Learning to Live in the Here and Now

28 July 2016 · 9 comments

Guardians of BeingSince arriving home from our cross-country RV trip at the end of June, Kim and I have both been overwhelmed by modern life. We’re overwhelmed by the busy-ness of it all: the pace, the scheduling, all of the requests for time and attention.

“Why is this so tough for us?” I asked the other day. “We didn’t have problems before we left.”

“I don’t know,” Kim said. “But it sucks.” She’s right — it does suck.

This morning, I was reading Guardians of Being, a short book that mixes the philosophy of Eckhart Tolle with the animal art of Patrick McDonnell (from Mutts). Tolle, of course, is best known for his massive bestseller, The Power of Now, which encourages readers to get out of their heads and be more “present in the moment”. I was struck by this quote from Guardians:

Most of us live in a world of mental abstraction, conceptualization, and image making — a world of thought. We are immersed in a continuous stream of mental noise…We get lost in doing, thinking, remembering, anticipating — lost in a maze of complexity and a world of problems.

While we were on the road, Kim and I lived in the Now. We were always present in the moment. We might have vague plans for where we wanted to be in a few days or a few weeks, but mostly we made things up as we went along.

“Where do you want to go next?” Kim might ask, and then we’d pick a spot.

“Where should we camp tonight?” I might ask as we drove to the new town, and Kim would find a campground. “What should we do for dinner? Should we visit that park? This site is awesome — let’s stay a few more nights.” Nearly everything we did was spontaneous. We had no plans or commitments and it was wonderful.

But back home, even without jobs to go to (yet) and few plans, the pace of modern life is staggering. We’re always doing something with somebody. We schedule appointments and anticipate commitments. We have to-do lists. We go to the gym three mornings a week, take the puppy to puppy classes, agree to help colleagues, and so on. There’s so much going on that there’s never a chance to simply be present in the Here and Now.

And the stuff! There’s so much stuff! We had few possessions in the motorhome; we didn’t miss what we did not have. Here at home, even though we own less than many folks, we have tons of stuff. Tons of stuff! So many books! So many clothes! So many dishes! So much in every closet and cupboard.

Kim and I are overwhelmed because we’ve made a sudden transition from doing and having very little to doing and having a lot. All of the stuff and commitments comes with mental baggage. It takes brainwidth.

Be present

Last week, I met with my friend Michael. He’s a career and marriage counselor. I told him how overwhelmed we are. “We feel like we need to move to a small house in the country,” I said.

Michael nodded. “I can see how that might help,” he said. “But you know what? I’ve found that many of my clients who crave change can find happiness closer to home. They think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, that they’ll fix things by making big moves.”

“What do you suggest instead?” I asked.

“Something less drastic,” Michael said. “I try to get folks to find ways to shape their current situation to meet their needs. If they want a new job because they think it’ll allow them to be more fulfilled, I ask if there’s a way they can restructure their current position so that it gives them that fulfillment. In your case, I’d suggest you don’t need to buy two acres in the country to get what you want. You can probably find ways to stay where you are — because you have a great home in a great location! — while simultaneously reducing the stress and the stuff.”

I’ve been thinking about Michael’s advice for the past week. He’s right. We do live in a great spot. We both love it. It’s not the spot that’s the problem. It’s being surrounded by so much stuff in the house, and by the sudden need to schedule our time. We can’t remove all of the stuff and we can’t live completely free of schedules, but we can certainly be more judicious with both. We can guard our time assiduously, which would allow us to be more spontaneous (like we were on the road). We can purge some of our possessions, then be cautious about what we allow to come into the condo.

Here’s another quote I liked from Guardians of Being:

We have forgotten what rocks, plants, and animals still know. We have forgotten how to be — to be still, to be ourselves, to be where life is: Here and Now.

While traveling the country for fifteen months, Kim and I learned how to be Here and Now. It was awesome. Now the challenge is discovering how to be Here and Now while living a modern life in a modern city. We need to ignore (or reject) the hustle and bustle, to embrace the stillness.

Michael is right: We don’t need to move the country to reduce complexity. We can do it here. And now.

Just bee

{ 9 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Bruce July 28, 2016 at 14:28

I’ve lived on four continents in the past 10 years and spent a bit of time traveling in between. I can tell you I purge less and less stuff each time. Stuff isn’t needed when traveling and it isn’t needed when staying for a few months. But once you start staying in a place for longer periods having stuff, at least the right stuff, makes life a lot more enjoyable.

My advice…give it 6 months before a major purge.

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2 jdroth July 28, 2016 at 16:55

Great advice, Bruce. I like it. I’m not interested in a major purge, but after living with a limited wardrobe, it’s hard to fathom why I have 20 pairs of pants. REALLY? Five would be fine. Same with shirts. And books.

