5/26/2003

 

Living in the present

 

My brother turned 50 last week. My older brother, I'm happy to say. That got me to thinking about our childhood. It was a happy childhood, mostly, and that made another connection in my mind.

 

There have been a few periods in my life when I was especially content and happy. There are different kinds of happy times. A new child in the family, for instance, is usually a happy event, but in a way that involves lots of adaptations and not enough sleep. The times in life when I have been most content and happy have had a few common elements. The times that are easiest to describe in a brief way include a short time living with monks in Big Sur; working and living with a charity group in Baltimore; and childhood.

 

In thinking about childhood I became aware of one additional common thread in those times: no news. In each of those times I was pretty oblivious to the world around me. Didn't have TV or radio or newspapers around, or, in my childhood, didn't pay attention to them.

 

Actually it comes down to living in the moment. As time goes by I'm more conscious of the value of this way of living. I couldn't have articulated it in those periods of my life, but that's what I was doing. In fact, as a kid, during the three-month break from school, I would make a point of trying to lose track of how much summer was left or even what day it was. When Sunday morning would surprise me, I would be happy to know I had achieved that goal.

 

Living in the moment is not a hedonistic oblivion in which you don't do the work today that pays tomorrow's bills (unless, of course, you're a school kid on summer break). Rather, psychologists say that the healthiest attitude toward time is to live primarily in the moment, but to be aware enough of the past to learn from it and of the future to plan for it.

 

When you're following the news, tracking events around the world and politics hundreds or thousands of miles away, it not only distracts your mind from the current moment, it also moves your focus to places and concerns far away. Perhaps a better term is the similar "live in the present." A reminder with two meanings: to live in the moment, and to pay attention to what is present, the people, the Earth, the things and events around you.

 

If you could take a few months off from your hectic life and ignore the media, you would find your focus settling more on the time and things and people around you. Like a glass of river water, if you can just let it sit long enough, the silt will settle and it will become clearer.

 

If you're reading this, you're probably a news junkie like me. How to balance the hecticness of being a single father, and be an informed, involved citizen, and try to live in the present is something I haven't mastered. So I'm giving us both a reminder that it's something worth getting better at.