At the beginning of November, The New York Times carried this article titled Mindfulness: Getting Its Share of Attention
In my UK Sunday Observer the headline got transposed to ‘Today’s Must-Do: Nothing.’ It seems everybody suddenly wants a piece of Presence.
The fundamental principles of presence, mindfulness and connection are not new ideas. They sit at the still centre of many philosophies and religions and form the solid platform from which artists, musicians, actors and dancers weave their magic in the world.
Hochman quotes Soren Gordhamer, founder of the Wisdom 2.0 conference in San Francisco to examine how we can live with technology without it swallowing us whole. Gordhamer says ‘What the culture is craving is a sense of ease and reflection, of not needing to be stimulated or entertained or going after something constantly’.
Now I love the idea of doing nothing. As a concept I think it’s brilliant. But if I do nothing, how on earth am I going to achieve all the projects, dreams, lives, loves, diplomas, degrees, careers and babies that I’ve been led to believe make for a happy and meaningful life??? Or do they?
Recently I found myself musing on two friends. One is a successful singer. In my eyes she seems to have the perfect life: A beautiful voice, an exciting career, wonderfully talented and caring partner, beautiful home etc etc etc. The other, a school contemporary of us both who never fulfilled her ambitions as a performer but became a teacher, married the headmaster and had two adorable, brilliant and loving children.
Both these women are grateful for what they have but both talk with regret on what they might have had too. How much does the fear of making a choice, sacrificing one dream or another stop us from being able to ‘do nothing’? How much does this fear compel us to keep juggling? And for how long? And at what cost?
I am still deluding myself (and my mother) that I haven’t given up on the idea of having children. At 42 this is looking ever less likely as I wait for the right moment when the stars align to give me enough time and money to add this project to the slate. As long as I keep the option open in my mind I feel that I have the chance of a complete and fulfilled life. And yet the pressure I place on myself by keeping this dream alive is immense. In moments when I shed the dream and face the reality that this is now unlikely, I am surprised to discover that I’m not consumed by grief. Maybe a little regret. But isn’t some regret a good thing? Imagine if we always achieved everything we thought we ought to.
When I was thirteen I gave up the idea of being a ballerina because I was never going to be as good as Darcey Bussell. Now when I go to the ballet I feel a deep sadness and longing for what might have been. That sadness makes me love the ballet even more. I loved it. I lost it. But it wasn’t ever really mine. Bitter sweet. And I prefer bitter-sweet to plain sweet.
For many of us it is the imperfections of life that move us profoundly. In fiction, in art, in film and theatre we want to see imperfect people living imperfect lives. We turn to art to find validation and support for our own imperfect existences. In a way we are liberated through great art to be at one with how we are, in our present condition, however imperfect that is.
That’s not to say I don’t think we should try and better our existence and the existence of others. Just not at the expense of our presence.
Wherever our dreams beckon us we need to be safe in the knowledge that any place is a good place to start. There’s no time like the present. Literally.