March 16, 2012

Not Next But Now

Last Friday afternoon I was poised as if on a diving board: I wanted to plunge headlong into the weekend and land in a feather bed. The antidote to a bearish week was a bit of a pleasurefest. I had dinner with friends, rustic lamb ragu and rough red wine. I stayed in bed for a criminally long time on Saturday reading Bel Canto and drinking coffee. I turned on the stove that night and stood at the cutting board peeling potatoes and shredding kale. I made a steak. I was listening to Anything Goes, and life felt very quietly good.

And also itchy. When life is placid and nice, do you ever feel like you’re waiting for the other shoe to drop? That now, when it’s quiet, is not when it’s time to enjoy; it’s time to scramble to prepare for whatever’s coming next?

Sunday morning, in the brightness of daylight savings, I just barely made it to yoga. My teacher sat at the front of the room and talked about getting back to basics. (She tends to be sort of telepathic in her timing.) We took strong standing poses, and then refined them. We looked at our feet, sealing all four corners into the floor, working that pinkie toe like it was a circus strong man instead of a wee little thing. We created a rock-solid foundation from the ground up.

In the first days of January, I proudly touted my basics. But by mid-March I seem to have lost interest in them precisely because they’re fundamentals. Something in me thought there should be something more, apparently, than the expressions of love, community, and creativity already in my life.  A manicure? Tap dance lessons? A vacation? A baby? A new pair of jeans? Next, next, next.

My yoga teacher’s reminder to get back to basics felt like a call to forget next and remember now. This cup of coffee. This dinner with friends. This crescent pose. This sunset I can see from the train window. This crossword puzzle that’s got me hung up on “hobos’ hangout.” This one open tab on my browser. This, this, this. We so value and reward striving: want more, work harder, climb higher. To give up casting ahead and improving ourselves in exchange for settling into right now feels downright bizarre–transgressive, even! Next happens without our willing it, always. And so it feels like a brave kind of surrender to accept that wherever you are right now, whatever is, is just the way it ought to be. It is right.

And I’m not talking about complacency. I’m talking about trust. What would it feel like to trust that the way things are right now and the efforts we make to create that moment are in a kind of symbiotic partnership: all is as it should be. This moment. This moment. This moment. What would it look like to let it be? It would mean letting go of a nagging guilt or familiar self-doubt. It would mean loosening our vise grip on our need to control the future. Somewhere, there’s a fine line between intention and scheming. We’d stay just this side of it. We’re doing our best. Or at the very least the best we can right now. I trust this moment, we’d say. I trust myself.

Over coffee with a friend earlier this week, she told me about a new mental exercise she’s trying out. It’s like this: you know when you’re on Facebook and everyone’s life seems cooler, more exciting, more fulfilling, happier? It’s so easy to romanticize their lives based on what we see (vacation pictures, cute babies–a carefully curated visual representation of life) and forget about the reality that probably looks a lot like ours  (dirty dishes, bad moods, bad outfits, working late). But what if, my friend suggested, we applied the Facebook principle to our own lives? It’s not unlike gratitude, but with the added sheen of admiration from the outside in. It’s being in the moment, and at the same time, being out of it just enough to realize how sweet it is.

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  • Tess: Yep. This:



    I try to keep those thoughts fresh in my mind, because I’m susceptible to too-much-comparison as well.6 years ago

  • stephanie: Yes what our life is, not what we think it should be!6 years ago

  • Katie @ cakes, tea and dreams: I am so with you – I’ve really been struggling lately not to look ahead to the next thing. It’s hard to be grateful when things aren’t all rosy, and our culture is so focused on the next thing – the next vacation, job, book, trip, whatever. (I struggle more with Twitter/blog envy than Facebook envy, I think. But oh, it’s the same disease.)

    Thanks for this reminder, Sarah. Back to basics, indeed. And lots of deep breaths. (PS: I love Bel Canto – just got my husband to start reading it!)6 years ago

  • Cadi: Katie – I too suffer from blog envy, I think it is a strain of the same disease!

    “Next happens without our willing it, always.” Such wise words that we need to remind ourselves of as we scurry through this ‘life’ that we’re required to have, where there is never enough time, we’re too busy, we’re too tired. What would happen if we just DIDN’T one day? Would the world stop spinning if we just said ‘screw it, I’m spending a day reading under a quilt because it’s raining and I don’t wanna go out’ or ‘I’m phoning one in because it’s sunny and I need to eat a sandwich on a park bench.’ No, in fact, it keeps right on whether or not you tackled everything on your self-imposed to do list. And while we should find solace in this fact, we beat ourselves up still because we realize that we aren’t THAT important, and maybe we should do more? What’s wrong with us?

