My real life has already begun

The effort to be present in my life has been the single most important thing I’ve undertaken in the past couple of years. Maybe ever. It has transformed how I think about the world and myself, and the relationship between the two. When I say “being present” I mean, literally, being engaged in and awake to my life. This sounds so simple, right? Well, for me, it’s not. No way. Perhaps I had further to go than most people: I am certainly one of the most preoccupied and distractable people I know, and I take multi-tasking to an Olympic sport (and then past it, where I start doing so many things I’m doing them all poorly). I’m extremely rarely engaged in just one thing, or one person.

It’s hard to articulate just how pervasive this not-presence was. And doing so makes me feel ashamed. I would often check my voicemail, remember that there were five messages, and be unable to recall the content (or caller) of a single one. I’d turn the wrong way down familiar streets because I was not paying attention. I used to play Scrabble with my family (under duress, since I am not an avid game-player) and play solitaire on the side because it was too slow otherwise. I play tetris on conference calls and read google reader during movies.

Beyond just distracted, though, I was also, even more toxically, wishing my life away. Every night, I’d hurry my kids through bathtime so I could get back in front of the computer or my book. I’d will them to JUST GO TO SLEEP ALREADY so I could have my night alone. And now? I’d give a lot of things to have some of those nights back. I’d go to soccer practice and spend the 90 minutes worrying about all of the rest of the things I had to do that day. I’d leave events early in preemptive worry about being tired the next morning.

I was never really there. And sometime in the past couple of years, I realized I was missing my life. There are great swaths of Grace and Whit’s babyhoods that I simply don’t remember. I took a ton of pictures, so I can look back at those, but I truly don’t have memories beyond the photographs (and I wonder if I was taking pictures, somehow, to compensate for how utterly not-there I was).

I suspect this behavior was a defense mechanism, because opening up to the actual moments of my life meant exposing myself to the reality of their impermanence. I knew instinctively how painful this would be. At some point in my early thirties, however, the balance shifted and I wanted to be there more than I wanted to avoid that hurt. I didn’t want to miss anymore of Grace and Whit’s lives. If it meant I had to take on some pain, some acceptance of how ephemeral this life of ours was, I was willing to do that. It is certainly my childrens’ arrival that precipitated this shift in outlook for me: the stakes were higher once they were here, and it wasn’t just my days I was squandering anymore.

It sounds trite, in some ways, but it is also essentially true: this moment is all I have. This moment is my life. Somehow, gradually but irrevocably, this realization seeped into my consciousness over the past few years. I realized how much I had already wasted, and I didn’t want to do that anymore. I am already heading into the middle of my life, and I don’t want to miss anymore of it. All those days that I felt I was waiting for my real life to begin, what a loss they all were. Colin Hay’s voice sings in my head, along with Ram Dass’s iconic book (I treasure my copy), Be Here Now.

So I’m not saying that I believe we should every single moment be playing trains with our kids on the floor. That we should evade our responsibilities to engage constantly in a always-happy celebration of childhood. Impossible, both of those things. And unrealistic. I’m not saying that there aren’t heaps of laundry and piles of dishes and lunches to endlessly pack and unpack in my life. Of course there are. I just mean that I want to be there while I do those things.

I am also not saying that I enjoy every moment of my life. Of course I don’t! To pay attention to my life is to receive both the good and the bad, and believe me, there is plenty of bad that makes me sad and regretful. Yes, sometimes it feels like pressure, and I realize I am just starting out on what will be a long, difficult journey. I get snappish and annoyed and wishing things would just be over … daily. But I know now what it is like to be engaged in my life, to really pay attention, and the fullness of the moments where I am able to do that makes up for all the times I fail. It is the memory of that momentary richness that brings me back to begin again. And again.

