I have always struggled to live in the present. My need to plan the future and see what it holds borders on the obsessive. The majority of my day, ideas, to do lists, and future trips buzz around my mind. This way of thinking can be helpful (cue the semester in college when I worked two part-time jobs on top of an internship and five classes), but sometimes I’m so focused on the unknown that I miss what is all around me. Very few things bring the commotion in my head to a halt – but I’m privileged to say travel is one.
Recently my boyfriend and I traveled to Iceland for a week. Our itinerary was a mix: group tours balanced with open days to do whatever we wanted. With purpose and intention we killed the “living in the now” game. We were experiencing life in Iceland as it came, without distractions of planning and worry.
One day my boyfriend and I were talking about how time moved in Iceland: “Time is extremely important here because time means nothing here.” Asking someone about the bus schedule was akin to asking someone about their religious beliefs: vague answers were constructed so as not to potentially offend. Four different people gave us four unique answers for where and when to find the bus to downtown Reykjavik from the airport and all four answers were wrong.
We continued to struggle with timing, even missing scheduled pick ups for excursions we booked weeks in advance. Time became fluid unless it was now – like the bus is here RIGHT NOW and we better not miss it.
As challenging as it was to adjust to these new perceptions, I started asking myself important questions. What would it be like to not think about everything as a countdown to a due date? What if I spent more time thinking about what’s happening now rather than what might happen next year?
I spent my vacation taking chances and acknowledging how privileged I am to even be able to take advantage of “now”. I thanked the universe, the karma wheel, the luck of it all that I was able to go on vacation with beautiful weather to hike and climb and dance and enjoy every unique moment of unfolding.
The first night back from vacation, I stumbled upon a piece by Richard Muller . As I settled into bed with Morocco, my fluff-ball of a cat, the article touched on things I was pondering all week, including: when and what even is now? I wondered again: why am I not doing the things I want to do now?
I just finished reading Erica Jong’s How to Save Your Own Life. A poet in the book compared creativity (or as I read it, life) to a river and compelled the protagonist Isadora Wing to stop building dams.
“Your only job, and I mean only, is not to hold up its flow with your silly ego, your worries about approval or disapproval, about by-lines, about stealing this line or that, about second-guessing the public. Your only job is to go with the flow. The rest is not your business. Or mine. The river has the only rights there are. Your big mistake, Isadora, is that you think it matters what the river is called, or who says what about the river. Is it a ‘profound’ river? Is it a ‘deft and lyrical’ river? Is it a ‘break-through’ river? Who cares – as long as it flows. All the rest is foolishness, distraction, jockeying for position and reputation – politics, in short.”
Time is a river. I plan every day, every week, even every year, against the flow by building dams to adjust the direction. Why do I attempt to change the directions?
What is now? If we really understood, I bet we’d all choose to live there.