Have you seen the Lego Movie? It’s on in the background as I write this on a lazy Sunday morning while my beautiful daughter Beatrice watches it intently. The message is clear in the opening scenes: follow the instructions, follow the rules of society and report anything that doesn’t appear to ‘fit’ to the relevant authorities immediately. Shortly afterwards the lead character, Emit, finds himself in a situation without his instructions, at which point his world as he knew it crumbles around his ears. Sound familiar? I won’t spoil the end for those who haven’t seen it yet, but Emit is forced to break his mould.
A particular quote from one of our lead character Emit’s rule-following and questionable ‘friends’ resonated with me: “All he does is say yes to what everybody else is doing…” Isn’t that what we do? Society dictates and along we trot, faithfully following the instructions as provided to us by the latest media moguls spouting marketing campaigns and government initiatives.
We work damn hard at fitting in.
A beloved old friend recently sent me a message in response to my blog, part of which read as follows: “Inner happiness is bizarrely overlooked in society and I don’t really know why. I guess it’s capitalism and advertising constantly telling people that they need something to be happier”. (Thank you, Tania Jackson, I couldn’t agree more!) And does that thing succeed in making us happier? Of course not, but we have fun in the meantime, don’t we? So what’s missing? Maybe it is all simply down to not having enough time to do everything!
One thing is certain, no matter how hard we try, how much we study, how much money we acquire from our varying levels of perfect or imperfect jobs, time is one thing that we can’t produce or buy more of. We can’t acquire another second of it, no matter what we do.
So we can’t have more seconds, but can we use the ones we have more effectively, be more aware of each of them, make them actually last longer? By being more aware of now, by being more aware of each and every moment that we encounter, can it have the effect of enriching life and preventing it from speeding past us?
I’ll hazard a guess from my recent experiences that it can.
I vividly remember the school holidays when I was young, they are one part of my childhood that sticks to my failing adult memory like ‘Quagga’ mussels stick to ship’s hulls (ref. BBC news this week). They were only around 6 weeks long, in the UK state system at least, and they seemed to last forever! Literally, those six weeks were so hotly anticipated and exciting, yet they lasted, lasted and lasted some more. Nowadays if something we have eagerly awaited comes along time really flies, hence the overused phrase.
So what changed? Why did my school holidays last for an apparent eternity yet now times sprints before my eyes and disappears, year after year, whizzing away and spiriting us ever more quickly towards the only certainty in every single life, which is its inevitable demise?
I think I know what changed. I grew up. I became more conscious (& conscientious), needed to do more, to achieve more, to buy more, to watch more, to read more, to cook more, to socialise more, to travel more, to relax more, to sleep more, (to blog more!), to exercise more, to watch that really cool new show that starts on Sunday…phew! My mind became truly overloaded with what I need to do, should do and with worries over what I’ll never have time to do. Our overcrowded, controlling minds are spinning into a frenzy with each and every second of each and every day, as our time on this incredible planet slips, unchecked, through our busy fingers.
We ‘grew up’, allowed our minds to take over and drive us forward, forgetting completely in the process how to live here now, be here now. We’re less conscious, less aware of each moment, of each second. It’s actually written on a post-it note I have on my office wall: ‘Be Here Now’. I stuck it up there on 1st January this year as one of three new years resolutions I set myself:
- Be here now
- Practice yoga 6 days per week
- Spend more time outside
I have by no means fully ‘ticked’ each box this year, in fact I feel that all three of my so-called new years resolutions are going to be a work-in-progress for the whole of my life. They’re big asks, tall orders, but I have managed to improve on each one of the three to some extent. The hardest taskmaster though is invariably ‘be here now’, live each second, be present, live for the moment. However we dress it up, it comes back to the same thing – how can I make 6 weeks last as long as it did during my school holidays, even if I am ‘having fun’?
It takes a relaxing of the effort, not applying greater effort. Of simply ‘being’, of not thinking about what needs to be done, and of consciously not being so conscientious. Children don’t have ‘to do’ lists, they don’t have plans of action, they don’t have to pay the electricity bill or make it to the pub by 8pm to meet some old friends for a drink. Kids just have to play one single game or have one single adventure, this one, right now, with absolute intent, absolute attention and complete concentration for the duration of this particular activity. Then suddenly they’re hungry so their absolute attention is given to that, followed by reading a story with Mummy which once again calls for one’s childhood concentration to be undivided, and bath time with Daddy where absolute attention is provided to the monumental task of…wait for it…pouring water in and out of a cup.
Children are blessed upon birth with the gift of absolute attention and true consciousness. We ‘grew up’ and our gift become lost amongst our lists of achievements and things we have to do, belongings and the need to earn enough money to buy more of them, not to mention the money required to buy experiences (and what was wrong with the free ones anyway?) There’s a book that a dear friend gave to me in Ulsan, Korea some years ago called ‘The Present’ (Spencer Johnson). It described how living in ‘the present’, now, this moment, this second, is a gift; it is ‘the present’ we were given when we received life. This ‘present’ of dual meaning is what we forgot.
So no, we cannot buy, find or achieve more seconds in our life, but perhaps we can have fun and live our lives without time necessarily flying. Perhaps we can all make a concerted effort to truly live in each and every second. Well no, lets be realistic, this is a whole new way of doing things and being present in every second of every day may well be argued an impossible task. But since 1st January this year I have made sure that for some part of every single day, often when I’m with Beatrice, I try to emulate her three-year-old ‘pro-attentive’ self and really truly live in each second, breathe each second, absorb each second and ‘be here now’.
My yoga and meditation help of course, providing their own challenges, but teaching me to savour each and every breath, to allow the mind to melt away into the background and to be more present within the inner part of me that has never changed since I was born, since I was a child. We all know that part, the unchanged part, whatever your culture or religion decides to label that place it’s basically the same inside each and every one of us. Being a little more in touch with that inner you, inner me, allowing it to come to the forefront of your presence (present!), and for the mind to sink into the background for just a moment longer…
The old yogis believed that we are born with a finite number of breaths, and that by elongating the breath through training and by being completely present in every second of every breath, we would in effect be able to elongate our life. Whether or not we choose to believe that we are indeed born with a certain number of breaths, after which we face the inevitable, the theory resonates with me. Is there a limit to how present we can be? (Enlightened beings have claimed to be so present in this moment that it’s experienced as eternity). Who knows, but we can certainly breathe longer, breathe deeper and be present with every second of the gift that is life.
I won’t give a Lego movie spoiler, but towards the end we hear a father berating his young creative son, “This is all Dad’s stuff…its all been carefully thought out…this isn’t a toy…I can make things the way they’re supposed to be”. The young boy is crestfallen because until his Dad arrived he was living in his moment, enjoying every second (probably on his school holidays!) and he’d been there for days happily creating and metamorphosing; each of his Lego-seconds was lived with absolute attention. His 6-week school holiday was lasting for an age until Dad came in and applied logic to it all, time-spinning thought and mind took over.
Of course in true ‘Hollywood style’ the father realises the error of his ways… but do we, really?
Let’s all embrace our inner child. Let’s all live for every second, make every second count, and in doing so live a more present life that allows true change to become possible, allows us to see opportunities when they present themselves, allows us to not blindly follow where society leads.
Everything is awesome & we’re missing it. Have fun, breathe longer & breathe deeply, but don’t let time fly!