It is not a surprise to me that I’ve been drawn to books that meditate on this theme: Dani Shapiro, Katrina Kenison, and Karen Maezen Miller have all become important teachers of mine, despite their not knowing or having asked for that title. Each of them tells, in her own lyrical and compelling way, of her journey home. Of her journey to right here. To right now. I have been deeply, deeply moved by each of their stories. And the questions are as insistent as they are difficult (just thinking about these sometimes makes me feel like crying): What would it take to really inhabit the hours of our days? And what do we lose, if we don’t start trying?

When I talk about being present, I mean it in the most literal sense possible. I mean being in my life. I want my mind to stay inside my head for a little bit. I want my heart to dwell here, in the rooms of my days.

30 thoughts on “My real life has already begun”

  1. And they know you are there – present in their lives and yours – not when you are indulging their every whim or playing with them in every moment, but when you stop and look into their eyes, and they know they are seen – in their sorrow, or their pain, or their joy, or their fear.

  2. Now that you have an aspiration, it becomes your practice. And the good news about this moment? It is eternal.

    Please come to see me and I’ll show you how. It’s the only thing of lasting value I can give you.

    PS: Is North Carolina close enough?

  3. This incredibly open post reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Rilke…

    “Let everything happen to you: beauty and terror.
    Just keep going. No feeling is final.
    Don’t let yourself lose me.”

    And the part that is sometimes amusing…

    “Nearby is the country they call life.
    You will know it by its seriousness.”

    And, in writing from your heart and exposing what is in it this very moment,

    “Give me your hand.”

    It makes me happy to know that you are making this unending, very brave effort ten years earlier than I did, at least in terms of your children’s ages. Just think what you are doing for Grace, and Whit, and for all beings. And for you.

    Know that you are already where you need to be, and on your path in every moment.

    My house is on the way to North Carolina….

  4. I definitely understand the need to feel like you’re not missing out on your life. Or that of your children. Because you’re right–it’s the only life we’ve got (unless you are one of those people who thinks you’ll come back as a dolphin or a cactus or something).

    I think what I was responding to with Sarah’s post was the complete and utter shock (and anger) I felt when I became a full-time stay-at-home mom. NOBODY ever told me how seriously dull it can be sometimes. Not one person. I felt duped!

    There are brilliant moments of every day, and I definitely heard about those and anticipated them. But why the huge silence about the crappy stuff? What’s with the shame and the secrecy about how boring it is to play 5 games of Candyland and wipe butts?

    But I truly am grateful for people who try to keep their days positive, the ones who seek out the sun. I need them in my life. When I read your blog, I always am left with good things to think about.

  5. please know, part of why i try so hard to do this is because there is SO MUCH that i find boring … i can’t stand candyland and am terrible at crafts and generally at playing … i think that it’s ok to admit that, and we all should … i guess i just want to accept that about myself, too, that there are things i am just not temperamentally suited for. does that make sense?

  6. Lindsey – I read this. Retweeted, reread. Went to breakfast and then came back. I so understand, and maybe more easily understood when my children were younger, the way you feel. It is hard when the day to day things are not the things you want in life to live in them. It does get easier as the children get older, but in some ways, it also gets harder.

  7. honestly, Lindsey. is it possible that we’ve known each other for a long, long time? This is beautiful description of my exact struggle…and one that I’m taking on with vim AND vigor. Yesterday I made myself be present while the vacuum sucked up the dust and kept repeating, even as I bounded down the garage steps, “right now. You’re here. Right now.” I didn’t do so well being present at dinner, with my kids. I see an opportunity for growth there 🙂 and today I’ll be there. But for now, I’m right here, typing to you. Thank you for articulating this so beautifully.

    ps– Just yesterday I finally bought Devotion and The Gift of an Ordinary Day.

  8. For all the talk on blogs about being present, it wasn’t until I read this post that I really got it. Thanks for your articulate and somewhat heartbreaking description. As my own family grows over time I know that I too will feel these same pains.

