Thursday, June 26, 2014

About living in the moment

We are often urged to live in the moment, or to stop and smell the roses But not all moments are made of roses. Some are made of shit. So should you stop and smell the shit? Not a catchy slogan, but: yes.

Of course we should be more attuned to the good things life has to offer. But we should be more attuned to everything life has to offer. We often escape the difficult or painful  through keeping busy, entertainment, work, socializing, projects - name your own distractions. You can fill a whole life with them. And find yourself at the end with the nagging feeling that you haven't really lived.

Some of the painful things we ban out of awareness are very common: your job is not fulfilling; your relationships are deteriorating; or, one thing that's on my mind these days, your parents are getting older, and you haven't figured out a way to make sense of the fact that they will die, and to connect with them or give back in a way that's meaningful in the face of their death. We are taught to focus on the positive, so often we keep the painful at bay. 

Living in the moment means noticing that your current task at work is useless; that you're snapping at your spouse; or that you're not picking up the phone when mom calls. Living in the moment means being fully aware of these facts, interpreting their meaning for the overall life you want to live, and letting that meaning guide your actions.

It may sound like I'm saying we should be constantly reflecting on what we're doing - like every moment of our lives should be doubled by reflection on that moment. And that's quite the opposite of: live in the moment! Reflection can take you out of the moment, like watching a movie in commentary mode: you can't immerse yourself in the movie because you're constantly hearing the director commenting on it. But being receptive to everything (or as much as possible) that happens in the moment doesn't mean intellectually taking note of everything. (Sometimes that's actually a way of avoiding living the moment: you escape being the subject of your life by taking on the role of the writer who records it, or of the philosopher who tries to abstract a universal meaning. Not that there's anything wrong with doing those things, but they can be used to avoid being the subject of experience). Taking the moment in, interpreting it, using it for action, is not necessarily an intellectual task. Reflection may be needed sometimes, but often it's not, and most of the time it's not sufficient. What's also needed is emotional, and sometimes physical, openness to, and processing of, the experience in its entirety, roses and - what was the other thing?