    Maybe nothing. Losing my job two weeks ago certainly wasn’t in the cards, but it has given me a long-view of perspective that I’ve been craving. I’m spending more time writing, cooking, unpacking our house (we just moved too, when it rains it pours!), and thinking more and more about what my life should and should not include. Spending hours at my sewing table working on projects that I’ve been piling up for months, and actually making some of the things I’ve been Pinning on my Pinterest boards has given me more satisfaction than the last six months at my old job. What does that tell me?

    Thanks for the recommendation of Her Fearful Symmetry, I’m ripping through it right now and loving every word! May give Bel Canto a spin next. You always have the best book recommendations!6 years ago

  • Melissa @ Hilltop Hausfrau: Ya this is an interesting debate. The ‘now’ vs. the ‘next’. To a certain extent, the ‘next’ keeps the ‘now’ vivid, interesting, relevant. Then again, ignoring the ‘next’ often leads to a more enjoyable ‘now’.

    I don’t ‘do’ facebook. Only because I’ve never understood how it’s different from blogging or twitter. It’s all an outward representation. The more I check out “status” and other’s blogs, the less I am getting done in my own haus, right? Quite literally.

    Loved reading bout your pleasure fest last weekend. Quite sublime sounding. (PS: did my homework and am LOVING the Audrey Niffenegger book you blogged about a few weeks ago!)6 years ago

  • LuLu: Thank you. This post is SO right on the money for me. After two months of exhausting health problems with my senior parents I HAD to stop and take some time for myself. No more rushing to the next thing. No more trying to be their safety net. I had hit a wall. This last week I’ve done NOTHING but work and hangout in my home and watch soap operas! Stopping to look around at our beautiful, beautiful home that I was/am always aspiring to change, upgrade, redo. But when I stopped and actually looked at it through tired eyes, without the comparison filter, it felt like a warm hug. I had an epiphany last week much like this post: “I’m right where I’m suppose to be.” When I stopped and understood what my brain was telling me it felt good to know that.
    I also LOVE that you brought up the whole Facebook/romanticizing topic. I definitely get caught up in it. And I sometimes think: “Gee maybe if I start a blog my life will be infinitely cooler.” NOT!!! LOL! I have to let go of comparison. It definitely is the squelcher of all things good in my life.

    LuLu6 years ago

  • Tina: This sounds absolutely transcendental! I swear I just had, literally less than 30 min. ago, that conversation with a group of 16-17 yr. olds in discussion of the excerpt from Thoreau’s Walden we read! So cool!6 years ago

  • Emily Chapman: This came at such a good time! I’ve been struggling with feeling homesick and bummed out during my study abroad experience in Senegal, and finally in talking to a friend I realized that that’s in large part because I’ve been Facebooking my past semesters but not my present one. I was just as prone to being bummed out then, but it was just in more familiar settings. As soon as I focus on the fact that my location isn’t the thing that’s changing my mood (at least not so much as I myself am) I’m much happier about whatever mundane thing it is that I’m doing here. A good mental trick!6 years ago

  • Amanda: Oh dear, can I relate to this. I’ve really been struggling recently with the idea of “enough.” Being happy enough right here, right now. So very difficult sometimes. I love what you said about trust vs. settling. Will work on this.6 years ago

  • Meg: I thought about this a lot throughout my work day. I literally count down the minutes until I can leave every evening, but when I get home I rarely take advantage of the free time I have. It’s always next week, next month, in a few years. I need to start living in the moment.

    I’m also halfway through Bel Canto right now and loving it.6 years ago

  • Tess, I love that “Comparison is the thief of Joy” pin, too.

    Katie, I know just what you mean about blog envy. It’s hard not to feel small and insufficient when you look around at all the beautiful, amazingly creative work people are doing on their blogs. But I try to go back to that < href="">“There is Enough” post from way back when when I quoted Writing Down the Bones: “Just: ‘They are good and I am good.'”

    Cadi, I’m so glad to hear you’re able to make the most of your new-found free time with a burst of creativity. I love also that you’re listening to for what that feeling of satisfaction means. As for Bel Canto, I feel the need to clarify: It’s a fun read, but it’s for book club. And it’s no Her Fearful Symmetry! 😉

    Melissa, So glad you’re loving Her Fearful Symmetry!

    Lulu, I love this, and am going to try to repeat it to myself, too: “I’m right where I’m suppose to be.”