  9. I’m one who wrote a “being present isn’t great all the time” comment over at Momalom. I’ve been thinking about it ever since I left it, because that post came on a day when I wasn’t present. And I was in a negative, awful mood. It was not a good day.
    The days when I am present go so much smoother, when I’m mindful and happy and with it. So much gets brushed aside, but if I’m there, in my life, it makes a big difference. It’s what’s changed my attitude and helped me through recover. It’s what’s keeping my sanity. The days when I don’t keep that in mind, when I’m not mindful, I’m in agony.

    You, Lindsey, have been a huge influence in that decision, the decision to stay present and in life. With your words, as with Momma Zen and Karen’s blog, and many other blogs & books, it’s been possible. I can’t thank you enough.

  10. I’m so proud of you for articulating this all here. You know how I feel about it, so I won’t go on. But I will reiterate that being present even through the hard and the negative and the mundane is far better for me than taking that mental escape or blinding myself with tomorrow’s worries.

    Beautifully said, Lindsey. All of this.


  11. Wow. Lindsey. Just wow. You just wrote EXACTLY how I feel on so many days. Being present is often a source of anxiety for me because I’m petrified I’ll look back and NOT REMEMBER enough. Not feel like I appreciated enough. Wished away too many story times, game times, snuggle times. And when I read Sarah’s post, I felt so much better because I thought, ok, so maybe I shouldn’t feel like I need to be present so much. I don’t remember what my comment was on her post but I do know I felt some relief. But I still feel that anxiety and LOVE my days when I am present and still seek out advice on how to stay present, however hard it may be.

    Thank you for this amazing, honest post.

  12. I’ve struggle with being present in the moment. Everyday, I love the way your words portrayed your struggle too.

    I’ve found that you are a favorite among many bloggers that I follow. I understand why. Your words are certainly inspirational.

  13. sorry, this is a bit out of left field, but do you like to plant stuff? perhaps a planter of annuals or a few herbs every spring? i ask because a few years ago i started digging in some dirt and things just slowed down for that moment. it was fantastic, as i was present, fully engaged, both mentally and with my senses – smell, tactilely, sights. the colors, structure, beauty of the plants. the smell of each herb… you probably get the idea. i couldn’t help but ask right now.

  14. Oh friend. I could seriously write a book (not a good one, a rambling thinking out loud one) in your comments right now.

    About how you just described me, down to playing something else during scrabble because it’s too slow. And all the thoughts I have about this. So many. All over the place. I just love what you’ve said here.

    I’ve mentioned her on my blog about a gazillion times, but Sara Groves has songs about this very thing (and so many other things that women like you and I think about). She’s a Christian artist (and to be honest, I very rarely like Christian music). Her songs are just so raw and honest and full of truth, universal really. This post reminded me of her songs “I just showed up” and “Something changed”

    and lyrics like “always just one more thing, always another task. Always just one more small favor to ask. I’ll be there in a minute, just a few places to go. Wake up a few years later and your kids are grown.”

    OK, I’ll stop now.

    I love you to pieces.

  15. Staggeringly beautiful, Lindsey. And the words themselves, weighted and grounded in the reality that they are your truths, tell me that you ARE present. Were you not, you would not feel these aches, express these fears, articulate and embody such hope.

    You ARE present in ways that, as for all of us, ebb and flow between regret and anticipation, past and future, mind and heart.

    I could go on and on, but here’s what I know: were you not present, I (nor the many, many others who are reading/commenting) would not respond to and resonate with everything word you speak/write/create. Because you show up and name your own questions, your own wonderings, your own truths, I am more present to my own.

    Thank you.

  16. This is so inspiring because This. Is. Me. And I don’t even have kids. Even as I was reading this, I was also doing work (the day-job kind) and checking my email (work and personal), and wondering how I was going to distribute my time today. The busier I get, the more distracted I get, and just this morning I was complaining that the only result of all this is that I am not doing anything 100%. My husband this morning in the car basically told me to never check my email on my cell phone in his presence again (nicely, but i got the picture. My distractedness is affecting him). So I needed this today. Today I will refocus.

