Being in the Moment- a reality check

Being in the Moment- a reality check

I started writing something about being in the moment a week or so ago and circumstances made sure I never finished the article. I was trying to explore how I feel about the people I call Bright-siders (from Barbara Ehrenreich’s book “Bright-sided”, “Smile or die” in the UK ) who always seem to find a good side to everything. Ms Ehrenreich was herself suitably appalled, not by solely by her breast cancer, but also by the movement that seems to exist that declares that far from being a catastrophe, breast cancer might just be the very best thing that has ever happened to you. 

I’ve heard this sort of thing before and it’s never ceased to amaze me how people can do this. Forgive my cynicism but hold on one moment…Cancer is good? While I am willing to accept and understand that after a serious event in one’s own life, it is possible to see collateral benefits of that devastating illness, that heartache, that bereavement, that job loss or that destructive divorce, I must stress that this can surely only be afterwards and only apply to your own acceptance of the outcome.  

The other train of thought that has been thundering through my mind lately has been that I simply do not understand how those who speak of the Bright-side also speak about being in the moment. Now being in the moment is a buzz word, an “IN” concept. I have heard of it first via Zen Buddhist practices and subsequently in almost every self help manual I’ve ever come across. Basically the practise consists of seeking to maintain the mind(and therefore the self) entirely in the present moment, without looking either ahead at the future or back at the past. Forgive me if I have oversimplified or misunderstood this but this is how I have understood it. In self help manuals it then stresses that doing this somehow magically transforms everything. I’ve read and heard comments to the effect that when a person started to live more in the moment, their life was transformed. I don’t understand this. I understand that a detachment from either the future or the past can be very liberating but it is the same people who preach this who also tend to be Brightsiders. The two are incompatible.  

Imagine the scenario. Life is going very badly for whatever reason. To try and improve it one tries to seek the good within the bad. This automatically pulls you out of the present moment and into the future, of seeing where this experience will benefit you or where it may take you. 

Pain is probably the most effective teacher of being in the moment. Serious chronic pain, or sudden acute pain catapult you into the moment by moment endurance of life. I don’t recommend either form of pain. Grief too, is another effective teacher of being in the moment, though most of us seek any sort of comfort we can to escape the unendurable agony of losing someone. In both these cases, this is where the Brightsiders have the most difficulty in coping. Pain and grief make you exist moment by moment and it’s then for me, the futility of trying to find a good in bad becomes most evident. What’s good in the death of someone I love? Nothing. That they were loved and that they are beyond pain now is besides the point. Those are tattered rags of comfort that flutter in the roaring gale of pain.

 Later, perhaps, comes philosophy and acceptance. Later comes the realisation that the void their loss brought has been filled by something else that could never have come before. But these are things one can see(truly see, not imagine in an orgy of denial) later. At the time, these are not just irrelevant but inconceivable to someone who has truly lived through the moment by moment, inch by inch of pain and grief. 

There are times when people offer words of comfort that seem to proceed from a need to relieve our pain. These words, sincerely meant, can be poorly received. A parent who has lost a baby does not want to hear their baby is safe in the arms of Jesus; she wants that baby in her arms.

 I have no answers. I walked to work today, fighting tears. I wanted to escape into my mental landscape where the sorrow I face does not exist. I did not; I found I could not. I realised also that joy is the dark sister of sorrow. No, I make no mistake here. Joy is what balances the sorrows of our life, but joy makes us complacent. Joy makes us believe we are beloved and chosen by God for special care and favours. So when sorrow comes, we believe ourselves to be cursed, or abandoned or that the joy we once felt was an illusion because how can something be that bright and that beautiful and that fleeting? Sorrow is as much a gift from God as joy is. For every birth there is a death, for every day, a night. You cannot have one without the other and while we crave the light, we demonise the dark. Dark and light are two sides of the same thing, just as joy and sorrow are twins joined at the heart. Ever noticed that the place we are said to feel both emotions is the heart? 

I do not wish to be in the moment now but I seem to have little choice but to take one day, one hour, one moment at a time and live as the day takes me. And my God, it hurts.

Chance; it’s a fine thing

A colleague’s status update on Facebook caught my eye and set me thinking earlier and it’s got me a little annoyed. He basically commented that “Go in thinking positive things and good things will happen”, but in reference to his students and how his lessons wernt today.

I’m annoyed because I’ve heard this before and while I would agree that a positive attitude is a good place to start the day, I don’t believe that it’s an automatic process that being positive brings on good things. Oh, I do think it can turn around a bad day and all that jazz. But I don’t believe that you create your reality this way. I’ve had loads of times where I have started out thinking positively and then everything has just gone wrong and turned out badly. I’ve also had many times where I’ve thought beforehand the day was going to go badly(like yesterday) and it’s turned out brilliantly (again, like yesterday)

I think it’s pretty much a matter of chance; a whole host of things beyond my ken and beyond my control. And it upsets me when people preach or are smug about “being positive” because once more it throws it back onto blaming myself when things don’t go well. You can do all the right things and nothing works; who do you blame then?

If I give a slightly different example it might help. When my daughter was a baby and a toddler, she was one of those kids that didn’t sleep. She did not sleep through the night, reliably till she was past five or six (actually, she doesn’t now but these days she gets on with it herself!) But I was among a lot of other parents whose kids did sleep and did do all the things they wanted them to do, so I had to listen to them crowing about what wonderful parents they were and how their bedtime routine was perfect blah blah blah. It didn’t matter that I had tried everything in all the books and a few more less orthodox things I found elsewhere. Nothing made any difference. I had a brief moment of glory when one mum had a second child who refused to play by their rules and made life hell for them; this lady had to admit to me that she’d thought that her first child was “good” because of what she and her husband did for it, and that now she could see  it was nothing to do with her and it was all down to that first child being an easy child.

It’s like that with life, really. Sometimes it all falls neatly into place and things work. And other times, every damn thing that can go wrong, does go wrong and no amount of positive thinking can change that. It can help get you through, I admit that but only because you tend to be thankful for small mercies. I came home from one awful day at work last year and all I could say was, “Well, nobody died!”

My colleague is a nice chap and is always cheerful but I do wish he and others wouldn’t assume that things going well is down to them in some mystical way. Logic being what it is, I do wonder if people who think like that also think that things going wrong are somehow their fault but my experience is that they never do.

Life happens. Shit (pardon my French) happens. It’s actually quite rare that it’s anything much to do with us, good or bad; we’re just collateral damage.