Before I left on this trip, I used the Konmari Method to get rid of a lot of stuff that didn’t “spark joy” in my life. Eighteen months later, I think it’s time to go through the process again. My values have shifted some, and I think there are some things that I’m now willing to part with that I wasn’t ready to say farewell to before…

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3 Eileen July 29, 2016 at 05:21

I always appreciate your honesty JD, but I hope you realize that someone who is financially independent, works when they chose, owns their home, and just had a 1 year vacation…this sounds a *bit* like complaining for the sake of complaining.

Really … “it sucks” ?

I completely respect everyone’s need to figure out what makes them happy day to day. We all have to do that.

Maybe look at it this way. When I get back from my *1 week* vacation, I have to catch up at work, catch up on the yard work, pay the bills, etc. You took a year away and are doing all the life “catching up” — it’s just that it’s “catching up” x 52. I’m sure it’ll work itself it out — you are 100% in control.

(Hope you don’t take offense to this — again, I appreciate your sharing!!!)

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4 jdroth August 1, 2016 at 19:20

I appreciate your perspective Eileen, but I’d like to hope that I’m not “complaining just for the sake of complaining”. What I’m trying to do is point out how accustomed to (or numbed by) modern life most of us have become. We’re so wrapped up in our stuff and our schedules that we don’t even realize there’s another way to approach things. For the past fifteen months, Kim and I have been very fortunate (we know) to experience another approach. We now know there’s another way (or many other ways) to do things, but that 95% (or more) of Americans choose not to. Even we get sucked into the busy-ness of it all. So, I’m not trying to complain. My own story is meant to be a way of framing this. It’s a launching point for discussion…

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5 Olga King July 29, 2016 at 06:28

It is amazing how timely this came to my email box! It’s bee a week since I came back from my backpacking trip on PCT through Oregon section. Simple, hard life of 450 miles in 15 days, at 30 miles a day. Everything I owned was in my backpack – and for the first half of the trip it seemed to be too much. No feelings to hurt, no politics to hear about, no niceties to feel entitled to. No expectations. Keep on walking, and you may find a spot to throw your tent on, cook some Top Ramen – and sleep in a bag with your own arm for a pillow. All of it, while being surrounded by beauty and “now” – weather, other people, dirt, uphill, downhill…nothing of which you could anticipate or change. It’s been a tough transition.

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6 Courtney July 29, 2016 at 09:52

Hi JD (and Kim),
Welcome home! Sounds like you might be ripe for a regular meditation and/or yoga practice. When the stress of life became overwhelming for me this spring, I took up yoga again and it has been life changing. The stress is not necessarily less (though not as acute), but I am definitely more grounded and balanced in my reaction to it. You might give it a try if you haven’t done so already. I hear Sellwood Yoga is a great studio.
Namaste!

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7 Madeline July 30, 2016 at 09:07

Yes! I recently commit
ted to a REGULAR daily meditation practice and it’s changing my life, my spirit, my moods, and absolutely adding to my life in so many ways! I took the Transcendental Meditation course in 1974! But never really did it REGULARLY.Finally, I now am and whew! An awesome addition to my life.There are many ways to meditate, you tubes and online searches can help you find a simple method (free..) and then, just try it out!! Good luck!

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8 TheHappyPhilosopher July 29, 2016 at 11:42

JD,

I love this article, as I can completely relate to what you are saying. As you did, I went Konmari on my physical possessions and it was great. It felt liberating, but I feel like I need to do it again. I don’t think I cut deep enough, didn’t really embrace what she truly meant by ‘sparking joy’ in my life.

The Power Of Now was a book that got under my skin, but in a good way. Having learned to live closer to the now I understand the peace and tranquility that comes with it. The problem is we tend to drift back to chaos and not being present. Entropy of the spirit I guess.

You touched upon it a bit, but sometimes the non-physical clutter is more distracting than the physical. Appointments, obligations, self-imposed commitments – they all limit our freedom. In addition to the power of now, I believe the power of NO is critical.

Welcome home :)

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9 Andi Blackwell July 29, 2016 at 20:23

Yes, so very much yes. We really want to see you guys, but we know how difficult it can be to reintegrate (and that’s only if you want to). Something I would think about is that you mentioned your values have changed in a comment. The temptation when you come back home is to pick up where you left off or try to get back into your routine, but why would anyone want to do that after a life changing experience? I haven’t had the privilege of seeing you guys again but I can’t imagine you’re exactly the same as you were, so even though you’re “home” I would take the opportunity to continue to rewrite your lives as you have over the past year. Not everything or everyone is going to make the cut. Although I think your house should. Unless you guys decide you want to go off the grid farming and live off the land you’re not going to get a lower maintenance life location than you have. And maybe that’s step 3 of the check-in process. Step 1 is does my life and routine meet my needs? Step 2 is does my fellowship meet my needs? Step 3 is does my location meet my needs.

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