    Tina, How amazing! I very vividly remember reading Walden in college in a coffee shop and being sort of transfixed by that scene where he’s just watching the drama of the ants. That’s a book I said at the time I would reread every year…but haven’t since. Thank you for the reminder.

    Emily, There’s something kind of profound in this: “As soon as I focus on the fact that my location isn’t the thing that’s changing my mood (at least not so much as I myself am) I’m much happier about whatever mundane thing it is that I’m doing here.” While certainly outward circumstances can affect our moods and happiness, there is something empowering about realizing what role *we* play in our own moods.

    Amanda, Your resolve to “work” on this reminded me of a recent E. Jean column I read in Elle: “And a word about “working” on your “relationship” with your husband. No! No! No “work,” please! The only reason to be married is to enjoy each other. Fun will put your amour back on its feet faster than all the work in the world.” Maybe the same thing can be said about our relationship to ourselves and our lives. 🙂

    Meg, I so know that feeling of looking forward and then getting somewhere…and then keep looking forward. Never landing. All this book talk makes me think it’s time to do a “What are you reading?” post.6 years ago

  • Emma: Very well said! I especially like your distinction between complacency and contentedness.6 years ago

  • Kenzie: I’m so glad I found your blog! I don’t suffer from blog/facebook envy so much as just frittering away my time with “image consumption.” It’s fun, but not as satisfying as creating. So I really appreciate posts like this, that stop me in my tracks and make me think about how I want to spend my time.

    I struggle, too, with being present moment to moment. It’s especially a challenge these days, when my job is grant-funded and could end in the fall, when we may or may not move, and when we may or may not try to start a family. All I can do is take refuge in the moment and in my breath. Thanks for the beautiful reminder!6 years ago

  • Susan: Sarah, I often think that YOU are telepathic in writing blog posts that seem to resonate with exactly how I feel when I begin reading them. And your words *always* make me feel more serene and inspired. Right now, I am struggling to stay in the moment and not constantly think about the ‘next’. The reason for this is a wonderful, exciting, life-changing one: I am about to leave home to travel the world for five months. When I made the decision – after a painful time in my life – to quit my job, give up my flat and put things in motion to make this happen (back in November) I couldn’t have believed how quickly time would pass. And now it’s only two weeks til I go and I am torn between joy at the adventure ahead and pain at leaving behind everyone I love (including my lovely new man) for five months. I should be enjoying these last few weeks and all the coffees/ dinners/ fun times with my beloveds, but find myself caught up in worrying whether or not I have planned everything properly & done everything that needs done & getting lost in the hundreds of details involved in tearing up my life as I’ve known it these past five years and heading into the unknown. So thank you! Your writing is elegant, your words are so authentic and warm, and you have reminded me (yet again) that life is about wrapping our arms around the ‘now’ and giving ourselves to it!6 years ago

  • gina: thanks for this post – it really resonated with me. i am about to leave my job to stay home with my daughter, though it’s earlier than i expected (asked to go full-time and said no, thought i’d work until 2+ kids). i’m both excited for this change and also mentally fighting it – i haven’t yet had the career i wanted, and i keep wishing for it. but THIS is my now, and i am so much happier when i accept that. thanks.6 years ago

  • EB: Wonderful Sarah. It really does take courage to step back, to stop trying to improve, to focus on what is next/better etc and to just… be.6 years ago

  • nicole: Just to echo … yes, thank you for this. much-needed, esp. today …6 years ago

  • Vanessa: Hi Sarah,

    Loved reading your post. You are such a humble, introspective person. I admire you. Lately I too have been concentrating on the next. Particularly that nagging thought of having a baby, which you mentioned above. As this is not an option right now (it’s just not going to happen for a couple more years) I found myself becoming quite depressed about the future. Like.. ‘well what do I do to fill my time’. Not very positive. Also a dissatisfaction with my career path and a strong desire to realign it to something more ‘me’ has been in my focus. But amongst it all I do think that we need to constantly remind ourselves to focus on the now. I don’t agree that we should ‘trust’ the now (as I’m not spiritual so I don’t believe in any plan or destiny), more so I think we should come into peace with the now. If it feels very far from who we want to be, then we should try our very best to align it with ourselves. But otherwise, we should slow down and try to reflect on the good we do have in our lives; the calm; the time to just exist. We don’t know when it will end. Now truly *is* all we have. Thanks.6 years ago

  • Forgetting and Remembering « Pink of Perfection: […] and proving oneself, and then home again to something more meaningful. I circle back to the same ideas over and over and declare “aha!” each time. But maybe that’s just the nature of […]5 years ago

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