  17. Interesting discussion, it hits home to so many of us, but I think the important point is that it’s on DIFFERENT levels. What being present means to one persent is completely different to another, and is also dependent on stage in life, and any given day. During the first year of both of my children’s life, it wasn’t a battle worth fighting, I was too tired. I couldn’t think past finding another hour of sleep. It was all consuming just to get through. Fast forward to now and it means something completely different, it’s about finding time to be with my children while I try to juggle career, marriage, myself, my friends, all of the things that are also important in my life. Being present is so hard because I’m so fragmented, and yet I choose that fragmentation, I want to play all these roles because they define the different parts of me and naturally none of them exist in exclusion so that no one can ever exist on it’s own. I fully expect what it will mean to change again and again, because we grow and change. And I think that’s key, and I’m certain I’ve commented about it here before. I understand completely how you feel you lost those moments in your children’s early lives, I see it myself in my own (my kids are 1 and 3), but I also understand that I’m doing the best that I can with what I have at the moment. And that changes, what we have at hand to help us cope, be present. So our perspective, ability to BE present changes over time. I’m not entirely sure I’m doing a good job of expressing what I’m trying to say. But I recognize a kinship between us as I live and breathe as that person who is always “multitasking” as you say. I guess that’s my point, for me, now, this is how I must live my life to be me. I hope/crave for that to change, but I haven’t found my way because I don’t believe I’ve lived the experiences I need to get there.

    Obviously, I could go on and on. I also think I will come back to this post, because you express this issue with such clarity. It’s incredible. You are a wise woman, and thank you for sharing.

  18. It’s inspiring to read this post and then see how many souls it resonated for. I’ve missed so many moments, but the ones we show up for really do bring the sunshine on a cloudy day; perhaps the most liberating thing about all this presence to the moment stuff is that the past is all water under the bridge and just showing up for this pulsing second somehow redeems all the missed ones… or not.

  19. Oh Lindsey, You are doing it, girl. I can’t tell you how honored I am to be called your teacher, in any sense of the word. I am so glad that you found solace and sustenance in my story, and so moved by yours, as you continue to share it with all of us. I am still stumbling along through my own life, surprised to realize that it doesn’t actually get easier. But maybe we do get just a little more comfortable with discomfort, a little more used to not knowing, a little more gentle with ourselves. Most days, that’s enough.

  20. What a gift you have for expressing your thoughts and feelings. How wonderful that in your honesty you touch so many other lives.

    “I was never really there. And sometime in the past couple of years, I realized I was missing my life”

    My story is a little bit different. About 19 years ago I was diagnosed with clinical depression. I have a hard time concentrating and motivating myself to do things. At itmes I feel as though I’m absent from my own life.

    Most of the time I numb myself with food and computer games to the point where I do almost nothing. Hence, I’ve come to believe that I’m not capable of doing what needs to be done or even what I want to do.

    I am most definitely missing out on my life. There’s so much I would like to do.

    I am working on living more authentically, living in the moment and figuring out how I’m going to live the 2nd half of my life (I turned 50 this year).

    Thank you for your honesty.

  21. Jon Kabat-Zinn has been my most important teacher in my effort to just be. Wherever You Go, There You Are and Everyday Blessings: The Inner Work of Mindful Parenting are good places to start. (I too cherish my copy of Be Here Now.)

  22. I have never run across anyone EVER who understands my point of view until I read some of your pages. I was told once that some people feel sadness more keenly than others. And I am often told I am pessimistic. But pessimism is not explaining what i feel. I felt loss every day that my new son aged. I feel myself dying, as well. Not literally, but the time seems so short and death is flying toward us. I think everyone is in a denial so deep that they can never understand how I feel. My outlook may have darkness but it is also clear. I feel the sadness only because I love so much.

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