I fill the errands section in my Passion Planner, lists of ways to be a better friend – and I could have written a list of ways to be in the present moment, but that felt contradictory to the point of this practice.
Living in the present is not following a list. It is a practice unique to the individual, personal to each moment in time.
Lately I’ve found myself worrying about the silliest of things. That the other seasons won’t be as lovely as autumn, because autumn is so gorgeous [It makes me so happy it turns back to sad]. That when I’m having tea with a friend I’ll forget to tell them all the things I wanted to tell them.
So here’s what I’ve been doing instead.
For a while I’ve noticed that I dislike talking about my vacations when they’re over. I think it’s because I prefer to talk about what I’m experiencing now rather than recount something in the past. It feels like I’m behind, racing to recount the events in the past so that I can catch up to the present.
So in conversation, I let go of the mental list of topics and enjoy what comes up. We all know we’re supposed to listen when others speak. But when I invest in this process and hear what the other person is saying, I gain so much more from the exchange.
I trust that a reply will come when it’s my turn. It’s not holding my tongue so much as letting go of my thoughts and believing that they’ll come back if they are needed. The funny thing about listening is how many times I’ve noticed that the person is not finished speaking; just taking a pause. How many times I’ve interrupted without meaning to. Breathe and let go.
I’m obsessed with anything seasonal, especially but not limited to autumn. What I enjoy about the seasons is celebrating what the world is like around me at a specific point of the year. In other words, what my setting is like, in the present.
It’s not about the activities, as much as I enjoy the pumpkin patch and Timberyard, and all the other things on my little autumn adventure list. It’s about stepping outside and feeling the fresh air embrace my body. In fact, my favourite item on that list is one I’ve been able to do almost daily: walk on leaves that crunch. It’s not something to schedule, but something to notice, and appreciate when I happen upon it.
I used to collect myself every time I was on my way to meet with a friend. I did a mental check-in, anticipating ‘how are you doing?’ and ‘what have you been up to?’. I no longer find this necessary, because the point of these prompts is not to quiz me on A History of Me, but to connect with one another now. So I save my answering until that moment arises.
In becoming more aware of my present state of mind, I have also developed an intuitive sense of what entertainment I need, if any. I have stopped watching tv shows while eating, because I find it overwhelming to concentrate on so many things at once.
I used to automatically pop in a podcast when I stepped out the door, however short a walk. Now I take a moment to recognise when I need to be alone with my thoughts, or when I prefer a musical soundtrack. I used to see emptying my podcast feed as a badge of achievement. It’s still hard to shake this, but I’m more aware of what extra stimulation does to my state of mind.
And now to you,
I hope that in reading this through to the end, you have taken a moment to ponder your own present. How are you enjoying it?
P.S. I host mindfulness tea parties inspired by literature. The next one is in Boston.
This article is filed under RAVENCLAW as a reminder to enjoy exploring the mind thoroughly, without rushing to produce something.