Finally, my curiosity overcame my deep seated idleness and this week I googled it. Turns out, for those of you even more lazy than me, it sort of means living in the moment. It does make a lot of sense that we should all be striving to live in the present rather than the past or future but, in reality, how many of us manage to pull it off?
In the name of research then, I have carried out my own investigations and despite everyone I asked acknowledging that the present is where it’s at, nobody actually fully resided there. It’s pretty much even-stevens when it comes to my official statistical evidence, half claimed to live in the past and the rest, myself included, in the future. What is it then that we find so hard about savouring the moment?
If you think back to when you were a child, it was all about the moment. You’d have good days and bad days but each day was a new day. Arguments could be fierce and rowdy but there was no such thing as a grudge. Kids have it out with each other, maybe someone ends up with a punch in the nose but then it’s all forgotten or at least that’s how I remember it. I had what would probably now be termed as a frenemy called Tina (sorry Tina if you’re reading) and I have never experienced such emotional highs and lows as I did during our friendship. Every day, however, we started off as friends, regardless of the hair pulling, name calling and scrapping that had gone on the day before.
So let’s consider then what changes once we’ve metamorphosed into grown-ups. We all know people who live in the past. My grandma, who lived to be 97, had both feet firmly pre 1965 in all the time I knew her. She was a fabulous raconteur, there’s no doubt about that, but all her stories were about what had gone before. Meanwhile, she would sit next to the gas fire in her bedsit, reading Mills and Boon books and eating Mintoes but making no new memories at all. For whatever reason, she’d given up on the future and decided she preferred it in the past and there’s something profoundly sad about that.
I suppose if we live in the past we have complete control. We know what the outcome of our stories is going to be because they’ve already happened. Further still, we can embellish and construct our own version of the past, which affords us ultimate control. The world can seem like a scary place, especially for people like my grandma who was widowed early and lost two of her children in early adulthood. Maybe sometimes it is easier to just bunker down and stick with what we know.
Then there’s the old chestnut, unfinished business, which can leave people rooted in the past Miss Havisham style. This week I grilled friends and acquaintances who spoke longingly of the past and had a whole host of ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’. The spectre of the life we could have had is it seems alive and well. One friend talked about choosing to leave a job she loved for a better paid one but subsequently never again felt the sense of fulfilment she’d felt in the first job, despite it being over 20 years ago. Another moved from London to a more rural area so that her children could enjoy a more ‘innocent’ childhood but has spent the last 15 years fantasising about the life she left behind. Is it possible to take a wrong turn or do we simply look at the alternative version of our lives through rose tinted glasses?
I have to confess that the past is not for me. I have no unfinished business and no regrets. Much as I have loved my life, I don’t hanker after re-living anything that I’ve done. Before I get too sanctimonious though, I’m no more ‘mindful’ than anyone else. Instead my focus tends to be on what’s around the corner rather than the here and now. I’m still waiting for my best years even though, at a couple of months shy of my 53rd birthday, some might call me seriously deluded. However, if I thought the best was behind me, I don’t think I’d be able to find the enthusiasm to go on. I’ve had a great life so far but sitting next to the gas fire reminiscing is not for me.
There’s the danger though that, so caught up am I in planning and scheming what’s still to come, I’m missing what’s under my nose in the here and now. A sobering thought that we would all do well to heed is that there are no guarantees of a tomorrow. Instead of day dreaming about my future life, maybe I ought to spend more time cherishing the moments in the life I have right now.
Let’s face it, it’s all well and good planning on being a bestselling novelist, languishing on George Clooney’s yacht with my bikini ready body but what if today was my last day and I missed it. And so in the words of that old brain box Albert Einstein, “Life is a preparation for the future; and the best preparation for the future is to live as if there were none.” Let’s go out there and seize that day!