Respite

I came across some words this morning and fell in love – a poem by Billy Collins called The Present, introduced by William Sieghart in The Poetry Pharmacy. It pokes fun at the current obsession with mindfulness and living in the moment, which conversely can cause a lot of needless guilt. (Like, often I’m with my three beautiful but bonkers boys, dreaming about being alone, snuggled low with a book and then bam! Comes the thought: WHY are you not savouring EVERY moment, they will be grown up soon and you will REGRET it!)

I don’t think the generation before me worried about all this consciously stepping into and savouring the moment – they just got on with it. Says William Sieghart on the pivot of this poem: ‘If living in the moment doesn’t suit you, don’t do it! Don’t feel obliged to change your interior life to suit the faddish dictates of the self-help industry. If you’re a fretter, or a daydreamer, or a reminiscer – celebrate it. Be yourself.’

Phew. There is a place for meditation and mindfulness, just like anything else in life, but it certainly isn’t there to make us feel we are failing in some way. Uh-uh, we are human, there’s no on/off switch – the mind is a massively unwieldy thing and yes, we can try to lasso it, rein it in, as is our wont – but we can dance with the devil too. If we were living in the present all the time, says Billy Collins:

…there’d be no past/with so many scenes to savor and regret,/and no future, the place you will die/but not before flying around with a jetpack. (Read the whole poem here).

This has cheered me up no end this morning because added to my long list of better ways to be – exercise more, meditate, be goddam mindful and don’t snap at my kids so much – there is a constant berating of my brain for the way it naturally is: it’s nostalgic, and often that causes me pain, yes, but it gives me some gifts too. As with most things, there is a flip side to nostalgia. It fosters my imagination; so for that matter does that other anti-mindful but delightful activity: daydreaming about the future.

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